The Comfort and Safety of “Me Only Territory”

The very best consultative sales professionals operate exclusively in “me only territory” and that demands an explanation, so let’s begin by examining the traditional sales environment.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s use a baseball park (not that I know too much about baseball) So traditional salesmen and women are operating left field; they are usually totally focused on a single sales event, and they sell products.

If asked to describe the value they bring, they would simply offer you product options, and they are always willing to compete on price to get the order. They typically sell to “users” which requires them to be consistently reactive, and of course, their achievement levels are as unpredictable as British weather. Finally, if asked to describe commercial politics, they would stare blankly at you – that isn’t their fault, it is simply that they have never been exposed to it – and the same goes for ROI.

These people are all operating exclusively in “me-too territory”

When we move into center field, we find ourselves in “me-first territory:” These salespeople bring much more to the table and have a much wider commercial bandwidth. They are pre-occupied with business process; they focus both on the customer and their competitors; they don’t simply sell products, but rather “application solutions” they are acutely aware of the need to make a profit, and usually they deal with recommenders – so they have taken a giant stride up the food chain.

These salespeople understand that reliability is more important to customers than speed of response (reactivity) and they are also politically agile. Naturally they can sell using ROI arguments, and finally, their achievement levels are consistent.

You might be forgiven for thinking that must be as good as it gets – after all, the two scenarios that we have described account for around 95% of the global sales population. But actually, no, it gets even better!

Now we are entering “only-me territory” – the hallowed turf of the sales world. We are very much right-field, and the population is made up of the biggest hitters, whose primary pre-occupation is long-term outcomes, and their focus is entirely on the customer’s commercial objectives and how they can assist the customer in achieving them: The value they bring is strategic direction, and they only see long-term ROI. Their dealings are exclusively with key decision makers, and they penetrate formal DMU’s as easily as a knife slicing through butter.

These salespeople are always on the front foot, deliberately pro-active. They identify the business they want, and they go after it. They are not just politically agile, they are politically astute, and they use politics to win whenever they need or have to; they always secure high ROI, and they consistently exceed quotas. They have complete account control.

And you, where do you spend most of your selling time?

In the precarious left field, where you are totally at the mercy of your prospects and customers, hoping that they will call you?

Maybe you are center field, which does indeed feel much more secure when compared to your colleagues to the left of you, even though you frequently cast envious glances to those colleagues on your right.

Or maybe, just maybe, you really are a top 5% achiever? If you are, congratulations, I know precisely what it took for you to get there.

Lead Generation and the Use of “Pareto Thinking”

Use of “Pareto Thinking” is highly relevant and important when applied to sales people. For example, 20% of a sales person’s activities will create 80% of sales achieved, which has enormous consequences on how to optimize and manage lead generation activities.

Generating leads is of course, an important sales activity that plants the seeds of growth for sustainable business development. A lead is purely a name that you could refer to as a SUSPECT because their potential to buy is unknown.

Before you can qualify leads to determine whether they have the money, authority and desire to buy your products/services you need to generate them!

When deciding upon which lead generation methods work best for you and your organization, it helps to have clarity on the type of customers that you’d like to attract. This means creating an “Ideal Customer Profile” that can begin to provide direction to your lead generation activities.

The following questions will stimulate your thinking when it comes to developing an Ideal Customer Profile:

– What size of organization would you prefer to deal with?

– Typically, how many people will they employ?

– What market sector(s) do these organizations operate within?

– Who specifically will be buying your products/services and what are their titles?

– Where geographically would you like these organizations to be located?

– What does your organization offer that is unique?

– What types of organizations will be attracted by this uniqueness?

– What do your best customers possess that you would like to replicate in others?

– Which of your existing customers were the easiest and quickest to convert?

– What similarities do these customers possess?

– Are there any specific criteria that prospective organizations should have in place, so that your products/services can be optimized?

Having a well-defined profile of your “ideal customer” can prove to be invaluable when determining which methods to use for lead generation, and improves the effectiveness of marketing initiatives.

You may also discover that the process for asking for referrals becomes easier and generates a better response, because you are providing the person with a tighter specification of what you are looking for – this concentrates their thinking towards the direction you have defined.

Why Selling is Going Inside – Isn’t that Obvious?

I have been discussing this phenomenon for more than three years, so what is taking place now is not a surprise.

So, having posed the question, let me provide some answers – why is selling really going inside?

The most obvious reason is pure economics: After the recent financial meltdown, companies have been forced to examine the true cost of sales – something they do not usually have time to focus on when business is buoyant – and what they will have discovered may have startled them, because sales costs have been spiralling out of control for a number of years: Fuel costs, labor costs, the cost of raw materials, for example, have all soared, and put simply, because of intense competition, the price of our products and solutions have remained largely unchanged.

The net effect of all of this has put thousands, if not millions of companies – globally, not just in North America or Europe – out of business.

You see, it is very easy to calculate gross margin/gross profit – which is what most compensation plans are still based on, amazingly – you simply deduct your buy-in cost from your sell-on price. However, your actual net profit is vastly different. Let me give you an example:

Let’s take a typical sale in a consultative/collaborative environment: After some pretty rigorous qualification at the front-end, we decide that we have uncovered an opportunity that is worth pursuing. We arrange an initial exploratory meeting, face-face, because face-face selling is still a dominant feature of selling at that level. If the meeting goes well, and the full traditional sales/buying cycle is followed, there may be another five, six, seven meetings, not just involving the lead salesperson, but his/her line manager; some technical resource on very “big-ticket” deals, even some finance input – team selling.

You do not need a degree in higher math to calculate the total cost of all this effort: I read somewhere the other day that it now costs $1500 to put one salesperson in front of one customer for one meeting. I actually think that this number is very conservative. But you get my point?

Whilst this level of investment may be justified for extremely high-value business, and may be possible to control, we are talking about less than 0.5% of all business transacted, and this means that for everything else, we should be considering our options.

The reality is that the traditional customer call once seemed indispensable to the selling process – the time and expense involved were just a basic cost of doing business. But today, the business community has to regard the sales call as an expenditure for which there are substitutes. For many companies, telemarketing, video conferencing and direct email, have made the sales call a choice, not an inevitability – which takes us back to understanding why so many companies are moving their salesforces inside. I repeat, it is pure economics.

Advances in technology mean that we can now effectively conduct face-face meetings online – and you know what, we can manage five, six, seven meetings in one day, rather than the one or two we are managing at the moment.

I do not believe that we will ever see the day when face-face selling disappears completely – certainly it is not going to happen in my lifetime. But equally, we cannot cling on to out-dated and unprofitable practices.

Change is the one constant that we can rely on in life, and that is certainly true for those of us who are populating the sales-space right now – but isn’t it exciting?

The Importance of Building a Shared Mental Model

One of the most important responsibilities of a sales leader is to translate the organization’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 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 that organization’s destination. A compelling vision will stretch expectations, aspirations, and performance. Without that powerful, attractive, valuable vision, why bother?

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

Values are beliefs which the organization’s workforce hold in common and endeavor 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 does 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 behaviour and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement. Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviours can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness and morale.

The Ever-Increasing Costs of the “Fear of Calling” Syndrome

Recent studies have confirmed the obvious, that is to say that “fear of calling” in sales can contribute to a significant proportion of lost sales revenues. One study that I read recently found that as many as 40 % of established salespeople experienced periods of fear of calling severe enough to threaten their future in sales.

Stemming the ever-increasing costs of the fear of calling syndrome cannot be addressed by training alone. It requires an experienced coach or mentor to work with each salesperson’s particular set of beliefs, so that they feel truly empowered to break through their self-created mental barriers. One particular statistic, in the following survey, should give any salesperson suffering from fear of calling renewed confidence.

How Customers Regard Salespeople Survey

Salespeople who do not bother to make appointments – 45%

Salespeople who know nothing about the customer’s business – 60%

Salespeople who don’t know enough about their own products and services – 60%

Salespeople who call too often – 9%

Salespeople who don’t call often enough – 49%

Salespeople who do not have the authority to negotiate prices – 45%

Salespeople who do not ask for the order at the appropriate time – 40%

Salespeople who are not properly or sufficiently organized – 55%

Most desirable quality customers want to see in salespeople?  Competence!

We must remember that a salesperson’s state of mind is instantly transferred to their prospect or customer, which means that the challenge for organizations is to constantly create a highly resourceful state in their salespeople. This is extremely important, because when salespeople lack belief in themselves, their product or their service, they unconsciously transmit their attitude to in a variety of subtle and sometimes overt ways.

Most sales managers grasp the concept of activity management, skills development and knowledge development and a few intuitively also understand the vital importance of the right mind-set. Yet, far too many feel powerless to help their salespeople turn their negative beliefs into positive ones. Those who do tackle such negative beliefs and are able to change their salespeople’s self-limiting beliefs into empowering ones have found an unbeatable path to success.

What Will Distinguish The Top Sales Professionals of Tomorrow?

It is common knowledge that even today in most industries, a very high percentage of training budgets are spent on product knowledge workshops and training sessions. This is understandable to a degree, particularly in the more technical sectors, but what about all the other types of “knowledge?”

That statement is guaranteed to produce a lot of blank faces, and considerable head scratching!

But, if we are highly motivated, and we have received on-going skills training, and we are using the very best process tools, and we are totally au fait with the benefits of social selling etc. we are bound to be successful aren’t we?

Short answer? No, not any more. Let’s look at recent history…

Forty years ago frontline sales professionals believed that success would automatically arrive if they developed their personalities and adhered to the mantras of Tracey, Nightingale, Ziglar and co. And it is true even today that self-confidence, self-motivation, empathy, rapport building etc. will indeed take you a long way, and without most of those personal characteristics you will not succeed.

Then thirty years ago the “mega-training” companies such as, Huthwaite, Holden, Target etc. arrived with new selling models – what I termed “scientific selling solutions” It was new thinking at the time and it was all rather good. Meanwhile, the rapidly developing “tailored solution” organizations such as Miller-Heiman, Wilson, Sandler, to name just three, were becoming market leaders in their fields – so that’s the “skills-orientated era” taken care of, which of course is still with us today.

Twenty years ago, “process and control” were the new buzzwords. CRM systems began to flood the market, and sales managers licked their lips at the prospect of all that data at their fingertips. Consultative sales processes were developed – not always adopted and implemented successfully though – and the Attitude + Skills + Process loop was complete  … well almost.

When people began congratulating themselves that they had adopted ASP, most forgot about “K” Well, that’s not quite true. In fact they spent millions of dollars on “K” in the certain belief that it stood for “Knowledge” as in product knowledge – only half-right.

As I alluded to earlier, “Knowledge” is a much more complex issue. What about:

Industry knowledge

Sector knowledge

Competitor knowledge

Political knowledge

Commercial knowledge

Own company knowledge

Economic knowledge


These then are today’s realities, and I believe that every organization that intends to survive in this new re-engineered environment must, in my view, respond to those realities.

Let’s be clear, today’s clients/customers – who have never been more “commercially educated” 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.

It is suggested that 84% of buying decisions are based on emotion – if that really is the case, buyers will not entertain entering into a long-term relationship with us because they like us, but rather because they trust us. Trust does NOT happen overnight, it never did.

Logically we are far more likely to trust someone if we sense synergy, if the seller talks our language and if they are “knowledgeable”

When The Leaders Are Leading, The Pack Will Follow

Unfortunately, most salesmen and women believe that a successful career in sales culminates in sales management, and yet there are of course far less management positions up for grabs than sales positions.

As a consequence, salespeople with this attitude concentrate on making sales rather than investing in themselves in order to become Top 5 % players and eventually most become disillusioned, resulting in a significant dip in achievements levels.

The knock-on effect of this is that most salespeople who move into management, take with them an underdeveloped view of selling – a “traditional” orientation and as consequence they help to create or maintain an unrealistic and short sighted vision of what will be needed to develop their teams.

Because they lack Top 5% experience themselves, and an insight into the skills needed to make it at the highest level, the environment that they help to create fails to recognise the need for outstanding performers, and this is particularly noticeable in the compensation structures they build, which neither supports nor encourages their teams to break through that final glass ceiling.

As I have said often enough, both here, and on numerous other occasions, the single most common mistake that organizations make is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager, thereby depriving themselves in a single stroke of their best producer and hamstringing their sales force with an ineffective manager.

The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find newly promoted sales managers who regret having taken a management position and may even leave to get back into sales – that is if they are not pushed first!

The majority of sales managers – new and experienced alike – say they do not have sufficient time to train and develop their sales teams. They are so focused on sales results – and so accustomed to achieving success through their personal pursuit of those results – that they overlook their greatest potential source of power, the power to increase sales performance by developing their people.

The sales manager’s role is transforming from evaluator to developer, from expert to resource, from teller to questioner. This change is no mere tweaking adjustment, it is a 180° shift from how most sales managers manage and how they are managed. Most organizations profess to want coaching, but they don’t really do anything about it. Just as students are lucky to have one or two special teachers in a lifetime, most sales professionals are lucky if they get one real coach. Organizations don’t have role models for coaching, they don’t train for it, and they don’t hold people accountable for it.”  Sales Coaching by Linda Richardson

In “Tougher at the Top” which Linda and I will be publishing next year, you can be certain that these are just some of the issues we will be addressing.

You see, today, the role of sales manager is pivotal. It is the vital link, and ineffective sales leadership is the main reason why so many sales teams are failing.

All the current excitement surrounds lead generation – it seems that everything I read everywhere, is totally focused on finding, qualifying, and weighting leads. But what is the point of continually creating new opportunities and passing them to sales managers who are unable to cope?

Depending on which sets of statistics you believe, sales performance is spiralling downwards, and yet compensation packages are increasing? But that topic is for another day.

At the end of the day, the sales leader needs to be a “model of excellence” – only then will the pack faithfully follow.

“Selling Strategically” – What Does That Mean Exactly?

In most industries today, a handful of ideal customers have become universal targets, which means that there are maybe 500 extremely large customers for up to 100 million sellers. With such intense competition, conventional approaches are not equal to the challenge. Salespeople need to develop strategies that distinguish their products, services and their organisations in the mind of the customer.

Making a sale has always involved an element of systematic planning but strategic selling means more than rehearsing product information and timing the close. Strategic selling begins with understanding your company’s strategy, vision, and distinctiveness and then selecting high profile customers.

The next step, logically, is anticipating each stage of the buying process, from analysing the competition to identifying the influencers and decision-makers and being switched in to the buyer’s political issues. In other words, there is a need for a comprehensive strategic profile and rigorous opportunity assessment process.

Most important, strategic selling means strategizing from the customer’s point of view. Top achievers see strategic selling as a routine part of their work – not a final resort.

And Now the Good News:

It is now a given fact in any sales-related seminar or conference you may attend that traditional sales methods are being relegated to the annals of history. The new, more discerning customers of today have seen to that. They now wield greater bargaining power, demand more value for money and have become more knowledgeable and professional when it comes to decision-making. Suppliers are now faced with rising customer expectations and the need to become more flexible to the requirements of each individual client.

Yet the key to differentiation lies within these expectations, since more complex buying decisions lead customers to value closer links with their suppliers.

One Size Will Never Fit All

If we start from a position of agreeing that as human beings we are all different, then we must also concur that all prospects/customers/clients are also different: In terms of their commercial requirements, they each have a unique set of values, their own way of doing business – and how they expect the buying cycle to be managed. With me so far?

So, with all of this in mind, why is it that some people – many people actually – believe that a “vanilla” or “generic” sales methodology will serve the needs of all?

To be clear, this post is aimed at all those sales training organizations that claim to have an “out-of-the-box” solution which meets the needs of all front-line sales professionals. They don’t! They can’t possibly have! No such thing exists! There is no single one way to sell – different situations, industries, roles, cultures etc. require a totally different approach. Here is why.

Let’s begin by thinking about sales roles: As I have discussed before here, there are effectively three “stages” of a sales cycle, which requires us to recognize that there are actually three identifiable sales functions – or as I prefer to refer to them, “Sales Phases” i.e. Phase One: lead generation/prospect attraction. Phase Two: prospect conversion/closing the deal, and finally, Phase Three: client/customer retention and development.

We then need to think about the skills needed in each of our phases, because they are completely disparate: For example, when you are working in Phase One, logically you need to be skilled at cold-calling, or email marketing, or referral selling. Most social media pro-activity is also focused on creating incremental opportunities – and you will not learn any of these skills from any sales methodology program that I have ever seen.

During Phase Two, if we follow the “traditional” sales/buying cycle path, we need to qualify the opportunity, create a solution that precisely fits our prospect’s requirements, present that solution, negotiate, and close. That all sounds rather simplistic, and we all understand that complex sales can be far more … well complex. Here most sales methodologies come into their own.

Finally, Phase Three, this is the phase where most companies are weakest, preferring to concentrate most of their resources on Phase One: The ability to first build and then develop a strong customer base, which promotes strong two-way loyalty, and is founded on a totally symbiotic philosophy is what differentiates highly successful companies from the also-rans – and for also-rans, read much less profitable. Again, you will not gain anything from a sales methodology program if you wish to take these skills on board.

So far I have merely illustrated how out-of-the-box sales team development can never provide a precise solution in terms of skills development: We then need to look at industry/sector specialization. And then, what about culture? Do we all sell the same wherever we are located in the world? Of course we don’t.

Be assured, one size will never fit all – in fact, it won’t fit many.