How Percy the Persistent Pigeon Finally Got to “Yes, I’ll Buy”

I have never contemplated the fact that I might be even slightly voyeuristic, but now I am not so sure. You see, for the past month, from the comfort of my study, I have sporadically been witnessing the exploits of a very resilient pigeon, who I have affectionately named “Percy” – and yes, my choice of name may have a deeper Freudian meaning, after all wasn’t it Freud who said “Anatomy is destiny?” – but let’s not go there for now.

Percy the pigeon, and his flighty female companion Prudence – yet again, a name chosen after careful observation – first came to my attention after what I perceived to be a minor high-wire altercation, at least that was my first somewhat naive perception. Pru was clearly making her feelings known, and Percy made a pretty swift exit – well as swift an exit as a pigeon can make, which actually is not really very swift at all.

Ten minutes later he was back. Obviously he had made a quick flight around the block, summoned up his courage once more, and was ready for another tilt at this finely feathered girl of his dreams. Again he was rebuffed, and once more he circled the neighbourhood, only to return again.

By now it had dawned on me that I was not witnessing an aggressive contest of wills, but rather an intense passage of ornithological courtship. As a consequence, I became even more intrigued as to how this would all pan out for poor Percy, and prudent Pru.

Gradually, I observed, Pru appeared to becoming more responsive to our heroes’ overtures, and for a while, they seemed to be cuddling up. Perce would nudge her with his wing, and I chuckled imagining what he might be whispering: “Come on love, you know you want to” At which point she would move away a little: “In your dreams bird brain” she may have been responding.

Well, to cut a slightly long story somewhat shorter, after about another hour of this frankly hilarious performance, dear Pru’s resistance was worn down. At that point, I averted my eyes to allow them as much privacy as they might reasonably expect whilst indulging themselves twenty feet above the ground, clinging to the most thinnest of telephone wires.

So, what is the moral of this story? What on earth could this possibly have to do with professional frontline selling?

Isn’t that obvious? It’s persistence! Percy demonstrated amazing patience and persistence – he never once thought about giving up. He simply would not accept that “No means Never”

A recent survey carried out by The Results Corporation PLC discovered:

* 60% of clients buy after five “No’s”

* 22% after the second “No”

* And 14% after a third “No”

Yet 44% of salespeople give up after the first rejection! That is almost one in two?

If Percy and his chums adopted the same mentality, pigeons would soon be an endangered species

A well-known oil company whose name I cannot mention, (but let’s just say that their senior executives will not be vacationing on a certain US gulf coast for a while) discovered that it took their best salespeople an average of three visits and five follow-up calls to convert a prospect into a client. Yet their average sales performers only visited prospects twice and then gave up, costing the company millions of pounds in wasted sales effort and even more in lost potential sales opportunities.

Make no mistake, persistence pays – just ask Percy and Pru!

The Meek Will Not Inherit the C-Lounge!

I used to be indecisive – now I am less certain!

Disclosure: I really struggle with “ditherers” Life is far too short.

Prudence? Yes. Due diligence? Of course. But in business if you want to distinguish yourself from the average, you have to trust your judgment – absolutely have to.

While some decisions are easy (what to eat for supper) many more are extremely hard. Usually, a hard decision involves greater consequences/implications or, in some cases, a higher level of resource commitment.

In reality, not all so-called hard decisions are hard. Some feel harder than others owing to scale:
* If a friend asks to borrow $5, you’re likely to oblige without thinking about it.
* If that friend asks to borrow $1,000, you’re likely to be circumspect and ask questions.

The decision is the same one in essence – concerning creditworthiness. But, where the amount is greater, we perceive the decision to be much harder because the consequences are greater. Who cares about $5? But $1,000 is a sum most people would not wish to lose. It represents a risk, but at what stage does the decision become hard – $6, $25, more? The risk is that the friend might not or cannot repay the money and therefore you might regret your decision. Your decision will be based on your consideration of the risk and the magnitude of the possible loss, although you might not see it in this way.

We can define a decision as having “hard” characteristics when:

* The situation is uncertain i.e. there is a greater perceived risk

* The situation is inherently complex with many different issues e.g. the siting of a new airport is immensely complex, especially in these environmentally-aware times, because of the factors that must be taken into consideration (flight paths, air traffic control slots, residents, communications links, etc.).

* There are several objectives, but one or more is blocked and compromises or trade-offs are needed.

* Different perspectives can lead to different conclusions – especially true where two or more people are involved in making a decision; they may disagree about the assumptions, probable outcomes or even the decision.

The key issue is how to handle hard decisions to ensure they are taken as painlessly as possible. This requires the use of a robust, consistent approach and an appropriate level of detail – essential to ensure that risk is minimized, or at least understood.

I hope I articulated all of that well; you’ll have to decide!

What is Your Definition Of Successful Leadership?

Defining just what makes a leader effective remains as difficult today as it ever was. But that does not prevent us from seeking to distil their secrets – quite the reverse.

Of course, there must be almost as many theories on leadership as there are leaders themselves and models for the best kind of leadership change with the times.

In the 15th century, Niccolo Machiavelli advocated a combination of cunning and intimidation as a way to more effective leadership. His philosophy, if not his practices, became unfashionable some time ago – thank God!

Great Man” theories, popular in the 19th century and early this century are based on the notion of the “born leader” who has innate talents that cannot be taught. An alternative approach that is still in vogue is based on trying to identify the key traits of effective leaders.

Behaviorist theory prefers to see leadership in terms of what leaders do, rather than their individual characteristics, and it tries to identify the different roles they fulfil. More recently, attention has moved away from the individual in the leadership role, to embrace a more holistic view and investing less in what some commentators refer to as the “myth of the heroic leader.”

To those who would suggest that great leaders are born, not made, I would say this: We can examine all of the great leaders in history – and I have examined most of them – and identify some common characteristics, but we cannot say they were “Born Leaders” They all developed into their leadership roles over a period of time, learning the skills along the way.

I do believe that leaders can be developed – I have to believe that, because currently we have far too few of them in the world, but we are certainly over-blessed with managers.

The Most Important Phase of the Entire Sales/Buying Cycle?

It is essential that all frontline sales professionals fully understand both the value and importance of rigorous objective qualification, not just at the front end but right the way through the sales cycle. Qualification is a process not a single event and everyone  should be fully skilled in asking a small number of basic questions regarding precise requirements, time scales, budget, competition etc. before they are prepared to reveal their price and delivery.

As the value of the product, service or solution increases, the depth of the qualification should increase proportionally.

External salespeople have the opportunity to meet with prospective customers and it is far easier to extract information face to face than it is via the telephone or conference call however, it is vital that some initial answers are elicited prior the that first exploratory meeting in order to ensure that the meeting will be worthwhile to both parties. With sales costs spiralling upwards and sales time becoming limited, considerable prudence is required on the part of the salesperson.

During that first meeting, a considerable amount of detail can and should be uncovered e.g. background and history of the company, the key individuals, the composition of the DMU (Decision Making Unit) if there is one, timescales, budget, competition, current suppliers, buying criteria etc. Only by rigorous questioning will the salesperson be able to answer the following questions when they get back to the office:

Is there a requirement/need that my company can satisfy?

Is it winnable?

Do I want it?

The very best sales professionals will not pursue the opportunity – after proper objective analysis – if the answer to any of those questions is “No”. They will rather invest their precious selling time seeking out and closing opportunities that will provide a profitable return on that investment.

At the very highest selling levels i.e. strategic “big-ticket” selling and marketing, clearly the sales cycle is much more protracted, complex, and typically moves through four stages i.e.

Rigorous opportunity assessment
Develop a strategy
Present the solution and re-assess the opportunity
Gain formal commitment, sign the order and develop

Having a tilt at every windmill that presents itself is neither practical nor profitable.

Qualification is a core competency that every professional salesperson should take on board as quickly as possible. Working to the maxim that “All business is good business” is unrealistic and totally erroneous.It takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the pipeline only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one – the ability to determine which is which, can have a huge impact on your ultimate success in a front-line sales role.


Latest News: This week’s Top Sales Magazine is out today: Leading social selling pioneer and evangelist, Barb Giamanco is in the interview hot-seat, and Linda Richardson provides the lead article – “Finding Your Creativity in Unlikely Places” Plus we have great contributions from Tamara Schenk, Jeffrey Gitomer, Kevin Eikenberry and Jeff Perkins.

As usual, we announce this week’s Top Sales Blog Post and Top Sales Article, and in my editorial, I ask “Are you about to be commoditized or will you survive?” Not subscribed? You can register for free here –

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.