Customer Service in Sepia; Salesmanship in Full Technicolor. Thank You Stephen Mulder!

When we think “sepia,” we think “old fashioned” or we think of “the way things used to be” My memories of genuine quality customer service are vague – rather like those long hot summers we always had when we were growing up?

These days, I am mostly confined to writing and discussing poor experiences, as I crusade to make things better: I am very sad that when we do encounter anything remotely resembling  that “genuine quality customer service” we are surprised – shocked even – as maybe we have almost forgotten what it looks and feels like?

Enter Stephan Mulder – you may recognize that name from a recent post. Stephan is not the best salesman I have ever met – although I am quite discerning, having personally trained and coached more than 100.000 of them – but he is certainly in the top 5%, and has the potential to make it into the top 1%, if he decides that is what he wants for himself.

So, what is so special about Stephan? To begin with, he obviously possesses all of the essential skills and traits of a top performer, i.e. negotiation, presentation, closing skills etc. He also takes a long-term view to relationship-building and business development, and I suspect he is building a very strong customer portfolio – and I am now part of that! Nothing out of the ordinary so far, lots of salesmen and women have all of that – maybe. But when you add in Stephan’s exceptional rapport-building ability; his eye for detail, never leaving anything to chance; the way he instantly finds common ground/interests; the way he always does what he says he is going to do – precisely when he said he would; his gift of communicating “with” rather than “to” or “at” and last but not least, his very wide commercial bandwidth.

There are those in the motor industry who believe that the sales function should become obsolete – after all, quality cars sell themselves, don’t they? It is true, as I suggested in that first post, I did know what I wanted and no selling was really required, but I did most certainly need “facilitation” and I needed assurance, guidance and for the whole transaction to go smoothly. Stephan gave me all of that, and more. Make no mistake, I did have choices, because I could have chosen another dealer! Thanks to Stephan, I chose Vindis, and I will go back again. I will even tell all my friends, colleagues and acquaintances – and a few thousand readers of this blog post!

Again, thank you Stephan Mulder – you really did provide customer service  in sepia, but the quality of your salesmanship was definitely full technicolor.

When Confidence is Replaced by Arrogance ….

During a recent keynote, I made a case for confidence being one of the defining factors of all successful people we know, and I said ….

It is their inner belief that they can achieve anything they want to achieve, and enjoy as much success as they wish – however they personally define success.”

The speech prompted several questions at the end including this one …

“I am wondering how best to test for the confidence level you discuss when interviewing prospective sales personnel. (If it has not been clearly demonstrated in past performance records). I believe over-confidence displays itself in cockiness and conceit and that amount of confidence is harmful (to me, my company and the salesperson himself) in the long run. Any thoughts on how to test for the “right” confidence level?”

My response  …

“There is a huge difference between confidence and arrogance (cockiness). Confident people understand the need to continually learn and expand their commercial bandwidth. They understand what they know, but equally recognize what they don’t know. Conversely, arrogant people think they know it all, and as a consequence, don’t know what they don’t know!”

And that really is the point: Crossing that line from confidence to arrogance is so, so easy.

One can very easily formulate a list of political leaders; military leaders; artists; sporting icons; and even so called sales “gurus” – whatever interpretation you apply to that word – who were the architects of their own demise, because quite simply, they allowed their egos to rule their heads. They forgot their roots. They forgot the people who helped them on the way up – the same people who would inevitably suffer a similar loss of memory as our heroes travelled in the opposite direction downwards.

Humility is, in my view, one of the most admirable and rare traits of the truly successful.

The underlying message of this post is this: It really doesn’t matter how good you think you are, there will always be people who are better, and your ambition should be to emulate them.

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about your chosen topic, respect others who know everything there is to know about their chosen topic – being myopic is a very unattractive trait.

Everyone you meet in this world will know something you don’t know – do not be misled by their status, because status has no relevance when it comes to wisdom. Some of the most interesting and mind-expanding conversations I have ever had have been with people in very humble situations – they probably couldn’t spell “arrogance” let alone describe it!

Your Customers: Valued Assets or Dumb Milk Cows for Money?

Why should I be nice to someone who is yelling at me?” says one of your people. Well, that is not an unreasonable question. Let’s try to understand the psychology of people who grumble — or worse, complain.

Believe it: For most people (apart from a psychotic few), complaining is a very stressful thing to do. Apart from whether the problem itself has made the customer angry, having to pump themselves up enough emotionally to have a “confrontation” makes people short-tempered. So people dealing with customers must expect them to be upset and angry.

Let’s analyze the language. The customer says, “That is not good enough,” quite probably with a few expletives thrown in for good measure. Now, the person handling the call probably did not cause the problem themselves, someone else did. Why take the blame for that? Well, because the person handling the call is part of the team and happens to be the one taking the call.

The drive for continuous improvement will come from your customers — if you let it, and if people’s arrogance does not get in the way. Believe me, the customer is an expert in your business. They may not know how to make grommets, or how to merchandise goods, or how to write software, but they do know what they want from you. Imagine them saying, “As customers, we do not want it your way; we want it the way that suits us. And we will tell you, if you want to listen, and providing we see you want to do something about it.”

One of the problems with employees in many companies is that they just do not want to be told anything, especially by a customer.

Nobody’s going to get anywhere with customer relations until they recognize that customers are valued assets, not dumb milk cows for money.

Negotiation – Always Start With The End In Mind

The fundamental difference between selling and negotiation is that selling is a process to identify the fit between what the seller is offering and what the buyer is seeking.

Negotiation is the process of agreeing the terms of the deal and is part of the selling continuum. Yet the negotiation should only begin when there is a genuine commitment from the buyer and seller towards a conditional sale.

It is a bit like dating; usually a person is unlikely to book a restaurant until a date has been agreed to. Equally, the person being asked for a date would not particularly care about the restaurant choice unless they were sufficiently interested in attending the date.

Once the date has been agreed it’s simply a matter of agreeing/negotiating the type of restaurant, location and time. When an individual is or has committed to do something, their level of interest rises dramatically, which is why the negotiation phase can be a hotbed of emotional intensity and tension.

Excellent salespeople use the selling phase to lay the ground rules for a possible future negotiation by ensuring that they fully understand their prospect’s requirements and decision making process, whilst planting seeds and setting the tone for the negotiation phase. If, for example, you do all the giving through the selling phase, you have established the pre-supposition that you will continue to do all the giving in the negotiation phase. The transition from selling to negotiating can only occur when the desire to do business has been evoked in the prospect.

So, always start with the end in mind ….

April Edition of Top Sales Magazine Published

Our bumper April magazine is now published, and ready for your enjoyment.

In the interview “hot-seat” this month is the CEO of AVENTION, Jonathan A. Flatow, who shares a two-step customer-centric approach for winning new business.

Linda Richardson – New York Times bestselling author, educator, sales leader, and the founder of the Richardson consulting firm – provides the lead article, “The Six Critical Skills for the NEW Sales Dialogue”

Also in this issue we have guest articles from Colleen Stanley, Colleen Francis, Zorian Rotenberg, Ed Calnan, Etien D’Hollander, Brad Childress, Kevin Davis and Michael Griego.

Our regular feature writers, Barb Giamanco, Nancy Nardin, Babette Ten Haken, Tamara Schenk, Dave Kurlan, Deb Calvert and Keith Rosen chip in with some superb contributions.

Finally, my “JF Uncut” column is taken over by my Italian cousin, the well-known Italian film director, Jonatelli Farringtonioni this month, who shares all the news from around the sales space. ….

There is news of an exciting new career change for Jill Konrath, but rejection for Lori Richardson. Kurt Shaver – and his wife – receive a surprise.

Jonatelli also announces a planned re-make of the hit TV series “The Borgias” starring some well-known sales experts.

Linda Richardson gets one or two things straightened out, and Dave Brock’s work is judged by the TSW panel.

Paul Simon – Top Sales World’s editor – switches sides, and Nancy Nardin is “awe-struck”

That’s it, no more clues!

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The Myth Surrounding What Motivates Salespeople

One of the biggest myths surrounding frontline sales professionals is what motivates them and drives them to succeed.

Ask a non-sales person, and I promise you that they will say it is all about financial reward – wrong! Totally, totally erroneous.

The reality is that most salespeople want to grow and show what they can do. They want to be able to say at the end of the work experience not that they vegetated, but that they are more than they were (know more, can do more and therefore, are more). The only way to measure this is by what they have done in that experience.

They are therefore asking the following questions:

“Do I achieve? Am I contributing?”

“Am I given increased responsibility?”

“Am I advancing and growing?”

“Is what I do meaningful and significant? Is its interesting?”

“Is my ability recognized?”

These are “The Motivators”. They are the variables that managers can use to motivate their people, because people should want to do things – that’s motivation.

So if we want to talk about motivated performance, we have also got to talk about:

- Achievement

- Recognition for achievement

- Meaningful and interesting work

- Increased responsibility

- Growth and development

In other words, the quality of the human experience at work.

But I can be even more specific than that. I can share with you the eight key motivating or de-motivating – factors that we measure when profiling salespeople, they are:

- Relationship with manager
- Responsibility
- Promotion
- Acceptance by peer group
- Job content
- Financial motives
- Recognition and praise
- Achievement

And in 80% of cases, achievement comes out on top - not financial motives

Understanding what motivates each member of a sales team is absolutely vital for any sales manager wishing to maintain that team at optimum performance levels,

One final word of caution: The opposite of de-motivated is not motivated. Just because a member of your team is not unhappy, it doesn’t mean they are happy – there is a mid-point, and it is called ambivalence!


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

In practice, you 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 feels 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 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.

Unfortunately, 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 article 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.

Maintaining High Self-Esteem

Apart from the Builder, one factor connects the other three types in preventing them from networking more effectively. This is the issue of self-esteem.

The Loner believes in himself or herself, but not necessarily in others (especially relative strangers). The Socializer likes people, but also very much wants to be liked by others (and therefore does not want to ask for favors). Finally, the User takes a relatively selfish view of, “If I benefit or gain, I might reciprocate; otherwise I won’t.”

Of course, all of these types fear rejection, obligation, being too pushy or even looking weak. All of these fears or concerns about networking need to be lessened or overcome.

A topic as big and potentially complicated as a person’s relative self-esteem cannot be covered at any level of detail in a short article. However, it is important to appreciate how low self-esteem can have a major impact on your networking efforts if it is not at least basically understood and addressed.

An individual with high self-esteem is likely to build his/her own confidence to want to network by having a positive, open and “can-do” attitude.

Conversely, an individual with low self-esteem is likely to lack confidence to start with. They will convince themselves (and others) that they have little that would be of interest to others in any network.

And in a successful sales career, this is too high a price to pay.

That’s it for another momentous week, and next week is going to be mega! Look out for an announcement from Top Sales World regarding a new Principal Sponsor; Top Sales Magazine publishes on Tuesday – April 1st, and you will not want to miss that! My Italian cousin, the famous film director and producer, Jonatelli Farringtonioni is standing in for me on my JF Uncut column. Oh, and I will have more news for you about the TSW Convention in November – dates are now fixed, November 18th-20th.

Wherever you are, have a wonderful w/e – JF


Executives Who Balk At Taking the Journey of Self-Development Could Find Themselves Isolated

Traditionally, one of our largest clients ran its business from manuals. Staff who wanted to know how something should be done would be directed by a senior manager “to look in staff manual 108” for the answer. It was not a motivational style of management and had become unsuitable for fast-changing modern business conditions. So eight years ago, based on our recommendations, they created what they called “The ultimate service provision” by merging all the information technology (IT) and back-office functions. Management broke with old habits and traditional training and decided to improve the leadership skills of the senior managers through coaching.

The outcome has been a resounding success, producing far better results than conventional development training. The evident superiority of coaching explains why more companies are taking the same route and making it a priority.

I believe that coaching’s rapid growth will continue. Forward thinking organizations are looking for alternative ways to lead and organize staff. The business world has experienced more upheaval in the past ten years than in the previous fifty. It’s no accident that this period of unprecedented change has witnessed a boom in executive coaching.

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

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

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

What 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.

Do We Really Need Marketing?

I have a very long commercial memory, and I remember with considerable clarity that in days long ago, the “marketing function” was a sideshow, almost an after-thought, or an add-on to the real engine room within most companies – the sales force.

Typically, the inhabitants of the marketing department – yes, that was way before they became divisions, or even functions – were either failed salesmen or women, who had lost the appetite for full on daily competitive skirmishes, or they were returning mothers, looking for some part-time income.

Their days usually began at 8.55 am on the dot, and ended at 5.01pm. They closed down typewriters/word processors (yes, I am really talking about that long ago) at 1.00 pm to unpack their lunches, and then religiously packed all the Tupperware and flasks away again at 1.59 pm.

They did not so much enter rooms, but rather shuffle in, nervously – almost apologetically – as if in fear of being asked if they could possibly justify their existence.

They may have thought that they were responsible for promoting – and occasionally defending – the company’s image, but in reality, they were at the beckoning of anyone in the boardroom/C-Suite. Come to think about it, they were also at the beckoning of anyone in sales too.

When I arrived at board level – and in fact, at every company I operated at that level – I quickly learned that marketing budgets were there to be spent. It was almost as if not spending the entire budget would be perceived as failure! So what did I do? I refused to allocate a budget, but rather, I laid out sensible guidelines, which forced discussion and justification for any major spend. Radical? Hardly. But it ensured that I always had my finger on the pulse.

My goodness, how times have changed. Marketing heads now stride across the sales floor; they look the sales team in the eyes; they have become an important and integral part of the “offense unit” …. In fact, marketing teams who know what they are doing are as valuable as high-achieving sales professionals, and in the not too distant future, will be more so in many industries.

Why? The advancement in very high quality and efficient sales/marketing alignment tools, have propelled marketing into a formidable front-line function, producing a constant stream of high quality leads and opportunities. In many organizations, they have replaced cold calling and established themselves as the “new business creation stars”

So why still the stand-off? Why still no legal wedding with sales? Why an uneasy truce – a kind of “marriage of convenience?”

I’ll explain that in a follow-up post next week. It isn’t “rocket science” – well not to someone who has a long memory, and can remember typewriters!