Outsiders Change Companies, the Rest of Us do What We’re Told

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash.com

 “When I’m in charge, things will be different.”

We’ve all thought it at some point. Either we forget or ignore the truth: it takes a hefty dose of conformity to obtain power within most sales organizations.  This diminishes anyone’s ability to enact change, unless they get to the top of the pyramid.  By then, few understand the challenges of the front line.  In your last sales meeting, did the sales managers question policy or promote it?  Yes, there are people paid to offer innovative ideas. They’re called consultants.

Even the noblest among us, when setting out to cure a company’s ills, can become infected.  The status quo is the conscious choice of your current leadership.  Chances are, they’re not inviting you to question it.

Instead, try changing what’s in your power to change:  yourself.  Want your boss to be less critical?  Be less critical of yourself.  Want to have more money? Spend less of it. Want to help others?  

You get the idea.


Sales Words: The Performance Effect

Jealous of the Top Performers on Your Sales Team? Here’s a Reason to Reconsider.

In addition to recognition and accolades, top performing sales people enjoy a hidden side benefit that helps them retain there status for ever longer. What I call the Performance Effect is the added motivation gained from simply being a top sales person. Whereas before, you might have identified yourself as a mediocre performer, now you have the extrinsic reinforcement that say you’re a top gun. To you, it makes sense to spend that extra hour or two making an extra call or answering an extra RFP. All the while, everyone else on the sales force wonders how you do it. For reps with steadily growing territories and stable performance metrics, the performance effect may sustain itself for months, if not years. For sales reps who experience significant and frequent changes, the effect may be fleeting.

As shocking as it may sound, the performance effect is something to avoid rather than envy. The reason? All good things come to an end – even for star sales people. One small change in performance measurement, product pricing, or territory geography is all that may be required. The longer a rep believes his own positive press, the more profound the fall from hero to zero can be. Sales people experiencing this abrupt change may become bitter and experience a level of self-doubt. A rep feeling this way may feel she somehow “lost her mojo”.

Unlike other jobs, sales people experience a wiping clean of their performance slate every year. We start every year with $0 in sales and essentially need to prove the right to keep our job once again. Therefore, more so than in others professions, sales people need to be reinvigorated. Daniel Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, believes we all need to see the power of intrinsic motivation. Having a strong sense of meaning or purpose in your job makes you resistant to the extrinsic ups and downs of things like quota attainment. According to Mr. Pink, other essential factors to motivation include autonomy and mastery.

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You’ll Find Me in Cell Block C4 – Spreadsheets and Sales

Yes, they’re an excellent tool for analyzing data. Yes, they give individuals and companies the ability to store large amounts of information, perform calculations, and even spot trends. Yes, our employers probabaly wouldn’t be able to pay our paychecks without them. I am, of course, referring to spreadsheets.

No, spreadsheets don’t hurt people. People do. At some point, we went from using them as tools to inform decision making, to tools that actually make decisions. “I’ll spend the majority of my time with my top 20% of customers”, we might say. “We’ll fire the bottom 10% of the salesforce,” management might say. Like a sophisticated Magic 8 Ball toy, a formula plugged into a spreadsheet spits out a course of action for us and we dutily follow it.

Like all computer programs, spreadsheets cannot function without input. That’s where you and I come in. We take one of the outputs of our work, (ie. net sales, market share, etc.) and feed to the spreadsheet so it can work it’s magic. Unfortunately, magic has yet to be proven to be anything more than artistic, entertaining, trickery. Here are some problems with the way we use spreadsheets in sales. Feel free to add more in the comments section of this post.

Spreadsheets Can De-humanize Sales people and Customers

We humans want to be treated as individuals. Considering only a few data points takes away any unique or relevant details regarding the individual. Intellectually, we all know this but, in practice, we forget it very quickly. According to Cal Newport in his book “Deep Work”, it is scientifically impossible for the human brain to truly multitask. Instead, our focus switches quickly between two or more tasks giving us the illusion of doing more than one thing at once. Therefore, when analyzing a sales report, it is impossible to scrutinize the data and consider the person attached to it at the same time.

To this day, I have my personal breakthroughs quickly reduced to rubble at the hands of a spreadsheet. In response to a record week of sales, I am rewarded with a report sharing how many reps around the country had the same or more sales than I did. Customers don’t fare much better either. We don’t throw reports in their faces. Instead, we treat them only as well as their business potential dictiates. Why? That’s what a formula on our spreadsheet tell us to do.

Spreadsheets Facilitate False Assumptions

Where does data come from? The past. According to Nicholas Nassim Taleb in his book, “Fooled By Randomness”, one of the biggest mistakes humans make when looking at history is assuming everything is due to cause and effect and not randomness. He skillfully points out that even major historical events are the result of random factors. For example, what if Adolph Hitler was born a girl? Given the restrictions on women in Germany at the time, is there any way she could have risen to power, let alone attempted to take over the world? In a more practical sense, managers often assume reps are either unskilled or lazy when sales are low.

Don’t get me started on charts either! I like the visual representation they provide in describing the past. It’s what lies beyond the trend line the spreadsheet never tells you. As someone who has won and lost on the stock market, I can tell you that no trendline EVER guarantees what will happen in the future. When your personal sales trend line is pointing down, you are looking at a picture of the past. You and I only have influence on the future.

Spreadsheets Can Hide Information

Anyone who has used Excel can show you how easy it is to hide rows or columns of data. Once the information is out of sight, it’s much easier to ignore. Often its the data that’s NOT recorded in the first place that is relevant. Try developing a list of key customers without looking at geography and you may miss many smaller targets who have high potential because of some geographic factor.

I had a friend who was a judge tell me once that he did not like video-taped testimony. He felt something could be happening off camera that could be influencing the witness. Spreadsheets, have the same effect. They shout, “Hey look at this information here!” All the while, our focus is potentially taken away from something else that could be more relevant.

Spreadsheets Often Oversimplify the Real World

As sophisticated as we think we are when we use them, spreadsheets force us to limit the way we see the world. Why? Our brains are not wired to take in massive amounts of information at once. Therefore we use spreadsheets to help find that one crucial piece of data or trend. Again, it’s the ‘Hey, look over here’ effect. The dumbing down of our approach makes us susceptible to confirmation bias. This is when we only notice data that confirms what we already think. Daniel Kahneman explores this and many other cognitive biases in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

One mostly uh-helpful excercise I’ve had to perform many times in my career is the “Hot, Warm, and Cold” list. “Hot” customers are those we think are close to buying. “Warm” need a little more work and “Cold” are not interested at all in my product. These designations fit nicely into a spreadsheet where they can be sorted. Other than for time management, this information provides little value in advancing sales cycles. Calling someone a “Hot” prospect does not tell me what I need to do next to insure the sale gets closed. Calling someone a “Cold” prospect doesn’t guarantee that I’m not losing business by ignoring them either.

Spreadsheets are no more to blame for these problems than a baby is for a dirty diaper. The real problem is the power we give them – the power to make decisions for us and make us less accountable. Stop confining yourself, your employees, and your customers to numbers in a cell and you just may see your world open up!

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9.13.18 Update:
To date, this my-most viewed post. If you have a second, please leave a quick comment below and tell me just what drew you to read it. Was it the title? What did you think of the content? All opinions are welcome!

Ps. I’d like to put a plug in for Seth Godin’s “Akimbo” podcast. I love his thoughtful and straightforward tone. His thoughts often inspire mine. To check it out on iTunes click here or search for “Akimbo” in your podcast player.
To check out Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Fooled By Randomness” on Amazon, click here.
To check out Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” on Amazon, click here.
To check out Daniel Kaheneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” on Amazon, click here.

5 Popular Sales Tactics that are Manipulation in Disguise

The most important timeframe for sales people is NOW. The most important goal? GROWTH. Losing bids and losing customers is secondary. The problem? Think back to your best personal experience with a sales person. It’s doubtful he or she was forceful or deceiving in any way. Don’t your customers deserve the same treatment? You know not to lie to customers – even though it can bring short-term success. It’s time to reconsider any sales tactic in your arsenal that doesn’t directly help customers.

Here are five sales tactics that are manipulation in disguise:

1. Non-verbal Persuasion

Think mirroring, using facial expressions, how we dress, eyc contact, etc. These tactics are scientifically proven to make a good impression on a customer. They subconsciously make us more appealing. Is this such a bad thing? Maybe not, but imagine a salesperson dressing like you, posing like you, and smiling like you. Creepy!

2. Passive-Aggressive Pressuring

This is anything from showing up smiling at the same client every day to casually mentioning a tragedy experienced by a company similar to theirs. Whether or not your customer notices immediately is irrelevant. Although your words and actions are polite, what do your actions communicate? Is the insight you’re presenting really a cause for concern? Fear mongering and fake kindness waste your customer’s time and ruin relationships. Customer’s work on their own schedule, not yours.

3. Lying by Omission

This one should be obvious but sales people do it everyday. It’s the fine print that we omit from our presentations. It’s the discount card telling you your medicine is $15 when it ends up costing $150. It’s not alway our fault. Sometimes, corporate keeps us in the dark. What the customer doesn’t know, WILL, eventually hurt them. Getting the sale is never worth risking your credibility. Tell the whole truth.

4. Relationship Selling

Strong business relationships are paramount. Personal relationships can be very helpful, but only when they’re genuine. Don’t be the sales person who goes to family parties or sporting events with clients he can’t stand. Sooner or later your customer will know your a fake and so will you. Try hanging with your real friends a little more. They probably miss you!

5. Keeping Score (Quid Pro Quo)

This means using favors of any sort as leverage. John David Mann and Bob Burg’s book, “The Go Giver”, sums it up nicely.  Among other sage advice, they implore us stop keeping score. Stop expecting something in return for the extra care and service you give to your customers.  Instead, be generous because it’s the right thing to do.  Aren’t you annoyed by sales people who think they can trade a free gift in exchange for a high-pressure sales presentation? To truly give something “free of charge” is to offer it without ANY strings attached.

The verdict:
Are you a horrible person because you’ve used one of these sales tactics I’ve mentioned? Not at all. What separates manipulation from skilled selling is sincerity. If you are having a good conversation, you probably automatically use non-verbal relating techniques. Put your time into answering objections instead of avoiding them. If your customer turns out to be a nice guy our gal, be their friend. Just be a real friend, not one that asks for something in return.

But these techniques work!  Isn’t it my job to sell?  Yes, manipulation techniques do work, but only until your customer figures them out. Then you’re screwed. Don’t risk losing next year’s customers by manipulating them today.



If you’d like to get out “The Go Giver” book on Amazon click here.

In Sales, “Playing The Game” Means "You Lose!"

Are you playing the game?
Do you ignore the inept policies, bad managerial decisions, and unrealistic expectations that come with your sales job in hopes for a brighter future? Do you instead do EXACTLY what you’re told in the manner you’re told to do it? Do you tell management what they want to hear, not how you really feel?
Why We Do It:
You look good to your manager.
You get favored treatment.
You have job security.
You see no other alternative, except the shame of undperformance.
Why We Shouldn’t Do It:
1. You look good only if your numbers are good.
Most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance improvement plan. Following company protocols rarely, if ever, saves anyone with weak sales results.
2. You take incomplete or bad advice.
If making the sale was as simple as following the 5 step strategy you learned in training, you wouldn’t have a job. A high school kid would be doing it. There is always more to do and learn than management tells you.
3. You often don’t improve your skills.
Doing only what your told is a convenient excuse for not trying anything new. It’s been years since your boss has really sold anything. Have the courage to expand your abilities by talking to customers, reading books etc.
4. You are vulnerable to the next market change.
Selling by the book may pay handsomely now, but when your market changes, you’ll be behind the reps who were thinking ahead.
5. You annoy your customers.
Your customers pay for the value that you and your product bring them. Even the ones that like you have limited patience. Don’t waste their time with anything that doesn’t meet their needs even if it makes the boss happy.
6. You perpetuate the very conditions you complain about.
Can you lose weight without diet or excercise? If you don’t at least TRY to change your company for the better, nothing will happen! The pharmaceutical industry is a great example. For years, many doctors have often not allowed sales reps to talk to them. To make their sales call metrics, pharma reps have, for years, simply put fake calls into their CRM systems. The result? Unrealistic call metrics never go away!
Modern research supports not playing the game as well. For a more in-depth analysis, read on:
Sales is a world of accountability gone wild. When they say “Sell!”, we say “How Much!” Yet we are only as good as our latest sales report. Again, regardless past achievements , most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance plan. You tell yourself you seek challenge, achievement, and money but more so, you fear failure.
In her book, “Leading Professionals: Power, Politics and Prima Donnas”, Professor Laura Empson says that many companies look for employees they describe as “insecure overachievers”. These employees hide their insecurity behind a tremendous work ethic.  Many salespeople suffer from what I call the Oxygen Mask Problem.  “Please put your own mask on before attending to children” We’ve all heard the safety message when flying. The Insecure Overachiever does the opposite. He or she thinks that taking care of everyone else will ultimately result in taking care of herself.  Except the world doesn’t work that way, especially in sales.
Playing The Game
Playing the game in a sales job means blindly following a set of rules with the hope that your career will be taken care of. As an official game player, you may see others who don’t follow suit as irresponsible or reckless. Ironically, it’s you that is not facing up to reality.
Sales people complain about everything from unfair pay, to manufacturing delays, to the color choices for their next company car.  Some complaints are frivolous.  Some are not. Either way, when at the next company meeting, a manager asks for feedback, you, the good rule-follower, remain hidden in the crowd refusing to speak up.  Then, at the hotel bar later that evening, you unleash your complaints on whomever will commiserate. Congratulations! Send me your jersey size because you are officially playing the game!
You tell yourself there are valid reasons for doing this.  It’s what everybody else does.  It avoids getting you noticed for being a complainer. It puts you on your boss’s good side.  Playing the game paves the way to your next promotion. It’s the best thing to do for you and your family. When the opportunity comes to act independently or speak up you turn it down. Ironically, in an effort to avoid betraying the system, you betray yourself.
Take A Time Out
Change is scary isn’t it? The system you hate is still one you know.  Why take a chance when things can get worse?  “I’ll just put my head down, do my job, and wait until things get better,” you may think.  Unfortunately, things don’t usually get better on their own.  Some have thought, “I’ll change the system by first rising through the ranks and then working to make a difference.”
Eric Barker, author of the popular motivational book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” calls this sequencing.  It’s the belief that you can plan your life in large chunks. Life often intervenes with family issues, health isssues, and anything else to send your dreams up in smoke. After downing the huge dose of conformity it takes to be promoted, you will you have the willpower to think of the less fortunate souls you left behind?  There’s a reason newly minted sales managers are know for playing by the book.  They are pre-selected based on their willingness to do so.
So, am I saying you should flip off the boss at the next meeting or conduct a Ghandi-style hunger strike until conditions improve? Absolutely not! Let’s revisit some reasons not to play the game and explore some ideas of what to do instead.
Reason One:  Your Boss Is Human.
Sales people, like craftsmen, see their skills grow with experience.  Unlike craftsmen, the material they work with, their customers, change constantly and have a mind of their own.  Chances are, the customers and situations your boss dealt with, as a salesperson, are not the same as yours are now. High performing salespeople don’t even make the best managers, according to a large study published by the National Bureau of Economic research entitled, “Promotions and the Peter Principle“. The sales advice your boss gives you has it’s limits.   The more experience you have in sales, the less valuable this advice is.  Lower your ROI expectations on what your boss tells you.
Reason Two:  You are being judged on your results, NOT on how well you follow rules.
What you do means more than a number on a spreadsheet.  Like it or not, this is still the way most salespeople are evaluated.  Whether or not you agree with the system is irrelevant.  Most managers are playing their own version of the game and you have to live with it.  In reality, how much you sell trumps everything else.  A stellar record with turning in reports and kissing up to the boss rarely saves anyone with low sales numbers.
Reason Three:  Remaining silent helps no one.
The Bystander Effect, coined by researchers John M. Farley and Bibb Latané in the 1960’s, is a phenomenon in which witnesses to emergencies are less likely to help a victim when in a crowd.  Sound crazy?  It’s not when you consider that each individual expects someone else to help out. Ignoring serious problems doesn’t solve them.  It’s like telling your 13-year-old to skip all the difficult problems on his Math final. Not bringing up a legitimate concern to management can do a disservice to your real boss – the customer.  Don’t forget, he or she makes the buying decision, not your manager.  For a more thorough discussion of this point, check out my post “Think BACk:  Free Will Is A Bitch!” Speaking of customers, how often do they change their buying habits without you or another salesperson supplying them with a reason? Serious problems don’t solve themselves.  YOU need to speak up. It’s that simple.
What you can do about it.
Take responsibility of your own happiness. To address problems you can’t solve on your own, you have three options: bring the issues to the attention of someone who can solve them, decide not to let them bother you any longer, or seek out a better job.
Be thoughtful in the way you present your concerns.  Do not make your complaint personal or deliberately insulting.  Explain the ramifications of the problem as you see it.  How does the problem hinder the sales process or your customer’s business?  Finally, be prepared for any response.  If you’re miserable and your company shows no signs of improving, look for a better opportunity.  The same holds true if your company ignores problems and sacrifices the business you worked hard to win.
Be brave enough to demonstrate how much you care about your company. It’s unlikely you’re alone in noticing what needs improving.  You might gain more respect from your peers for doing it.

Fifteen Thoughts Top Performing Sales People Have But May Never Share With Their Managers

Attention Sales Managers! Sorry, but when you became the boss you knew you were going to lose the buddy-buddy relationships you had with your fellow sales people. Dont’ make the mistake of assuming that your non-complainers or top performers don’t have serious complaints or your complainers hate the company. Here are some thoughts they may have:

      1. I don’t need to be constantly reminded to sell more. I’ve done this for years and I support a family just like you do.
      2. A big commission check, bonus, or sales trip is only motivating if it’s realistic to attain.
      3. I know when your spinning the truth. I’ve heard myself do it enough to recognize it. You’re better off spending your time helping me sell rather than selling TO me.
      4. Just because I question you or the company doesn’t mean I don’t care. On the contrary, I want to believe in what we’re doing and need more information to do so.
      5. Please don’t offer me choice between two things when you are going to force me into one choice anyway. True empowerment is letting me make decisions.
      6. If you anger one of my customers I make efforts not to take you there (or anywhere important) again.
      7. No, I actually don’t think you are, or ever where, a better sales person than I am. You’d still be doing this job and ‘kicking ass’ like you used to if you were that good.
      8. I may think you’re a decent guy/gal but we are not friends. Friends don’t fire one another to protect their jobs.
      9. Despite what you say, if you put your own interests before mine, I will return the favor.
      10. If it seems like we share a lot off identical opinions and interests, it could be that I’m kissing up to you. Conversely, if you find we don’t have a lot in common, it could be that I am just being very real with you.
      11. If you chose to not help me or hinder my advancement within the company, I will respond by looking for another job.
      12. Pay me fairly versus my peers. Expect me to find out if one of my colleagues makes 30% more. Despite what our HR paperwork says, people talk.
      13. Filling our sales reports and using cumbersome CRM systems rarely help me sell anything. That is why I hate them and consider them a waste of time.
      14. If you don’t have the guts to advocate for me within the company, you are hardly worthy of the term “Leader.”
      15. Although I claim to want more and more money, a sincere compliment can go a long way. One last thing, please don’t use me or my performance as a way to make another sales rep feel inadequate. It creates mistrust within the team – something I assume you don’t want.

Think BACk: Confidence Is About More Than Just YOU!

Want more confidence?  Don’t we all?
“We chose John Doe’s product over his competitors’ because he really believes in himself!”, said no buyer ever.  Make no mistake, self-confidence is important. However, focusing on it alone starts you in the middle of a 3 phase process. Begin by building your own confidence in your company and what you offer. Only then should you move on to believing in yourself. Finally, with the first two confidence pieces locked in place, work on your customer’s confidence.
Phase 1: Believe in what you offer.
Be positive! Think positive! We all get tired of hearing it from our managers. You probably don’t want to feel good about your job, it’s just not possible to force it on yourself.  Ask yourself, instead, if you’ve given your own product a chance. Are you really sold on what you sell?  A good model to use is David Hoffield’s “Six Why’s” in his book, “The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal“.  Be a customer for moment and attempt to answer the following questions about you product or service:

  1. Why change what I’m doing?

  2. Why now?

  3. Why your industry solution?

  4. Why you and your company?

  5. Why your product or service?

  6. Why spend the money?

No. Your own company’s training is rarely provides enough objective information to answer adequately answer these questions. In training, they are attempting to sell you, a non-customer, on SELLING their product, not on BUYING it. Having an objective view on your product may not be as uplifting to your personally. To your customer, you have just become more trustworthy and a lot more valuable. Sorry, your product will never be ideal for every customer. Still, you may find that a specific customer type (often more specific than what your company tells you) that really connects with the benefits you offer.
Phase 2: Believe in yourself
Confidence in yourself is trickier than you think. Customers are turned off by reps who skip Phase 1 and believe in their product simply because it’s THEIR product. I call this the “Trust me” approach. Ironically, it makes customers more suspicious. No, this mistake is not restricted to used car salesman. Do not start or end your personal development with this Phase of confidence. Explaining why you have the best solution shows your customer a baseline level of respect. Customizing your offering to their needs shows them more. Finally, allowing them to question your product and have an opposing view shows them even more respect.
This is when your true confidence shows through. When a customer sees that you can handle hearing negative feedback they may open up to telling you how they really feel. Those opinions are exactly what you need to address in order to make a sale. Many of my non-sales friends say they lack confidence to do this job. Yet, ask them about their favorite TV show, favorite beer, restaurant, etc. and they will sell you like a pro!
You may also require some soul searching.  Do you have self-limiting beliefs?  If so, think back to the work you did in Phase 1.  Even if you determined your solution is just good and not great, don’t you have an obligation to present it to your customer?  Again, allow yourself to risk being questioned by being direct and frank about your product’s benefits. You want to HEAR their objections – not avoid them.  For your customer, the sales process is about solving their problem, not passing judgement, good or bad, on you.
Phase 3: Inspire you customers to believe in themselves.
Often a strong conviction in your product and yourself is all you need to make the sale. Sometimes, more effort is required. Most customers do not have the thick skin that sales people develop. Even high-level executives may secretly fear rejection of their ideas at the hands of their superiors, co-workers, and customers. This is when you step in and remind them their company gave them the authority to choose and why other stakeholders stand to also benefit from your product.
It’s easy to overlook that our decision-makers can play the role of salesman themselves throughout their day. I’ve heard well-respected physicians confess apprehension at making firm treatment recommendations to patients. In essence, they need to be convinced to use their own authority. One caution with this approach, is to avoid being overly complimentary and insincere. Encouraging a client to make decisions above their pay grade will backfire – for both of you.
Can you admit your product isn’t perfect? Can you admit you don’t know everything? If so, you’re on the right track. Confidence for the sake of protecting one’s ego or towing the company line helps no one. Remember, your customer makes the purchase – not you, and definitely not your manager.
Ps. To check out David Hoffield’s book on Amazon, <a href=”http://The Science of Selling: Proven Strategies to Make Your Pitch, Influence Decisions, and Close the Deal“>click here. I found it to be a refreshing research-based way to look at selling.
Pss. If you’re wondering what think BACk means.  Be A Customer. Get it?  B.A.C.?  I knew you’d get it!

Think BACk: Did You Really Just Ask That Question?

BACk is short for “Be A Customer”. Thinking BACk entails thinking like your customer would.
“Telling is not selling! You need to ask questions!”
Sound familiar? The above statement summarizes about 90% of the sales training I’ve ever experienced. Situation questions, problem questions, implication questions, and of course, the elusive need-payoff questions. Thank you Neil Rackham and your fabled “Spin Selling” for transforming me from a glorified product presenter to a would-be problem solver! No sarcasm here. Neil’s approach has probably saved customers countless hours of sitting through unfocused and ineffective sales presentations.
It’s unfortunate that the undying impatience and goal fixation we have in sales causes us to oversimplify and overplay every new idea. If asking questions results in more sales, shouldn’t asking more questions result in even more sales? And out we go to our sales calls armed with questions, questions, and more questions!
Stop what you’re doing!
It’s time to question the concept of asking questions. I propose that every question we ask precipitates at least one question in our customer’s mind. Most likely, that question is, “Why do you want to know this information?”. When the grocery clerk asks you paper or plastic, you probably don’t even think. You just answer. That’s because you know why he’s asking. Now imagine if, while you’re rummaging through your wallet, the clerk asks, “Boxers or briefs?” Failing to address the importance of why they asking is one mistake sales people make with questions. Additionally, we ask too many irrelevant and selfish-minded questions and fail to consider their impact value as statements.
Why are you asking me this question?
Think of the struggle you undertake every day just to get your customer’s attention. When you finally connect, don’t make the mistake of taking their time for granted. You may have won the appointment, but you still have to prove why your conversation is important. Understand that, as your questions get more complex, more effort is required from your listener to respond. If your customer seems confused or unhappy in response to a question, you may want to explain why the answer is relevant to matching your product to their needs.
Of course, this approach requires you to know what information is needed and how to ask for it. If you know that, in order to be a good candidate for your product, your customer needs to provide details, A through D, ask for exactly that information. And, be prepared to explain why you need it. The last thing you need is for your customer to assume you want the information for selfish reasons.
Have a conversation not an interrogation.
Early in my sales career, I used to fear having personal conversations with customers. What if we never get to talk about my product? What will I do? In response, I forced myself to ask sales questions, even when I didn’t really need the answer. What I lacked was a deeper knowledge of my product and my customer. This insight allows you to make your personal conversations more productive and your product conversations more personal. Ideally they are one in the same. Achieving this oneness between the personal and business conversation allows you to have an actual conversation. You know, one in which your attention is in the moment and focused on your prospect, not on what you’re going to say next.
This is precisely why asking clients about their “top five initiatives for the year” or “three biggest challenges” go over well in sales training but not in real life. Sure, if someone honestly answered, you would get good information. If your the customer, you gain virtually nothing from answering it. Sorry high level account managers, the CEO of the hospital system probably doesn’t think the bed pans you sell warrant an explanation of his five year growth plan. Feeling interrogated tells your customer they are wasting precious time for your benefit.
Your Question Makes A Statement.
If you don’t think so, try asking your spouse, “When are you going to lose weight?” It’s great that you know the problems your product can solve. Just be aware, the executive you’re about to call on may not be keen on admitting that they even have a problem. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, in their book, “The Challenger Sale”, advocate an approach using new information to shock customers into acknowledging new problems. While a wake up call may be in order for some of your customers, keep in mind that the book has been out since 2011. Customers may be getting wise to it’s tactics. If you can take control of the conversation in a respectful way and it serves their interests as well as yours, go for it! Just keep in mind you will never control your customer.
The problem with sales techniques is they are, by definition, techniques. They’re an artificial way to manipulate a conversation. In order to execute any sales tactic in a conversation, you must devote extra energy. Try being real instead. If you need to know something in order to assist your customer, by all means, ask. When you honestly want to help them it will show through in your demeanor. Conversely, acting in the role of sales person forces the customer to act in the role of customer. Neither actor gets as much done as two real people talking.

Calling All Sales People: Do You Feel Safe?

“Your Fired!” It’s a phrase that we go to great lengths never to hear. How safe is your job in sales? According to Simon Sinek in his bestselling book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t“, good managers make their employees feel safe. In other words, their teams feel free to do their jobs, speak honestly, and ask for helppexels-photo-326642.jpegwhen they struggle.
Accord to Sinek, managers need to create a “Circle of Safety” for their teams. In such an environment, underperformance is not met with reprimand but instead with true concern for the employee’s struggles. Imagine if, when your sales numbers are waning, your boss calls and says “It looks like you might be having a rough time. How can I help?” When delivered in earnest, this message engenders trust. Your manager is on your side wanting to help you. Instead, most of us get a variation on “Why aren’t you selling more?” or “Why are you making me look bad?” Just in case you are wondering, a “How can I help” followed by a “Why aren’t you selling more” is not a genuine offer of safety.
Here are some of my favorite safety-killing sales manager statements:
“My expectation is…”, “The company’s expectation is…”
You name the sales metric. It doesn’t matter. Sales people need to know how to complete the task, why they are doing it, and what will happen if they don’t. Their managers need the courage to elaborate. Sometimes the difference between realistic and unrealistic request is an explanation of how it will be accomplished within the framework of a sales person’s busy day. An explanation reassures the employee, “I respect you, your time, and what you want to accomplish.”
The second component is “why”. Does accomplishing this task help me sell more product and make my job more secure? Or, does it simply benefit my manager or someone higher up the chain? Fear and tension arise when salespeople are continually asked to do things that serve them no direct benefit. These tasks, however small, add up and siphon away their time to do what is ultimately asked of them-to sell. Therefore sales people appreciate knowing the consequences of not doing something, especially if it results in lower sales.
“I can’t protect you if…”
The very phrase, “I can’t protect you” implies that you, the sales person, already have no protection. Consider the reprimand, “If you continue to turn your expense report in a day late, I can’t protect you from what might happen.” Conditional protection is not protection. Would you say to your child, “If you don’t get good grades, I cannot protect you from sexual predators?”
Should making a mistake on a company report, like in the movie Office Space, result in a career-altering reprimand? The proper response would be to ask the employee why they are struggling, listen to their answer, and ask how they can help. Why should reps be asked to do anything that takes away from their selling time with no return on investment?
He or She “left the company.”
When an employee leaves your company, are you given an explanation? I didn’t think so. I know corporate HR execs and attorneys will emphasize employee privacy and corporate liability as the reason for this secrecy. Not being a legal expert, I do know that laws can be interpreted in many ways and even changed once in a while.
Regardless of how restricted companies truly are in sharing the circumstances around people leaving the company, we cannot deny the consequences. From a sales person’s perspective, having someone leave your company draws immediate concern. Did she find a better job? Am I wasting my time staying here? How bad were his sales numbers? Could this happen to me? Hiding any information from employees only serves to make it appear more important. Can you fault sales people for wondering what happened to John or teammates?
“We need to talk about your numbers.”
Safe? I’ve worked for managers that would tell you that the purpose of a sales quota is to prevent you from feeling safe at all. Whether or not sales people require aggressive sales quotas is a discussion for another day. The fact remains, they have them. Is there any way to avoid this reality? Not in sales! Again, think about what the effect is on you. Do you spend more time covering yourself vs. doing actual selling? All of us need food to survive, can you imagine someone consistently reminding you of this? The problem is not that we are being asked to do something challenging. Rather, it’s that management looks at sales people as investments and not people. The minute our revenue outlook goes south, they look to offload us for a better bet.
To be fair, our managers may also feel a distinct lack of safety in their roles. Sadly, our profession has, for years, built itself into a perform or die culture. Think back to the best leaders that you’ve worked with in the past. Chances are, they made you feel secure enough to take a risk and try something new. After all, don’t we grow by taking chances and risking failure?
Before you dismiss the idea of safety as idealistic, nonproductive nonsense, check out the examples in Sinek’s book. He cites several examples of companies who are treat their employees like they’re more important than the revenue they generate and make handsome money doing it. To dive deeper into the concept of safety and leadership, be sure to check out the book on Amazon.