Sales and Sales Management Blog

May 27, 2008

Guest Article: “Dangerous Knowledge: What We Know Can Hurt Us,” by Keith Rosen

Filed under: Communication,Presentation Skills,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 6:19 am
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Dangerous Knowledge: What We Know Can Hurt Us
By Keith Rosen

I recently purchased some advertising space in a national magazine. I have been a subscriber for years and knew everything I needed to know to select them as an advertising vehicle. I called them with one intention, to place an order.

When I called their office, the salesperson began doing what she felt was appropriate; to start selling me. She began with the history of the magazine, then moved into a discussion about her subscriber base, how effective an advertising campaign can be and ended with information about her ad design team. She was unaware that I already knew all the information that she decided to share with me.

She never took the time to ask what my intention was in running the ad or what information I might be interested in hearing more about. While she was speaking at me, I could only think about how many selling opportunities this must have cost her when dealing with prospective clients who didn’t have the time or patience to listen to information that didn’t fit for them.

This is not an unusual problem. Many salespeople spend much of their time during a sales call attempting to educate the prospect about their product, service and industry. They think it will stimulate interest and increase the odds of earning a new client. In many cases, this is the same strategy that compromises their opportunity to create a relationship with that prospect.

Unfortunately, this is the easiest way to lose their attention. Once a person hears something they aren’t interested in or if they feel you are providing information that doesn’t apply to them, their interest is lost and they stop listening.

A sales call is not the time prove how much you know. It’s the time to find out what you don’t know about the prospect and what the prospect doesn’t know about you. It is not your knowledge that sells, but how effectively you customize your knowledge to meet each of your prospects’ specific needs.

Before you can uncover a prospect’s individual needs and educate them on how your product will meet those needs, you must first uncover what your prospect already knows.

Your company’s presentation materials are designed to assist you in educating your prospects. However, it’s your job to determine and provide the appropriate information that will fit their specific situation.

Start your conversation by asking certain questions. Questions will enable you to uncover the relevant information to provide and identify the prospect’s objective and expectation of the meeting. Begin your meeting with the following questions. “What are your expectations of our meeting today?” “What information can I provide that would assist you in making the right decision when choosing a contractor? “Just so I don’t sound repetitive, what do you already know about …?” Then, based on the information you receive, you can craft your presentation.

Caution: When listening to what your prospect already knows, some of the information you receive about your product or industry may be inaccurate. Address this carefully. Instead of correcting them, simply add another truth to their statement by asking another question or adding to what they had said. Otherwise, while making yourself look right, you run the risk of making the prospect wrong, thus putting them on the defensive.

Most importantly, learn to put your ego aside and let go of your need to “sell.” The most effective presentation is going to be judged by the outcome that you produce. This begins with finding the right balance of information that your prospects want to hear.

Take your life and career to the next level.

Keith is one of the foremost authorities on assisting people in achieving positive, measurable change in their attitude, in their behavior and in their results. Keith’s articles can be found in Selling Power Magazine and has appeared in feature stories in The New York Times, The Washington Times, Inc. Magazine, Sales and Marketing Management’s Ultimate Motivation Guide with Stephen Covey and The Wall Street Journal. For his work as a pioneer in the coaching profession, Inc. magazine and Fast Company named Keith one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country. Visit his website at


May 26, 2008

Asking for Referrals–Don’t be Mislead by Misguided Trainers

Take a look at some of the current literature and training on referrals and you’re bound to walk away confused and frustrated. One trainer tells you not to ask for referrals because it signals to your client that you’re weak and can’t find business on your own. Another tells you that referrals are your ‘right’ and your clients have no right to withhold them from you. Another says that when you ask for referrals you’re offending your client and that instead of asking clients for referrals, you should be exchanging referrals with other salespeople like trading cards. Another one tells you that in order to get referrals you must give the client a reward, the bigger, the better. Many others say the ‘secret’ to getting referrals is just to ask.

So, who’s right? Are referrals a sign of weakness? Are your relationships with your clients commodities to be traded on the open market? Are referrals your God given right? Do you really have to bribe a client to get referrals? Or is simply asking the magic formula?

Misguided Referral Training

In a sense they’re all right. If one doesn’t know how to initiate and develop a relationship with clients that result in the client willingly giving a large number of high quality referrals then maybe you are offending the client when you ask; maybe you do have to bribe them in order to get referrals; maybe your relationship is nothing but a commodity; maybe you do feel you have to go in with the attitude that it’s “my right and by gosh you’re going to give me referrals.”

According to one trainer, asking for referrals can kill your credibility by making you “just like every other salesperson.” Instead of asking for referrals, one should be different and professional, giving great service and waiting for your clients to spread the word for you. Talk about having no clue as to how to generate referrals.

First, this trainer has left the realm of referrals and has gone into the realm of word of mouth marketing—a not uncommon confusion of the two very different marketing formats. Secondly, no matter how great you are at providing superior service, how often have you gotten unsolicited referrals? The dozens and dozens of top producers I’ve worked with believe they can reasonably rely on maybe a half dozen unsolicited referrals a year. Now that puts a real dent in their production.

According to another training company, you should be asking for referrals virtually every time you speak with your prospects and clients–and you should be asking because referrals are your right. They advise you begin asking for referrals from your first meeting with the prospect and ask for them before you make any presentation. You have a right to ask for referrals and your prospect has no right to withhold them, so ask for them right up front, ask forcefully–and insist they give them. As with the advice above, they seem have no clue as to the psychology of referrals. They appear to believe that salespeople are God’s gift to consumers and therefore have extraordinary rights simply because they have a business card that says they’re a salesperson.

Referrals are NOT a right. Referrals are EARNED and you cannot earn a referral the second you meet a prospect. The client has the right to give or not give referrals; you have no right to expect them. Referrals are earned by doing exactly what you have promised your client, not by demanding them, not by expecting them, not by simply existing and standing in front of a prospect or client.

Many advocate using incentives to get referrals, but often the incentives they speak of aren’t really incentives but are instead bribes. The theory is that people ‘love to give referrals’ and that giving an incentive simply makes giving referrals that much easier and ‘fun.’ Some advocate gift cards of anywhere from $25 to $100 or more, others a percentage of the sales price, and others free merchandise and/or service, often the incentive is outlandish—and the bigger the incentive, the more referrals you’ll get and if you get enough referrals, the incentive will have been worth it.

The first problem with this advice is that people don’t ‘love giving referrals.’ Most clients hate giving referrals—unless they fully understand why they are giving the referral, why giving referrals are in their own best interest, and that the person they give the referral to has objectively earned the referral. Clients don’t give referrals because they like you, respect you, or even because you did a good job. They give referrals because giving referrals is in their best interest—and if you have to bribe them to give referrals, you haven’t earned them. And if you haven’t earned them, no matter the size of the bribe you give, you won’t get high quality referrals.

Secondly, clients may well question your professionalism and your ethics if you must result to bribing them for referrals. Clients make a number of assumptions about salespeople. One is that a successful salesperson doesn’t have to bribe people for business. If they believe that is what you are trying to do, you lose their respect and once you lose their respect, they won’t be referring you to the best prospects they know.

If you use an incentive, it must be small in price, highly personal in the sense that it is something just for them, and it must not appear in any way, shape, or form to be a bribe.

There are sites on the internet that try to turn referrals into trading commodities between salespeople. These of course aren’t referrals; they’re simply exchanging information between salespeople about who to contact within a company. These commodity trades can certainly be valuable, but they are a far cry from a referral. According to the blog on one company’s website, customers don’t have the proper ‘DNA’ to give referrals. A client’s only value is in being a reference, not in giving referrals.

As with the others, it simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of what a referral is and how to generate a quality referral. Again, I think the service these companies provide is valuable for the right salespeople, but confusing a referral with a name trade is a disservice to the salespeople engaging in their service. Salespeople can use both quite successfully. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot get referred into every company that I would like to speak to. A service such as this can help me do that—but having a direct referral into the company is a far better alternative, if I can get it.

Finally, there are the hundreds of sales trainers giving the worn out advice to simply “do a good job and ask for referrals.” This is the way referral generation has been taught for decades simply because the trainers didn’t know a better way of referral generation. Unfortunately, it has been demonstrated that just doing a good job and asking doesn’t work. Thousands upon thousands of salespeople have tried the do a good job and ask for referrals method and have met with dismal results—very often to the point they simply give up asking. In fact, the failure of this method is a major contributor to the misunderstanding of referrals that has resulted in the unfortunate advice given by the trainers above.

Why These Training Methods Fail
To understand how to get referrals, you must first understand why the typical referral training doesn’t work. Understanding what doesn’t work will lead you to understand what does work.

Most referral training is nothing more than a variation of ‘do a good job and ask for referrals.’ Referrals are still an afterthought, a last second question often asked as the salesperson is literally walking out the door. There may be a little twist to it such as offer an ‘incentive’ (read bribe), or ask every time you see a prospect or client because they owe you referrals, or help your client by defining for them who a good prospect is.

The standard referral training creates more problems than it solves. It does solve one problem—it has you ask for referrals. But it creates these problems:
• Asking without first introducing the topic of referrals and allowing the client to become comfortable with the concept takes the client by surprise—it’s an unexpected and unwelcome request.
• It puts your client on the spot. The client is expected to come up with quality referrals in the course of 10 or 15 seconds—an unreasonable expectation
• It doesn’t define for the client who a good referral is (although as we’ve seen, at least a few trainers understand this is an issue)
• It ignores the psychology of the client—that client’s are human and humans typically do things because they see doing them to be in their best interests, and simply asking for referrals doesn’t give the client a reason to give them
• It further ignores the psychology of referrals by ignoring the fact that when a client gives a referral they are putting their credibility on the line with the prospect they refer. Consequently, they won’t give quality referrals unless they KNOW they will not be embarrassed in front of the prospect. They must have an objective way to determine if you’ve earned the referrals.
• It doesn’t make giving referrals easy for the client—it makes them do all the work.

Is it any wonder most salespeople don’t get many quality referrals? The process they’ve been taught actually discourages clients and prospects from giving referrals. If one wanted to develop a system designed to NOT get referrals, they couldn’t come up with a better system than the one most salespeople have been taught.

Almost every one of the training mistakes above can be traced to the standard referral selling process’ failures:
• Losing credibility? Of course, asking unexpected and unwelcome questions that put your client on the spot doesn’t do you any favors with your client.
• Needing a bribe? Certainly, what other reason does the process give for the client to give referrals? None.
• Clients are only good as references? Naturally, when you can’t get a decent referral from them, what else are they good for other than a reference?
• Demand they give referrals because referrals are your right? When the process fails, browbeat your client into giving referrals. That sounds like a winning attitude.

Turn Referrals into a Real Process
If the above advice is wrong, which it is, then how do you get referrals?

If you want to turn your business into a referral-based business, or even if you just want to significantly increase the number and quality of referrals you get from your clients and your prospects, you have to make referrals a real part of your sales process, not just a last second question, a bribe, or a hope for word of mouth marketing.

You have to have a process that:
• Lets your client get comfortable with idea of giving referrals
• Gives the client ample time to think of quality referrals to give
• Defines for the client exactly who a quality prospect for you is
• Gives the client a real reason as to why giving you referrals is in their own best interests
• Gives the client an objective way to determine if you’ve really earned the referrals
• Makes giving a large number of high quality referrals easy

Referrals are not a last minute, off the cuff question to ambush your client with as you’re walking out the door. Instead, true referral selling involves taking the time to work with your client to get them comfortable, to get them educated, to show them why giving referrals is in their best interests, and to allow them to objectively determine if you have earned their trust and their referrals—and then to make it so easy for the them that they freely give 5, 6, 7 or more high quality referrals.

A referral process introduces you to the client as a referral-based salesperson. It leads them though the process, step-by-step to prepare them to give high quality referrals. It gets their verbal agreement to give you a large number of high quality referrals. It defines for them exactly how you will earn their referrals. And then you do the work for them, making it easy for them to give you a large number of high quality referrals.

Like anything else in sales, learning to generate a large number of high quality referrals isn’t magic; it’s learning and perfecting a real process. It takes time, energy, and honing of skills.

Excerpts from Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success Through Client Referrals (John Wiley and Sons, 2007). Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Borders and all fine bookstores.

May 23, 2008

New Book Needs Your Referral Sales Stories

It looks like late winter/early spring is my time of year to release a book. 2009 will be no different. I’m pleased to say that I’ve signed with Sales Gravy Press for a book to be published in the March/April timeframe next year.

This book is returning to my original subject matter—referrals. Despite the fact that my first book, Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals, has been a great success and a best-seller—and recognized by a great many as the authoritative work on referral selling, there was no way in a 200 page book to deal with every aspect of referrals. This second book is going to take up where the first book left off.

Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income laid out the basic principles of the PWWR Referral Generation System™, the only comprehensive, disciplined process of generating a large number of high quality referrals from clients and prospects. Rather than simply relying on chance and luck to get referrals as is typical of almost all referral training, especially the traditional system of “do a good job and ask for referrals,” the PWWR system shows you how to pro-actively create a relationship with your client that insures you get 5, 6, 7 or more high quality referrals from everyone of your clients. You do it by forming a ‘partnership’ with the client. You explain exactly how you’re going to earn the referrals and get their agreement to give the referrals. Of course, there’s more to than that, but that’s the essence.

The system was developed through studying the way four dozen mega-producers who each earn over a million dollars a year and run their tremendous sales businesses off of referrals generate their huge volume of referrals. Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income shows you how to use the process they use–and to get the same results they get.

Despite how incredibly effective the system is, there are a number of highly valuable ways to apply the system to your existing database of clients to help you generate a great many quality referrals in a very short period of time. That’s where the new book comes in. Unlike many 2nd books by authors that simply rehash the content of the first, this book takes the principles laid out in Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income and shows you how to apply them to your existing clients.

If you have successfully used the PWWR process laid out in Creating a Million Dollar a Year Sales Income and would like your story related in the upcoming book, I’d love to hear from you. Just shoot me an email at and we’ll set up a time when I can formally interview you and get your story in the new book.

May 22, 2008

Guest Article: “Harness Your Desire to Break Bad Sales Habits,” by Jeb Blount

Filed under: career development,goals,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 6:41 am
Tags: , , ,

Harness Your Desire to Break Bad Sales Habits
By Jeb Blount

It’s reality. Salespeople fail. Maybe even you. Sadly, thousands of salespeople are fired or quit each day because they failed to attain quota. When you ask these salespeople what went wrong most are quick to point out that their failure was due to some external factor, which prevented them from achieving their goal. Poor territories, bad managers, difficult environments, lack of training, and defective products are fodder for these conversations.

However, when studying successful Sales Professionals in those same organizations, we find, that when faced with identical difficulties, they still managed to succeed. Why did some salespeople succeed where others didn’t?

The answer is simple. The successful salespeople have developed the habit of looking inward for inspiration, motivation, and accountability when things get difficult. They have developed the disciplined habit of finding solutions to problems while the less successful people have developed the habit of finding excuses for failure. I’m sure for some this seems a bit harsh, but the truth is the truth. Success or failure has a lot more to do with our thoughts and actions than the difficulties we face.

A habit is defined as a pattern of behavior that is followed regularly until it becomes automatic. In other words we do things we are comfortable with and we keep doing them. When we do the same thing over and over again an amazing thing happens: we get the same result over and over again!

Unfortunately, many people become so comfortable with their habits that they will continue the behavior even if that habit is causing them to fail. This is called a bad habit and anyone who has worked to quit smoking or even correct a poor golf swing, will attest that bad habits die hard. In many ways, failure is just the manifestation of our bad habits.

Stepping out of a comfort zone is very difficult and one of the core reasons so many salespeople find themselves moving from company to company and failing time and time again. Despite the training each new company provides, despite the coaching, despite the mentoring from successful Sales Professionals, eventually these salespeople revert back to their old habits and ultimately failure. The good news is, that though difficult, it is possible to break this cycle of failure. But to change your habits, you must first change your thoughts and actions. And who has control of your thoughts and actions? You.

Four PowerPrinciples for Positive Change

Identify Your Bad Habits: The first step to creating new, winning habits is identifying your bad habits and examining and understanding your behavior. In this process you must be honest with yourself. You must place the responsibility for your failure where it lies.

Harness Your Desire:
The next step is to mentally make the status quo untenable. As long as you are more comfortable with where you are than where you want to be it will be difficult, if not impossible to change. To make positive changes you must harness your desire. That means defining what you want, writing it down, and becoming laser focused on that goal. A burning desire to achieve a defined goal is the one key that unlocks the door to the formation of powerful new habits.

Invest in Your Mind: Just because you want to change, need to change, and desire to change doesn’t mean that you have the skills to change. Thanks to the Internet and sites like you can now browse the minds of millions of individuals with the click of a mouse, instantly. There are thousands of books written about success, sales, and self help. There are also Podcasts, eZines, printed magazines, and seminars. Take every opportunity to learn new skills that will lead you to new habits.

Get a Coach: Perhaps the most powerful step you can take towards positive change in your life is to get a coach. There are coaches everywhere and, as long as you are coachable, a great coach will help you break through your self-imposed barriers and will illuminate the path that will lead you straight to the success you deserve.

Jeb Blount is the author of PowerPrinciples and has over 20 years experience in sales and marketing. As a business leader he has extensive experience turning around and righting troubled organizations. He has a passion for growing people and the unique ability to see potential in everyone. Over the span of his career he has coached, trained, and developed hundreds of Sales Professionals, managers and leaders. He is the moderator of Sales Gravy, a popular on-line community of sales professionals.

May 20, 2008

Book Review: The Sales Operator: Insider’s Guide to Successful Selling, by Brian J. Bieler

Brain Bieler in The Sales Operator: Insider’s Guide to Successful Selling (Little Falls Press, 2008), states that “salespeople will not read. . . . Forget about salespeople reading what is new and happening, they won’t even read what is already published. . . . (they) are more likely to be scan readers than document digesters.”  True to his belief about salespeople, The Sales Operator is purposely designed to be an easy scan read.

Although the book is 190 pages in length, it reads like a 90 page book because of the number of lists and very large print highlights scattered throughout the book.  Why mention this detail of the book?  Because it is the biggest criticism I have with the book.

Bieler’s message is mostly on target.  He discusses the issues associated with the commoditization of products and services, the need to become more professional in the way salespeople perform their jobs, communication strategy, managing time, setting goals, and a number of other critical areas that salespeople must address.  Yet, because of his belief that you won’t read, meaning he must keep things short and easy to scan, there is little real substance to the chapters.

That isn’t to say there isn’t any substance, just not enough for most salespeople to be able to pick up the book, read it, and then implement any solid strategies in their business.  The guidance he gives is very broad, leaving huge gaps that you’ll have to fill in on your own.  For an experienced salesperson that may not be a serious issue, for new salespeople, those gaps may make the book virtually useless.

If you’re interested in gaining a glimpse of many of the areas you must master to become a top sales producer, The Sales Operator will give you that glimpse with a little bit of direction thrown in.  If you want to take that glimpse and turn it into a strategy that can help you increase your business, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

If you fit Bieler’s view of salespeople–that you won’t read, The Sales Operator is designed specifically with you in mind.  In fact, it is probably the ideal book for you.  On the other hand, if you are interested in going beyond the headline and getting into the meat of the issues discussed, look for a more comprehensive book on how to build a solid sales business.

May 19, 2008

Brand Confusion=Death in the Marketplace

Companies, organizations and even individuals spend years of toil and treasure to create a brand that sets them apart from their competition. The investment in terms of time, money and creativity can be massive. The impact a well developed brand can have can’t be overestimated.

Some brands are so recognizable that people think they know and understand the company or organization when simply hearing the name or seeing the logo. Organizations that have developed these iconic brands take great care to protect and expand the brand, trying to make sure their every move reinforces the brand’s message.

Our two major political parties have spent decades and vast sums of money building their brands. Both parties have invested both their short-term and long-term success in their brands. And although the brands are associated with particular individuals and events, each is most closely tried to and defined by a perceived political ideology.

Hear the word Republican or just see the elephant and most people have certain images and beliefs that come to mind:
• Conservative
• Budget conscious
• Strong on national defense
• Strong on law and order
• Against big government
• Favors tax cut
• Supports business
• Supports free trade
• “Middle America”

Likewise, hear the word Democrat or see the donkey and most people have another set of images and beliefs that come to mind:
• Liberal
• Supports social change
• Tax and Spend
• Weak on Defense
• Protectionist
• Supported by labor unions
• Supports the weak and poor
• East and West coast “elites”

Most of the images and beliefs we have about these parties have been carefully crafted by the parties themselves, a few others have been foisted on one party by the other in order to sully the brand. Nevertheless, for most of us, when we think Republican or Democrat we tend to think of some or all of the above images.

Because of the strength of the images and beliefs associated with each brand, we believe we know something about a politician when they say they are a Democrat or a Republican. We expect a Democrat politician’s political philosophy and votes to be closely aligned with our concept of what a Democrat is. Likewise, we expect a Republican politician’s ideology and votes to reflect what we believe a Republican is.

When a politician of either party doesn’t act according to their brand, we question whether or not they are really what they say they are. They are viewed as mavericks or independent thinkers. We don’t question whether the organization has lost its way; we simply question whether the individual in question really fits within the organization.

But what happens when a majority of the organization’s members act counter to the brand? We no longer question whether the members are mavericks or independent thinkers; we question whether the brand itself has any meaning, any substance. The dichotomy between the message and the actions creates confusion in the marketplace and if that confusion lasts long enough, the brand loses all meaning.

We are currently observing a brand implosion.

For decades the Republican party railed against the Democrats on taxes, spending, the economy, judges, and a number of social issues, preaching the tenets of conservatism, trying to brand the Democrats as big spending, big taxing liberals as they pointed out the worst offenders, slowly chipping away at the lock the Democrats seemed to have on congress, yet never gaining the upper hand legislatively with both houses under their control.

Then in 1994 they developed the Contract with America, a vision of conservatism that matched much of the brand image that had been created for their party—and they took legislative control of both houses for the first time in 40 years. For a time, their legislation seemed in alignment with their brand. Certainly, they had their share of opposition, but people believed they understood what ‘Republican’ meant–both in terms of the brand and in terms of the actions. One reinforced the other.

Over the past years, many of the party’s actions have gone counter to their brand’s image, at least in the view of a great many Americans. The brand has become confused—what does ‘Republican’ really mean? It doesn’t seem to mean fiscally conservative. It doesn’t seem to mean socially conservative. It doesn’t seem to mean strong on security. It doesn’t seem to be anything other than what appears to be politically expedient at the moment.

Today, we have a Republican party with no meaningful identity, no real brand because of a great chasm between its message and its actions. It preaches fiscal conservatism and spends like a drunken sailor. It preaches homeland security and ignores the borders. It preaches ethics and moral responsibility and has a consistent line of its elected officials resigning in disgrace with many going to prison. It preaches energy independence and refuses to address energy in a meaningful way.

The brand has become meaningless. A decade of confusion between what the brand proclaims and the actions of the party has brought the party to a crisis point. On the one hand, party leaders try to shoehorn candidates into a brand that doesn’t fit, and on other hand, it still proclaims the images and beliefs it worked decades to instill in its rank and file—and wonders why it can’t generate enthusiasm, unity and trust within the marketplace.

The lesson for us is straightforward—once your brand is imbedded in the marketplace, any serious dichotomy between the company’s actions and the brand’s image creates confusion, and ultimately, distrust in the marketplace–and it doesn’t take long to destroy even a hundred and fifty year old brand.

After writing this on Saturday, I noticed a report in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle that Arnold is advocating rebranding the Republican Party, generating a debate within the party as to whether or not to rebrand. I think they misunderstand the issue–the problem with the Republican brand is it seems the party thinks it’s simply a brand issue, not an action issue. They lost their brand because their actions didn’t match the brand, not because the brand didn’t work. Arnold is correct in the sense that the brand doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work because it no longer exists, not because it has been rejected by voters.

May 15, 2008

And They Call Themselves Sales Trainers?

Just how committed are you to what you do? How willing are you to work through the discouragement, rejection, and hard work of creating a presence in your market? How often have you been preached to by sales trainers about the importance of commitment, dedication, and the willingness to work through the hard times to create you niche in your market?

If you’ve been in sales for 5 minutes you’ve heard this preached ad infinitum. Almost to a person, sales trainers try to emphasize the importance of commitment, diligence and staying power. You’ve heard it over and over and over.

Now, I’m ashamed to say what I discovered about ‘sales trainers’ yesterday while I was rooting around the Internet looking for other sales and sales management blogs. I did some keyword searches on various search engines and, of course, I found links to hundreds of blogs set up by sales and sales management trainers.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised with the number of links and the number of blogs. There are thousands of men and women who are in the sales and sales management training and consulting industry, so I expected a very large number to have taken advantage of the power of blogs to reach prospective clients.

Nevertheless, I was floored with what I found. Many of these men and women who are preaching the need to commit, to hang in there, to fight through the hard work of creating a niche, of dedicating oneself to doing the hard work of marketing and getting the word out without succumbing to the disappointment and discouragement one encounters along the way are themselves demonstrating for all the world to see their own personal inability to do what they preach.

I found dozens upon dozens of blogs set up by sales and sales management “trainers” and “consultants” who had created a few blog posts and then abandoned their blogs when they didn’t get an immediate audience. Worse, they didn’t even think to take the evidence of their lack of commitment and dedication off the internet.

It doesn’t take long to find these blogs with great “About” pages that describe the trainer’s wonderful credentials and discuss how dedicated they are to helping salespeople and managers improve their businesses. Then you look at the front page and notice the first entry was on March 12, 2006 and the last entry was July 27, 2006 with only six or seven entries in-between. Now, that’s dedication—four whole months with a total of 8 or 9 posts—2 years ago.

What in the world are people to think of a sales trainer who can’t even commit to their own work? It would be easy to just laugh and move on—except this hypocrisy is so rampant it may well reflect on not just the guilty trainers and consultants, but on all trainers and consultants.

Nevertheless, it is also another way to determine whether an individual trainer or company is one you want to invest your dollars with. If they can’t commit to their business, just how much are they going to contribute to your business?

May 14, 2008

From Water Cooler to Pipeline

Over the next couple of days, keep an eye on the salespeople in your office.  Who is associating with whom?  If your office is typical, you’ll probably find the majority of new and average salespeople hang around together, the top producers socialize and go to lunch with one another, and there may be a young up and comer or two who stays kinda off to himself or herself.

Why aren’t the top producers chumming it up with the average and new salespeople?  Is it simply arrogance?  For a few, yes, it’s arrogance.  But for the majority, it isn’t arrogance at all—it’s simply that they have little in common with the lower performers in the office.  They see themselves, what they do, how they do it, and even why they do it differently than the other sellers.

Typically, the top producers are not only working with more accounts than the average and below average producers, they are also dealing with better, more productive accounts.  Most don’t generate their business using the same methods as the lower performers, they don’t use the same selling process, and they don’t develop the same relationships with their prospects and clients.

And most importantly, they don’t have the same attitude and concerns as the other salespeople in the office.

What happens when the new and average salespeople gather at the water cooler or go to lunch together?  Sure, there is some discussion of who’s doing what to get business.  There may be a bit of a discussion of how to overcome obstacles or how to get in to see a particular prospect.  But the majority of the time is spent complaining about how the company doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that; how the sales manager screwed this up or blew that; how bad things are with so much competition, pricing out of the market, late deliveries, products that don’t perform, and all the other excuses salespeople make for not selling.

Those conversations are a far cry from the conversations the top producers have when they go to lunch together.  Their conversation at lunch may touch on the subject of intense competition or late deliveries but instead of griping, their focus is on how they can proactively deal with the issues or mitigate their impact.  But the majority of their conversation about business is on exchanging information that will help them sell.  They want no part of the complaints and moaning and groaning.  They won’t allow themselves the luxury of wallowing in misery because they know it only leads to failure—the attitudes and beliefs developed at the water cooler translate directly to the success or failure of the pipeline.

The top producers focus on success, most of the others focus on excuses for failure.

If you are a new or average salesperson, I urge to consider carefully who you spend time with in your office.  Select not only your mentors carefully, select your companions with equal care.  Keep in mind that the top producers can teach you how to become a top producer, whereas the other new and average salespeople can only teach you how to fail.

Take pains to develop relationships with the best producers around you.  If you are sincerely wanting to learn, have a positive attitude and bring something to the table—even if that is only eagerness and a desire to learn, they will accept you in their group.  It will take time.  It will mean you will have to pursue the relationships.  You will have to work to gain entrance but the payoff is education you cannot possibly get from anyone else in your company.

Don’t allow yourself to become infected with the negative attitudes and beliefs of the majority who surround you because in a very concrete sense, what happens at the water cooler translates directly to your pipeline.

May 12, 2008

Science, Your Brain, Imagination, and Success and Failure

How often have you heard that what you think and what you believe is one of the most important factors in sales success? I imagine you’ve heard that preached so often you’ve almost become numb to it. It’s a theme preached by most sales trainers and managers. You find it in sales books, on training CD’s and DVD’s, you hear it at every conference you attend.

You’re told to repeat positive affirmations, to give yourself positive pep talks, to think positively, to envision yourself being successful, and to imagine yourself giving the perfect presentation or the closing the mega-deal.

Despite the preaching, a surprisingly large number of salespeople take these admonitions with a grain of salt. Some simply think its junk science and blow it off, others don’t believe they need it, others acknowledge they should be doing it but don’t do it, others just let the words go in one ear and out the other, and many others argue that it is what you do–not what you think–that determines your success or failure.

There is, however, solid scientific evidence for the impact imagination and thought has on performance. What you think does translate to some extent to what you do, how you act, and ultimately, what you achieve. Your brain is the single most powerful tool you have and what you feed your brain is translated by your brain into action. Feed your brain negative material and it will generate negative actions. Likewise, feed it positive material and it will generate positive actions.

Subject-Expectancy Effect
The Subject-Expectancy Effect (also known as the Placebo Effect) is an observation by scientists primarily involved in medical research that the recipients of placebos reported the same positive and negative effects as the subjects who received the actual drug being tested. In addition, there are documented cases where the placebo recipient experienced the same physical changes as the recipients of the drug. Scientists have no other explanation than the power of the placebo recipient’s belief changed their physical state. The belief of the recipient in the healing power of the drug they were presumably taking produced the actual physical changes the drug would have produced.

This phenomenon has been observed in the social sciences as well. In experiments, subjects who believed they could not successfully perform even simple tasks managed to unconsciously find ways to sabotage their actions, assuring their expected outcome—failure. The subject’s belief about their abilities influenced their actions to such an extent that they guaranteed they could not do what they had convinced themselves they could not do.

Reshaping the Brain
An experiment at Harvard demonstrates that our imagination not only changes our abilities, but actually changes the shape of our brain in the same way as performing the actual act.

Researchers at Harvard placed a group of people who could not play the piano in a room with a piano and a teacher who gave intensive lessons for five days. A second group was placed in another room with an identical piano but told to have nothing to do with the instrument. A third group was put into a room with another identical piano but told to do nothing but imagine practicing the piano—they never touched the instrument.

After five days, the first group had a rudimentary ability to play. The second group, of course, couldn’t play a lick.

The third group who had never touched the piano could play almost as well as the first group. More astounding, the brains of the third group had undergone the same physical change in the area that controls finger movement as the first group.

Simply imagining performing the act had almost the same affect as actually performing it.

Changing Your Sales Business
Salespeople and managers who argue that actions—both positive and negative—determine success or failure in sales are correct. You either make the sales or you don’t. You either connect with qualified prospects or you don’t. You either develop the relationships with your prospects and clients or you don’t.

Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that the actions you take aren’t independent of your belief system or your thoughts. The ultimate determination of your success lies in your head. What you think, what you imagine, and what you believe about yourself will find its way into your actions. If you feed your brain success, it will demand you take the actions to become successful. On the other hand, feed your brain defeat and your brain will accommodate that outcome also.

Excerpted from SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar by Paul McCord, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all find bookstores.

May 9, 2008

Can Your Company Afford to Maintain Its Management Philosophy?

Flip through some random job descriptions for frontline sales managers on CareerBuilder or Monster.  Take a look at the job descriptions for frontline sales managers from a number of industries.  Look closely at the responsibilities and duties the manager is expected to handle.  What do you find?

The Job Duties
If you’ll take the time to look at least a dozen—preferably more—you’ll find a whole slew of duties that frontline managers are expected to perform such as:
•    Recruiting and hiring salespeople–and often clerical staff
•    Training, coaching and mentoring those people
•    Resolving customer issues
•    Coordinating and working with other departments such as shipping, manufacturing, underwriting, finance, etc.
•    Monitoring the local market and competition and keeping management informed of market changes and opportunities
•    Creating and implementing a local sales and marketing plan
•    P&L responsibility for the local office or branch
•    Conduct sales and training meetings
•    Complete reports for management on a weekly, monthly and annual basis
•    Create annual office or branch budget
•    Create monthly and annual sales projections
•    Operate as company’s ambassador to the community by attending community events and maintaining a high visibility in the community
•    Other duties as assigned

And then the kicker:
•    Maintain a high level of personal sales activity and personal production

The first dozen responsibilities listed above are management activities that are—or should be—critical to the growth and profitability of the company.  Most of these activities require someone with strong management, problem solving, and analytical skills.  To properly perform these activities, the individual must have a frame of reference to resolve customer issues, to develop sales and marketing plans, to maximize the return on assets, to properly analyze the local market and competition, and especially, to recruit, train and mentor salespeople.

Only the last item is a purely in-the-trenches sales activity related item.  Yet, as anyone who has been in sales understands, to meet that requirement of ‘maintain a high level of personal sales,” selling must be a full-time job.

The Requirements For The Job
Go further into the job description and you find the ‘requirements’ section, describing the background and experience this individual must have to be considered for the job.  Most typically, that description includes these items:
•    3-5 years direct industry sales experience
•    Proven high level of production, meeting or exceeding quota
•    Strong product knowledge
•    Proven industry contacts and book of business

What’s missing in the requirements for this position?  Of course, not a single word about management skills, aptitude, training or ability.

And how is this individual typically paid?  Usually some combination of base salary, commissions and overrides, or worse, overrides and commissions.

Does It Make Sense?
The above list of responsibilities was gathered from a number of job postings from a number of industries including retail, banking, insurance, securities, medical, software, chemical, consulting, and others.  Most of these job postings listed a majority of the above requirements including the personal production requirement.

Although traditional in many industries, does this combination of duties make sense?  If it does:
•    why are so many offices in these industries poorly run?
•    Why the constant harping by senior management for the offices to keep costs down?
•    Why complaints by marketing that leads aren’t being followed up?
•    Why the complaints by manufacturing and shipping that didn’t know certain things about various orders?
•    Why are commission checks so often wrong?
•    Why is the training and coaching in these companies so poor?
•    Why are so many poor hiring decisions made by the company’s sales managers?

The list could go on.

The reason of course is obvious.  The company didn’t hire a manager, they hired a salesperson to try to keep the herd in line and hopefully end up with the sales numbers the company wanted—and that sales manager is expected to make sure they do through his or her personal sales.

Sales management as so often practiced today is hardly deserving of the term.  And despite the onus being placed on the sales manager by the company, the problem doesn’t lie with the sales manager.  Typically, the company got exactly what they wanted—a top salesperson willing to assume responsibility they haven’t been prepared for in exchange for a title.

Can Companies Afford to Continue This Way?
For most companies, selling is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge.  Competition is fierce, their products are most often indistinguishable from their competitor’s, their markets are becoming more fragmented, their prospects are better educated and more demanding than ever before.

Management as a sideline, although traditional in a great number of industries, is costing companies billions of dollars every year in lost opportunities, bad hires, poor local market decisions, lack of resource utilization and lost sales.

In a complex world with razor sharp competition and astute prospects who often know more than the people trying to sell to them, companies can no longer afford to use management positions as rewards for past production.  Frontline managers are increasingly becoming the focal point of a company’s success or failure.

Many companies have already begun to change their management philosophy and have eliminated the selling manager position and have replaced them with full-time, qualified, and trained managers.  To this end, they have instituted manager training and coaching programs hiring outside companies and coaches to work with their new and existing management staff.

Take Action Now
If you are in a producing manager role, hire a sales management coach to help you prepare for the realities of the changing environment you are entering.  Those items within your job description that haven’t been emphasized in the past are becoming increasingly important.

If you’re a senior manager, consider whether a producing manager is really worth the lost revenue and lost opportunities.  Your company’s selling environment isn’t going to get easier.

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