Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 31, 2009

Consistency in Training Relates Directly to Consistency in Production

I had an interesting conversation on Friday with a sales executive for a mid-size company that produces accounting and HR software solutions for the manufacturing and medical industries regarding the inconsistency of training messages to the sales force within the company.  David’s concern is that although the company has what is supposed to be a sales process that is learned, perfected and used by every salesperson within the company, there is no consistency in the training or in the training messages they receive from the various training sources the company employs.  What, he wondered, is this inconsistency doing to the sales team?

Although David’s company isn’t unusual in the sense that many companies have an ‘official’ sales process that they mandate but don’t teach consistently, in my experience, David is unusual since so few salespeople or sales leaders ever question the consequences of presenting inconsistent training.

David’s company spends a great deal of money training each new hire on the sales process the company has adopted.  Each new hire will spend well over 100 hours during their first 60 days on the job in classroom and field training inn the process the company uses.  This includes a four day stint at an outside vendor’s training center.  Every new hire is sent to the training session, costing the company a significant investment -airfare, hotel, meals, the training company’s fee, as well as the new hire’s salary.  Lots of money goes into each new salesperson hired.

You’d think they would want to ensure those dollars were well spent.

You’d be wrong.

When the new hire finishes the basic training program, they go into their branch and from there receive the same additional training as any other salesperson in the company.  This additional training comes from their branch manager, the company training department, the occasional outside training session, and the company’s video and audio training library. 

Sounds pretty good so far.  Actually, it sounds like these salespeople get a consistent dose of training.

And they do.

Unfortunately, the additional training they receive not only doesn’t reinforce the initial training the company spent huge dollars on when the person was hired, much of it actually contradicts that training. 

Branch managers hear of some hot new idea and the next Monday they’re training their salespeople on it.

The training department attends a seminar that excites them and they immediately go back to their office and create a training program around it.

A company executive hears a great speaker and insists the company hire them for their next sales conference.

The sales library has all of the popular books and DVD’s on the market.

Little or no thought is given to how these training messages integrate with the company’s mandated sales process.  Training becomes nothing but a jumble of different messages that if any fit within the format of the company’s stipulated sales process, it is only by accident.

And what is the message all of this sends to the sales team?  Simply that they are free to pick and choose what they want to do since the ‘mandated’ sales process really isn’t mandated-it’s just a suggestion of a process they might consider using.

And then the management of the company wonders why all the training they do isn’t working.

Training is far more than simply exchanging information about a particular aspect of selling.  Training has far more to do with behavior change than it does information exchange.  Training doesn’t work for many companies because the behavior change is never implemented-it never has a chance to be implemented because the sales team is confronted with so many different-and often contradictory-behaviors that no one behavior is ever really learned before they are confronted with a new behavior.

This same lack of consistency is experienced by salespeople who must seek out their own training.  They too are confronted with a sea of training concepts and ideas that are often in conflict with one another. 

There are many sales processes that are viable.  There are a great many individual strategies and techniques that produce results.  But none of them will produce the desired results if they are not learned and implemented-if the right behavior isn’t ingrained so it comes naturally.  To learn a process to that point, what is often called unconscious competency, takes time, practice, and reinforcement.  If your company isn’t generating the results from training that you want to see, maybe the culprit isn’t the process or the strategies you want to use, but instead is the inconsistency of message your company is unconsciously sending your sales team.


March 30, 2009

Guest Article: “No Budget–Unless of Course . . .,” by Linda Richardson

Filed under: Closing Sales,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 7:17 am
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No Budget – Unless of Course…
By Linda Richardson from EyesonSales

Many of the customers we are talking to may be like your customers.  Their budgets have either been cut or all but vanished.

They also have something else in common:  their goal to increase revenue and save money in the short-term. You already know how important it is to justify your value to a customer.  But – never before has value justification taken on such a critical role in closing business.  It now is the key to finding, unlocking, and creating budgets.  And the nature of value justification has changed.  We are not only in a spreadsheet world but a world that is demanding creativity in finding rationale to buy and identifying non-typical pockets where budgets may be found.

I spoke with a salesperson who, in my view, is a master at conjuring up budgets even when the customer had been unsuccessful in doing so him or herself.  It is said that “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  This seems true for the salesperson.  His product was so new and original that not only was there no budget for it (even in good times), there was no one with the responsibility for it.

After identifying who in the organizations were most apt to have needs for his product and then engaging in need dialogues with them and being told there was no budget, he leaned heavily on metrics and creative analysis to prove his product was a smart move and would help his customers achieve their objectives.  He captivated and convinced one customer by showing that if his product increased the performance of one of the company’s 500 sales reps by 5%, that increase would pay the full cost of the investment.  This brought not only a smile to the customer’s lips, it gave the customer a rationale to bring to his boss and get the OK.

He showed another customer how his product amounted to .0001% of their total revenue and compared that to the increase in productivity.  For another customer who put money aside for replacement of full-time equivalents in anticipation of the company’s 10% turnover, he showed that by reducing that fund by one person, the cost of the product was covered, and this potentially reduced turnover and gave needed support to his team of managers.

In each case, he was able to close because he spelled out his value justification in a way that was graphic, concrete, tangible, practical, reasonable, and believable.

Today, it’s necessary to go beyond “normal” thinking about value justification.  It’s necessary to really understand the company’s business, deeply probe the customer’s needs and find a direct link of your product to the customer’s shorter-term objectives, and then justify the price specifically.  It takes searching every nook and corner for ways to illustrate value justification.

Closing starts in prep time when you think about the value you bring to the table and continues in the deep need dialogue you lead so you can graphically show dollars and cents value.  While the value you show can be longer-term, today, the shorter, the better, and the more specific, the more compelling.

Linda Richardson is the Founder and Chairwoman of Richardson, a global sales training business. As a recognized leader in the industry, she has won the coveted Stevie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales Excellence for 2006.  Linda is the author of nine books on selling and sales management and she teaches sales and management courses at the Wharton Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton Executive Development Center.

March 28, 2009

My Wife’s Long Held Opinion Has Been Validated–I’m Now Officially a Twit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 11:14 am
Tags: ,

I’ve made another step in coming into the 21st century and have set up a Twitter page.  Now that I’m an honest to goodness twit, I will have to figure out the best use of the medium.  I’ve reviewed the way many use their pages and find some of the entries of great value, some, such as learning that they have just bought cauliflower and green beans for dinner, to be nothing more than trying to find something to say.  I’ve also noticed that some use their pages to carry on substantive conversations-a great use of the site. 

Since I tend to be fairly wordy, being relegated to 140 characters per post should help me learn to be more concise in my writing and will hopefully carry over to my writing outside of Twitter.

Anyway, if you’d like to follow me, here’s my page

March 25, 2009

Green Up Your Sales

Filed under: marketing,Niche Marketing,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 7:59 am
Tags: , , ,

Do you worry about manmade global warming–or do you believe we’re in a cooling trend instead?  Do you fear for the planet because of our activities or do you believe mankind has little or nothing to do with climate change?  In sales, your answer to these questions is immaterial. 

No matter your view on the climate change debate, selling green is good business, and if presented correctly, selling green can be appealing to consumers on both sides of the issue.

Most people, no matter  their stance on global warming, want to be good stewards of the environment.  Their reasons may differ, but in many ways their actions are the seme-enviornmental conservation.  You may purchase a hybrid automobile because you want to cut CO2 emissions, while I purchase the same car because I don’t want to pay for gas.  You may install a solar panel on your home because you want to cut down on the use of electricty from a coal fired electric plant, while I purchase a panel for my home because I don’t want to pay the high electric rates.  You may support wind energy production because it is clean, while I support it because it helps us become a little less dependent upon outside sources of energy.  The motives may be different but the end is the same-we’re both ‘ going green.’ 

Individual  and business consumers are becoming incresingly conscious of the green choices they make, and more and more of them are consiciously choosing purchases that have some green component to them.  As our prospects become more green conscious, we must begin to emphasize the green and environmentally sound aspects of our products and services in our presentations, as well as our printed materials.

To green up your sales you will need to appeal to one or more of the typical green buying triggers prospects have:

  • Green Emotions: does your prospect buy green because of the positive emotions he or she feels when they believe they have made a green purchase? Green emotion buyers tend to be the easiest sale as the decision is based on the feel good aspect of the purchase rather than the actual enviornmental impact of the sale.
  • Green Consequences: buyers who purchase based on the anticipated environmental or financial impact of your product or service want detailed information-they tend to be numbers buyers when it comes to the green aspects of the purchase: how much does your product reduce CO2 emissions? How much of the product is recycled? How far in the future before I actually begin to realize the promised fuel savings?
  • Green Marketing: many business customers are interested in making green purchases that will allow them to promote themselves as being good stewards of the environment. Particularly appealing to these prospects are products or services that they can pass on to their green conscious customers.

Even in today’s economy where price and value are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, green is still very much a major factor for many prospects in their purchasing decisions.  If you’re not selling the green aspects of your product or service, you’re leaving money on the table.  If you haven’t even considered how your product or service fits within the buying decisions of your prospects who are green conscious, you’re being left behind and don’t even know it.

No matter your particular view of the green movement, it is becoming an increasingly important part of the purchasing decision for a growing number of individual and business customers.  If you aren’t addressing these issues with them, your competition will be.

March 24, 2009

Guest Article: “Managing the Millennials,” by Gregory Stebbins

Managing the Millennials    
by Dr. Gregory Stebbins

Independent, tech-savvy, social, and optimistic – why are these “kids” so hard to manage?

The New Millennial’s, people born after about 1981, are now entering the work force en masse. Even seasoned sales managers are having challenges helping these people become productive. They have a different approach to life, which greatly impacts their ability to sell effectively. Understanding them and some key events that took place during their youth will help you get a handle on their outlook on life in general and work in particular.

While they were growing up there was a technology explosion. Their every day reality included video on multiple devices, mobile phone, computers, and iPods. They have been bombarded with marketing messages that are constantly changing. School violence and global terrorism (specifically 9-11) have made them wary about the world and helped them develop a global perspective. For the most part, poverty is something that they have seen on television. Watching their parents get downsized in the 80s and 90s has caused them to question loyalty to the company. Reality television, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life and Google have caused them to believe (and experience!) that information is available for the asking so being “transparent” (putting everything out there for all to see) is the way things should be.

While I often hear comments about their lack of work ethic, those are the same comments that were leveled toward Generation X and Baby Boomers when they first entered the work force. Neuro research now tells us that the prefrontal cortex of our brain continues to mature until about the age of twenty-six. So Millennials may continue to be a little irresponsible until they’ve been on the job for a while. It’s neurological, not attitudinal. So make life a little easier on yourself and cut them some slack.

What is different is their work style, motivations and view of the world, especially the corporate world. These individuals do have loyalty, which is focused on their social network and specific managers and members of the team – not on the company.

Generally they have an ability to find information about anything at a rate that far exceeds expectations of management. What they lack is discernment about the accuracy of the information. If it’s on the Net they tend to believe it must be accurate. They can instantly communicate this information to their social network via Blogs, Instant Messaging (IM), personal Web pages and cell phones. Some companies have found out the hard way that their management mistakes are common knowledge within days, if not hours.

Many of these people had parents who hovered over them during every waking hour, giving birth to the term “Helicopter Parents.” With probably hundreds of possible activities, from soccer to music lessons, Millennials have been over-committed and over-scheduled. They also have been smothered in praise with constant reinforcement about how great they are: blue ribbons for the entire team, there are no losers, etc.  They expect recognition for everything, even the most mundane activities. They may not know their own strengths and weaknesses because there have not been many opportunities for self evaluation or honest, constructive criticism.

This creates your greatest management challenge. How do you help them understand that there are indeed losers as well as winners in the sales world? How do you provide constructive criticism without devastating their psyche?

Keep in mind that these people will tend to look at you as a parental substitute. I know that makes most sales managers more than a little uncomfortable. Nonetheless, since their parents didn’t wean them, you get to do that. And, generally, this is going to be a shock to the Millennial. You’ll need to teach them basic decision making by coaching and guiding them step-by-step, before you tell them, “You decide.” Don’t be surprised if they’re calling you constantly asking the simplest questions.

Here’s a four step process that can be helpful in guiding them in decision-making (this process may take two to six months total):

1.    The first time they approach you, work with them to think through at least three options. Then make the decision for them. Having them consider options is the first step of developing the ability to reason.

2.    After this, when they want your input, make sure they come in with the three options already thought about. Then help them understand the consequences of each option. Add in other options if they haven’t considered all of the consequences. Then, you make the decision.

3.    The third stage is that they come in with three options, understand the consequences and a recommendation for the course of action. Either agree with their course of action or make suggestions. Essentially they will be making the recommendation which you are approving.

4.    The final stage is to cut them loose and have them handle a situation on their own. However, also have them provide a written report (IM or Text message is OK). The report needs to tell you what the situation was, the options they considered and the decision they made. This step won’t last that long as their need for independence will kick in and they’ll just stop coming to you with every little situation.

Keep in mind that these individuals are going to need much more coaching than their predecessors. The good news is they are used to being coached. After all, many of them have been on soccer teams since they were four or five years old.

Like all previous generations they’ll be coming into the work world thinking that they have all the answers and know how to do the job better than you do. Once we turn about 35, we begin to realize that we don’t have all the answers and things may not be as they seem. Developing mastery at work requires us to listen intently, understand the history of each situation and gather the different perspectives of each of the players involved. However, growing up protected and interacting with others largely through technology, has created a generation whose people savvy is very limited. Their ability to read a person in a face-to-face situation (and almost all selling is face-to-face) will tend to limit their success, especially when selling to people of a different generation. Help them understand the nuances of body language, the uniqueness of each person’s office and what the contents of that office reveals about the customer. (Shameless promotion: Our book, PeopleSavvy for Sales Professionals covers these points in detail.)

In your coaching efforts with Millennials, your focus and approach may need to be different from others you have worked with. You’ll need to provide structure and give information in bite-size pieces. Praise for what they do is important to their self-esteem. If they’ve messed up you’ll need to present it as a development opportunity. Course correction instead of scolding or brow-beating is a better approach.

Millennials generally have short attention spans, so keep your coaching sessions short. If you go beyond about 20 minutes you will lose them. Use technology freely before and after the session; they’ll come in to the session better prepared and will actually appreciate the follow up. If you’re not comfortable using IM, it’s time to learn. Their mobile phone is like a third arm and gives you more access to them than you’ve probably ever had with anyone.

Have frequent coaching sessions. Remember they’ve been sitting in front of video games knowing instantly what their score is and how they compare with others. Waiting to give them feedback at their annual performance review won’t work. In fact, without feedback, they will probably be long gone before that performance review happens.

Provide the rationale behind your coaching. This generation is hungry to learn and if they feel they’re learning from you, they will be loyal-to you. If they feel like their skills aren’t being developed, they’ll leave.

In some ways you’ll need to teach them patience. They’re used to instant gratification. On the plus side, their impatience for results can be a bonus in the sales world. On the negative, they can be easily frustrated when they don’t get immediate results.

Work/life balance is important to Millennials. One of the biggest challenges to Baby Boomer managers is that Millennials don’t want the same life style. Many Baby Boomers were brought up in sales to believe that if you were working from 6 AM to 6 PM, you were still only working half days. Millennials want “time and flexibility” often before financial compensation and benefits. No other generation has had “time and flexibility” in their top three drivers.

And finally, transparency or confidentiality is often mismatched between Millennial and manager. It is not unusual that a private discussion between a manager and employee becomes public. You’ll need to teach your Millennials why discretion is important, and it may be difficult for them to understand. If your entire life is on the Web for anyone to see-even pictures in a drunken stupor at a college party-they just won’t understand why someone wants to keep something private or would be embarrassed about it being public. Be patient and explain why it’s to their benefit. In other words, you may need to sell them on the idea.

Smart managers that focus on developing Millennial’s people savvy and who understand flexible work roles and effective virtual teams while leveraging technology will help them become a valuable asset sooner rather than later. Managers who meet the challenges of working with, not against, this generation will reap the rewards that come with shorter ramp times and more rapidly gaining some very valuable sales professionals.

Sales Psychology Expert Gregory Stebbins has helped over 20,000 sales professionals become the point of differentiation while their competitors struggle with how to differentiate their product and service. In his book PeopleSavvy for Sales Professionals, he unveils for the first time his simple but groundbreaking plan to win your customers’ trust and business forever. Visit his website at

March 23, 2009

Charity Can Be Great Business

On any given workday you can find tens of thousands of professionals, salespeople and business owners across the country working networking events.  These events, whether sponsored by a chamber of commerce, an industry association, or a networking group, attract a large number of men and women all looking for the same thing-a prospect.  In fact, at a great many of these events the vast majority of attendees are not really interested in meeting and mingling with other business people, but are only interested in finding a real, live prospect and if there are no prospects, they deem their time spent at the event to have been wasted. 

In time, most salespeople, professionals and business owners become convinced that networking as they’ve come to know it is nothing more than a huge waste of time.  For most, unless they are selling a relatively inexpensive consumer or business commodity, they’re right.

This doesn’t mean that networking is a waste of time.  Networking can, in fact, be one of the most productive and satisfying prospecting and marketing methods one can engage in.  Whether you’re a professional, business owner, or salesperson, there are a number of viable networking venues open to you, but non-profit charitable organizations are ignored as prospecting venues by most. 

Non-profit charitable organizations offer a tremendous opportunity to acquire new business while at the same time contributing to your community.  What better way to generate new business than to do so while volunteering your time, energy, and possibly money to help others?

Why are non-profits so valuable as prospecting venues?

  • You can often identify a charity whose board and committees have a large number of real prospects for your goods and services.
  • Instead of meeting these prospects in a sales situation where they will probably have their guard up, you meet them in a much more relaxed atmosphere where you can get to know one another as friends prior to approaching them regarding business.
  • You have the opportunity to demonstrate your competence, trustworthiness, and honesty prior to engaging the prospect in a business conversation.

However, networking through a charitable organization isn’t as simple as just picking one out and joining it. 

If you want to network through a charitable organization you’ll need to:

  • Find an organization whose purpose and goals are of sincere interest to you. In order to effectively network through an organization you’ll have to become an active member, participating in the success of the organization by becoming involved in a committee, attending all of the function, and working for the overall success of the organization. If you simply join hoping to show up when you think there might be a networking opportunity, you’ll quickly discover that you won’t succeed. Many members of these organizations are leery of those who join for no other reason than to meet business connections. They can smell you coming-and they’ll reject you. If you want to be successful, you have to be a real part of the group and not a leech.
  • Be patient. Building relationships takes time. Demonstrating who you are and why taking you seriously takes time. If you looking for quick, easy business, working within a charitable organization isn’t for you.
  • Commit yourself to the organization’s goals and objectives first, business second. If you’re not committed to the organization’s goals and objectives, your lack of commitment will eventually come through–and you very possibly may do your business more harm than good.

If you’re looking to establish some new business connections and find some great new prospects, consider investing your time and energy in a charitable organization.  You’ll find it far more satisfying and productive than the typical networking venues most salespeople and professionals work.

March 20, 2009

Guest Article: “Is Provocative Selling a new kind of Selling Eloquence or just the same old Blarney?” by Niall Devitt

Filed under: sales,Sales Process,selling — Paul McCord @ 8:41 am
Tags: , , ,

Is Provocative Selling a new kind of Selling Eloquence or just the same old Blarney?
by Niall Devitt

Ireland is a small Island on north-west of Europe with a population of just over 4 million people. Mass emigration means however, that over 80 million people worldwide are now of Irish decent. This Irish Diaspora is over fourteen times the population of the island of Ireland itself. From JFK to Barack Obama, Joyce to U2, Guinness to Riverdance, tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day; when we invite the world to join with us in celebrating all things Irish.

One famous Irish landmark is the Blarney Stone; legend has it that kissing the stone gives the gift of eloquence. Eloquence is the ability of expressing strong emotions in striking and appropriate language, thereby producing conviction or persuasion. The term is also used for writing in a fluent style.

The story goes that Queen Elizabeth the 1st requested an oath of loyalty from Cormac Teige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney. She received a response that promised loyalty without “giving in”. Elizabeth proclaimed that McCarthy was giving her “(a lot of) Blarney”, thus apparently giving rise to the legend.

One man who definitely has the gift of eloquence is my friend and colleague, Dave Brock. Dave and I have been exchanging ideas about the concepts behind” Provocative Selling”. We thought our different views complemented each other-rather than merging them, we thought we could stimulate discussion in the community by posting both and encouraging you to read each.  Read Dave’s views in his post “The Big Idea, Solve Your Customers’ Big Problems”

So is “Provocative Selling” a new kind of selling eloquence or just the same old Blarney?

It talks about moving our thinking and methodology about selling from focusing on “What keeps our customers awake at night,” to “What should keep our customers awake at night.” The premise is in changing the objective, you change the discussion. Different conversations lead to different outcomes with the goal to find bigger problems which in turn will lead to bigger sales.

While I not entirely convinced that what keeps and what should keep our customers awake at night are actually that far apart, I am impressed with identifying the need for a different type of conversation. What I really like about Provocative Selling is its process, the how to get from A – Z bit. The simple fact of having a much more open starting point to our dialogue with prospects, will I believe lead to having much better conversations. Too many of us continue to talk customers in the same way about the same things and it’s stopped working.

Maybe there is not something spanking new here, but perhaps we do all need reminding that what we should be talking to our customers about is “how we can help them to help their customers”. The reality is that no other conversation is worth having at the moment. The combination of expertise, knowledge and skills required is high, but maybe it’s now “a must have” in the salesperson’s toolbox.

Another important facet of this approach is that it increases the worth of the salesperson, not just in the eyes of the customer; but more importantly perhaps in the eyes of the salesperson. Dave often speaks of how salespeople need to “create value in every interchange with customers” Surely the starting point must be salespeople who have first built upon their own intrinsic value before customers and sales.

Top salespeople are constantly looking to add to their repertoire of knowledge and expertise. There is a subtle yet powerful difference, between finding opportunity and having the ability to go and create it. Could it be that in many ways? Provocative Selling is what top salespeople are already doing


Niall Devitt is the founder of Beyond the Boardroom (, a leading Irish business development consultancy specialising in providing highly tailored solutions in the areas of sales training and recruitment.   To date, Niall experience spans both B2B and B2C, where he has delivered training programmes for the IT, Construction, Medical, Utilities, FMCG and Financial sectors. Niall brings success to companies and individuals by assisting them to maximise potential through identifying, resolving and overcoming performance issues.

March 18, 2009

Guest Article: “The Paradox of Expertise,” by Kevin Eikenberry

The Paradox of Expertise
by Kevin Eikenberry

Throughout life most people tend to look up to others who are experts in their fields — whether they are authors, speakers, leaders, athletes or some other expertise. In our minds and in our culture we value – and sometimes even revere – expertise.

For this reason it isn’t surprising that most everyone strives – consciously or unconsciously – to become an expert in some area(s) of life. When you want to be an expert in your work, you strive to learn the skills and tools that will make you more successful. You probably study and passionately practice a hobby or two or other related interests with the goal at least in some part to gain knowledge and expertise.

Reaching new levels of expertise does more than satisfy your sense of self competition. It helps you create better results, achieve more in less time and, when you share your expertise, help others achieve better results as well. Plus, beyond all of these things, your expertise can give you status, promotions and higher pay.

When you think about all those ideas (and many more), it’s not too surprising we want to become experts in our fields and areas of interest is it?

And yet this expertise can also get in your way . . . if you allow yourself to fall into a very seductive trap – the trap of arrival.

When you’re an expert and you’re in the know, it’s so easy to feel like you’ve “arrived” and once you believe you have arrived, you run two major risks:

You “know-it-all”. If you believe you know it all, you have very little incentive to continue searching. If you’re in list trap, you might not listen to people with less experience than you. You also may not be open to new ideas because of your confirmed expertise. Your habits and dedication to become an expert can create a false sense of confidence. Yet when you look at someone else’s situation you realize there’s always something about the topic that you don’t know. But in your field you may miss that fact – after all, if you do know it all, there really isn’t anything else to learn is there?

You’ve “seen-it-all”. Your expertise and experience definitely helps you greatly in diagnosing a situation and seeing patterns that others might not see. At the same time, because of your experience you may miss a subtle difference because you automatically match the situation up to the pattern “you’ve seen a hundred times before.” Your vast experience and exposure may actually blind you to what you really need to see. You must remain open to new possibilities to make your expertise of greatest possible benefit to yourself and others.

All of this proves the wisdom of the quotation from the great basketball coach John Wooden:

“It is what we learn after we know it all that matters.”

What you already know may keep you from seeing what is most important in a given situation.

That is the paradox of expertise.

You strive to gain valuable expertise and when you gain it you may fall prey to the problems that your expertise can cause.

When you approach every situation with the curiosity of a learner, you will avoid many of those problems and actually continue to grow your expert status at the same time!

Potential Pointer: As you strive to grow your expertise realize that it’s a journey not a destination. Remain open to learning new things and applying new techniques. When you match your ongoing openness and curiosity with your considerable expertise, you will avoid the paradox of expertise.

Kevin Eikenberry is a two-time best selling author, speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, leader, learner, husband and father (not necessarily in that order).  Kevin is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that has been helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993. Emphasizing the power of learning, Kevin’s specialties include leadership, teams and teamwork, organizational culture, facilitating change, training trainers and more.

March 17, 2009

Can We Reclaim Our Place in the Sales Process?

It used to be that when we connected with a prospect we had a pretty good idea of what would be expected from us by the prospect.  Typically, we were expected to help the prospect understand the root cause of their issues and needs and to develop solutions that addressed those issues in a manner we thought would be of value to the prospect.  Whether we were the first solution provider the prospect spoke to or not, our job was to help the prospect understand and analyze their needs and/or problems and then to develop a satisfactory solution.

For a growing number of us today, we are no longer being called upon to offer our needs analysis expertise to prospects-and worse, many times we’re not even expected to offer a solution but to rather simply supply the product or service needed to implement the solution the prospect has crafted. 

With the enormous volume of information and analytical tools available to prospects today at no cost on the internet and through other media, more and more prospects are investing a significant amount of time researching their issues-and the potential solutions to those issues-long before we enter the picture.  In increasing numbers, prospects are looking to us only to provide the pieces to the solution they themselves have developed.  In other words, a growing number of prospects are no longer looking at us as providers of expertise.  Instead, salespeople are increasingly being viewed by prospects as commodity vendors, providing the specific products or services the prospect needs to implement their pre-determined solution.

Prospect self-diagnosis and self-medication completely changes our profession from one of essential solution developer to being simply a commodity supplier; and when all we can do is supply a commodity, our expertise has little or no value over and above the market value of the product we sell. 

For example, in the past we may have used product X that had a retail value of $1,500 in the solution we developed to address a prospect’s issue. We changed the prospect $10,000 for implementing our solution, meaning our expertise was worth $8,500.  In a world where the prospect no longer relies on our expertise, just our product, our value to the prospect is simply the $1,500 the product sells for.  We have no intrinsic value of our own because the prospect is now doing what we used to change $8,500 to do.

The movement to self-diagnose and develop one’s own solution is spreading throughout the marketplace, in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business activities, and with increasingly sophisticated and complicated issues.  The list of industries where prospects are relying less on the professional and more on themselves to analyze their issues and develop their own solutions is huge.  Securities, insurance, residential and commercial mortgages, software applications, accounting and bookkeeping, legal proceedings, business structures, and dozens and dozens of other areas.

How do we as salespeople fit into the sales process in this changing climate?  Can we claim a place at the table when our prospects now have available to them in a couple of clicks of a mouse more information than we were capable of giving them in the past? 

Of course, there will always be a segment of prospects who will seek advice and guidance from salespeople they believe to be experts in their field.  That group is, however, shrinking.  In order for us to become relevant to those who believe they no longer need the advice, guidance, and expertise of a professional salesperson, we must:

  • Do a better job of educating prospects and clients on what we do. Many prospects see us as offering nothing but a biased, self-serving sales pitch rather than an effective, prospect oriented solution to their issues. If we want to regain relevance with prospects who have decided they are better off doing their own research and developing their own solutions, as well as retaining those who haven’t yet moved in that direction, we will have to change their view of what sales is and who we as salespeople are.
  • Educate before proposing a solution. Many prospects believe that our ‘solution’ to their problem is nothing more than a canned product or service that we claim is customized to meet their unique situation. And why should they believe anything else since so often we salespeople ask a half dozen questions and magically propose ‘the solution?’ Prospects are no longer willing to settle for canned solutions. Prospects today want to be educated on both the cause of their issues and the possible solutions-and the pros and cons of implementing the various solutions. If we want to become relevant once again-or stay relevant to those who haven’t yet deserted us-we will have to become educators before we become salespeople. Education must become the foundation of our sales process. And our education will have to be real education, not some slick sleight of hand marketing mumbo jumbo disguised as education.
  • Walk away when our products and services don’t meet the prospect’s need. Prospects are skeptical of salespeople because we always have what they need. Seldom has a prospect met a salesperson that referred them to another company because their products, services, and/or expertise wasn’t appropriate to meet the prospect’s needs. Prospects expect the salesperson to try to sell them whether the product or service will meet their needs or not. If we want to be taken seriously, we have to be willing to work in the prospect’s best interest, even when that means walking away from business.
  • Generate more value for the prospect than the prospect can get on their own. Why should a prospect pay us if we can’t bring more value to them than they can generate on their own? We have to be able to create tangible value for the prospect, whether that value is in terms of dollars, time, or security. We must be able to clearly demonstrate that we can produce greater results than they can produce, save them more time and/or energy then the cost of our products or service, or give them more security and safety than they can acquire on their own.
  • Earn our place in the sale. We must recognize that in most instances prospects no longer need us. If we are not prepared to do an exceptional job, we are expendable. One of the reasons we find ourselves being replaced by discount providers, websites, 800 numbers, and a myriad of other cheap alternatives to professional salespeople is that we believed that prospects had to have us if they wanted or needed our product or service. Not so. Just ask the full service securities broker, the mortgage loan officer, the business banker, the pharmacist, the realtor, the telecommunications expert, and hundreds of others who were ‘indispensible’ and who are now clawing to stay alive. We can no longer take our place in the sale for granted.

Our profession is changing.  We are slowly becoming a profession where there is an elite group catering to the highly profitable prospects who seek the advice and guidance of top experts in their field and a mass of order takers working with those prospects who believe they can formulate their own solutions and just need a salesperson to provide certain products or services at bargain basement prices.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the move to self-diagnosis and solution development will cease anytime in the foreseeable future.  If that’s the case, the question becomes which do we as salespeople want to be-the expert who deals with the highly profitable segment of the market that seeks advice and guidance from a real expert–or the order taker who deals with the discount shopper?  The choice is ours, but we have to make the choice because the change in the marketplace isn’t going to stop just because we don’t like it.

March 12, 2009

Doctor, Doctor, Mister MD, can you tell me, what’s ailing me?

Filed under: Closing Sales,Handling Prospect — Paul McCord @ 12:59 pm
Tags: , ,

Pain–the moving force in sales today.  Every company and every individual is hurting in some way or another-most have a great many pains.  But overshadowing all other pain right now is cash flow, income (sales), and security (stability).

The title of this post dates me, but The Young Rascals hit song asks the primary question each and every one of our prospects is asking-“What’s the cause of my pain–and most importantly, how do I eliminate it?”

More than ever before, if we want to become indispensable to our prospects and clients, we must become great diagnosticians.  We have to be able to analyze our prospects situation and develop a solution that will address their most pressing issue.  And we have to do it in a way that creates a crystal clear vision of what the value gained will be.

In today’s tight economy, prospects aren’t buying ‘maybes’-maybes are too expensive, too vague to invest in today.  If all you’re selling is a maybe, you’ll be selling at a rock bottom price if you’re selling at all.  Prospects will, however, buy-and pay well for-a clearly defined solution that demonstrates a clear path to eliminating their pain.

Although the economy has put a real damper on business, for most of us in sales it has to some extent made our jobs easier.  The central issue for almost all of our prospects and clients is financial.  Cash flow, income, or security-one or more of these issues is almost certainly the primary pain our prospects and clients are feeling.

Knowing there is a high probability that one or more of these issues is the pain our prospect seeks to eliminate makes our job significantly easier in one sense.  Knowing that these are the issues we’ll be dealing with 80 or 90% of the time allows us to focus our attention on understanding how our products or services contribute to solving these issues for our prospects.

On the other hand, knowing the likely pain beforehand can create significant problems if we aren’t diligent:

Laziness: Just because we know what the likely problems will be doesn’t mean that these will be the basic issue for every prospect we encounter.  We must still do a comprehensive needs analysis-with an open mind–before we determine what the issues are and where and how we can help.

Canned Solutions: Just as dangerous as being lazy in our analysis and understanding of a prospect’s situation is going in with a canned solution.  Each and every prospect’s situation is different.  The issue may be the same, say cash flow or lack of sales, but that doesn’t mean the solution is the same.  Now more than ever we must customize a solution for the prospect if we expect to maintain profit margins in today’s economy because our prospects can get a canned solution from almost any of our competitors at a discounted price.

Presentation Lite: If we’re dealing with the same two or three issues time after time, we run the risk of becoming somewhat bored.  We begin to shorten our presentation-after all, we don’t want to bore our prospect also.  So, instead of giving a complete explanation of how our solution will impact the prospect and detail the results they will experience and how those results will add value and reduce their pain, we leave some gaps, expecting the prospect to make the connections.  Hope or maybe won’t sell today’s prospect.  We have to make sure the prospect understands exactly what our solution is and exactly how that solution will address and ease their pain.  The prospect has to believe in the efficacy of the solution or they won’t write the check.

Before heading out on your next sales call, take some time to understand exactly how your products and services will address your prospect’s cash flow, income, and security issues.  You know the likely pain that your prospect faces, so prepare yourself to address those issues in a manner that your prospect can appreciate-helping them reduce their immediate pain.  Selling today won’t get you very far; instead, you have to be the doctor who diagnoses and treats the pain your patients are feeling.  Yes, we’re supposed to be that doctor all the time–but today, unlike during the great economy of the past few years, it isn’t an option.

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