Sales and Sales Management Blog

December 28, 2011

Focus Your Time on Selling, Not on Busy Work

Like many salespeople and small business owners, I find staying focused during prime selling hours to be difficult. As a sales trainer, coach, and consultant, my days are filled with activities that try to pull me away from selling. Yet, like every other company, selling is the life blood of my business—its what keeps the doors open and the company healthy and growing.

Interruptions, minor emergencies, emails, phone calls, and a myriad of other issues and concerns are constantly trying to draw my attention away from my primary business activity—selling.

Listen, I have only certain hours during the day that are my prime selling hours. If I lose those hours, I lose revenue; I lose precious time that no matter how hard I work, I can never regain. Consequently, it is important I keep my focus on true sales activities between 8am and 5pm.

Nevertheless, there are things that must be done and some of those things simply won’t wait until non-selling hours.

So what did I do?

My solution has been to set aside four ½-hour times during the day when I will address non-selling issues. Twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon I set aside my selling and marketing activities in order to return calls, handle ‘emergencies,’ and the other ‘busy’ work of my business.

Of course, if a real emergency arises, it takes precedence over all else. But real emergencies are rare.

This process has allowed me to concentrate on selling and prospecting without worrying that other aspects of my business will suffer. Anything that comes up will be addressed shortly—but without interrupting my selling time.

It takes discipline to get into the habit of leaving things lie for a little while. But those things that used to find ways to cut my selling time in half—or more–are now much controllable.

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December 23, 2011

Lessons in Group Dynamics from Lola

Mr. B.J.

I’ve always been fascinated with how new members of groups try to find a way to fit in with the existing group members.  I’ve spent years observing—and participating at times as a new and other times as an established member of the group—how the new folks try to fit in as well as how the existing members try to either find a place for or keep out someone new.

Over the past several months I’ve had the pleasure of watching this group dynamic play out in my own home—and most interestingly the subject of the attempt to fit in is Lola, our newest dog.  Lola has taught me a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work when trying to fit into new surroundings and with a well established group.

Ms. Chloe

Some Background Prior to Lola’s arrival, our household consisted of Debbie, my wife, Mr. B.J., a six year old miniature Dachshund, Ms. Chloe, a seven year old miniature Yorkie, and myself.  As we acquired both dogs as puppies when they were only about 8 weeks old, our little family unit has been together undisturbed for six years.

Some readers may remember how B.J. and Chloe would work the neighborhood looking for treat handouts from our neighbors.  Since we have moved to a new home that is located only a block away from a very busy five lane street, B.J. and Chloe no longer have the freedom to canvas the neighborhood and are confined to our house and the backyard.  Although they have adopted well to being restricted to just our property, with the more limited room to roam, Mr. B.J. has become more protective of his turf.


B.J. and Chloe are extremely close.  Since B.J. joined the family as an 8 week old puppy, he and Chloe have only been apart from one another on a very few occasions.  When they are apart from one another it is obvious that they miss each other—at times to the point of refusing to eat or do anything until they are reunited with the other.

Along Comes Lola Last April Debbie and I decided to go to Nashville on vacation.  Since there were some places in Memphis and Dallas Debbie wanted to visit also, we decided to drive instead of fly.

We were staying in the loft of an old 19th century barn that had been converted into a one bedroom apartment.  The barn was on a 10 or so acre property where the large main house had been turned into a bed and breakfast.  The property abutted a larger property whose barn was on the fence separating the two properties.

When we arrived we discovered that the owners of the bed and breakfast had rescued a beautiful 5 year old Golden Retriever named Lola from her unfortunate circumstances next door.  The owners of the other property had acquired Lola as a puppy 5 years earlier for their son.  It turned out that the son didn’t like nor want the dog, so instead of finding a more suitable home for her, the folks simply put Lola in a fenced in area next to their barn.  There she stayed—without access to the barn—for five years, being fed and visited only on occasion.  She endured hot, humid summers and freezing cold winters outside with no cover, no companionship, and nothing to comfort her.

When the owners of the bed and breakfast realized the situation, they asked Lola’s owners if they could take her.  They rescued her and gave her a home in their barn.  They gave her plenty of food, took her to the vet where they discovered she had heart worms which they began treating, and gave her daily attention.  But they knew they couldn’t keep her; they had to find a good home for her.

And then Debbie and I showed up.  It took Debbie about 30 seconds to realize that since we drove and could, therefore, take her home with us, Lola had a new home.

During the week that we were there we spent a good amount of time with Lola.  She proved to be a great, sweet dog despite her 5 years of solitary confinement out in the elements.

Lola Comes Home On our trip back home our attention turned to concern about how Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe would react to Lola.  Would they accept her after they realized that she was staying and not just visiting?  Since Lola hadn’t been around other dogs how would she react?  Were we about to introduce total chaos to our stable and well established household?

We arrived home late in the afternoon.  Debbie stayed in the car with Lola while I went into the house and had my reunion with the dogs.  We then switched and I stayed with Lola while Debbie went in and greeted the dogs.  Both dogs were excited to see us as we knew they would be . . .

then their little world was turned upside down.

Lola came into the backyard.

As expected, Mr. B.J. became very defensive of his territory.

Chloe was curious—but apprehensive.

Lola was excited to come face to face other dogs.

B.J. growled and yelled.  His antics didn’t seem to faze Lola.

Lola immediately decided that Chloe was her new BFF and tried to smother her with attention which Chloe didn’t like.

As we were afraid would happen, Lola got off on the wrong foot.

Rejection Starting that evening and for the next several weeks Lola tried her best to fit in with B.J. and Chloe.

When they played, she tried to join in.  She was summarily rejected.

At breakfast and dinner she tried to share their food.  She was quickly put in her place.

She tried to use their pillows and blankets and was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t allowed.

Her only companionship was Debbie and I, but she never gave up trying to break into the B.J./Chloe clique.

Submission Within a couple of weeks she decided the best route to acceptance was submission.  She took her behavior cues from B.J. and Chloe—and those cues were basically, “stay away.”

She would meekly approach one and they would either snap at her or turn and walk away.

She would try to lie on the floor next to one and would get a paw in the face for her trouble; she would then head off to find a place by herself.

When one of the dogs would bark at her, she’d roll over and whimper.  One would think that Mr. B.J. was the one who weighted 90 lbs. and Lola was the one who weighted 13 lbs.

Lola Stands Her Ground Slowly Lola tired of the treatment she was receiving from B.J. and Chloe and began to assert herself.

Instead of meekly approaching them, she began to confidently insert herself into their play.

At breakfast and dinner when B.J. growled, she growled back.

When she wanted to lay on one of their mats or curl up with one of their blankets and they objected, she ignored their threats.

When B.J. barred his teeth, she barred hers.  They never fought for she discovered that in truth Mr. B.J. is a classic bully—he’ll yell, scream and threaten, but when stood up to, he goes turtle and begins to cry.

Acceptance As Lola began to assert herself and demand to have her place in the home, Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe began to accept her as a part of the family.

The more Lola claimed her rightful place, the more respect and acceptance she received.

Lola has been with us for 9 months.  She still isn’t as close to B.J. and Chloe as B.J. and Chloe are to one another—and, of course, she never will be.  But she finally demanded and received her place in the home.

B.J. isn’t as patient with her as he is with Chloe.  Chloe still refuses to be Lola’s BFF.

Lola still is learning how to relate to other dogs.  She tries hard but is still clumsy and often tries too hard.

But a great deal of progress has been made.

Lessons Learned So what does this dog story mean to humans?

I’ve seen this same situation worked out in sales forces when a new salesperson joins an established group of sellers.

The same dynamics take place.  The established group tries to ostracize the newcomer either out of fear or jealousy while the newcomer tries to figure out how to fit into the group.

Most of the time the newcomer tries to win acceptance through acquiesce—hoping that by meekness and being as unobtrusive as possible the group will find a place for them.  Most often they experience the same result that Lola experienced—they remain an outcast.

A good number of these newcomers will eventually tire of outcast treatment and begin to assert themselves at which time the group seems to begin the acceptance process.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many newcomers simply accept their outcast status.  They never learn how to assert themselves and demand acceptance.  A great many good sellers will end up leaving the company because they don’t feel that they fit in.

Managers: understand how important it is that you help your new sellers fit into the existing group.  Find one of the leaders of the group and seek to get their help in bringing new sellers into the group.  Make sure you keep an eye on how new sellers fit in and encourage them to assert themselves and to insist on taking their rightful place within the group.

Sellers: ultimately it is your responsibility to work your way into the group that you are joining.  Understand that there will likely be some resistance to accepting you.  Likewise, understand that if you allow yourself to be dominated and pushed aside, that very likely will happen.  You must stand up and demand to be let in—yet at the same time you certainly cannot come across as egotistical or a jerk.

Many managers ignore the problem their new sellers face when joining an established sales team.  How the new seller fits in will have a significant impact on both their sales efforts and their longevity with the company.

December 6, 2011

Eating with the Big Dogs–Taking the Next Big Step in Your Sales Career

Filed under: career development,goals,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 11:56 am
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Last summer I received an email from Beth, a pharmaceutical salesperson with slightly more than two years of experience, asking me what she should be doing in order to take the next big step in her career.  She is a slightly above average seller in her company—actually one of the better sophomore performers.  Since joining the company she has taken her manager’s advice and only compared her performance and numbers against the other salespeople with less than three years experience (her manager told her not to try to compare herself to the more experienced sellers as she would likely become discouraged).

I sent her an email asking a number of questions, one of which was what her short-term and long-term goals were.  She responded that her short-term goal was to be the top seller in her company in her “class,” and her long-term goal was to become one of the top 5% producers in the company.

In response to my question as to what she was currently doing to improve her sales she responded that she was taking advantage of all the training her company provided, was an avid reader of sales books, and constantly talking to her colleagues about what they found worked and what didn’t.  As we continued to communicate it became obvious that she considered her colleagues to be the other sellers in the company that were either selling at the same volume or had about the same amount of experience.

Although of excellent quality, unfortunately the vast majority of training her company provided was product training, not sales training.  Consequently, Beth was becoming extremely proficient at discussing her products but wasn’t getting the training she needed in the various aspect of selling.  In a very real sense she was more of a walking product brochure than a salesperson.

My recommendations to Beth were threefold:

  1. Start Eating with the Big Dogs:  Rather than hang out and discuss ideas with others in the company who are at or below her production level, she needed to be interacting and learning from the top producers in the company.  The only thing others at her level can teach her is how to stay at the production level she is currently at—worse, those below her can only teach her how to fail.  If she wants to grow she needs to learn from those who are where she wants to be. I encouraged her to start inviting those big producers to lunch.  She should look at them as mentors and teachers—and as colleagues.  Spend as much time as she could learning everything she can.  Listen to them on the phone; hitch a ride as they make sales calls if possible; find out what they read and who they value as teachers and mentors.  Emulate success, not mediocrity.
  2. Take Control of Her Training:  Since the company is primarily concerned with investing their money training their sales staff on their products, she will have to take control of her sales education.  She’ll have to invest her time and money in learning how to be a top notch seller. Beth’s situation is hardly unique.  In fact, a great many companies—probably the vast majority–neglect sales training in favor of product training.  Many companies (and sellers) mistakenly believe they are the same thing.  Not only are they not the same thing, neither is very effective without the other. At first Beth wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about spending her money attending on-line and live training seminars and workshops.  After all, she argued, her company should be paying since her skills were going to be used to sell their products.  True, I agreed—except her skills were going to be with her for life, not just while she was selling for the company she currently works for.  Her product knowledge is to a large extent company specific, her sales skills will be universal and benefiting her for life.  With that explanation she agreed—reluctantly—to make the investment in herself.
  3. Compete Against The Best, Not the Easiest:  I encouraged her to stop comparing her production and progress only against those with the same amount of experience but to compare herself against the best in her company and her industry.  If she wants to be a top dog she has to compare herself against the top dogs—even if at the moment that comparison isn’t comfortable. If she is only competing against others at her level she is giving herself a false trophy.  Her goal isn’t to be one of the best mediocre producers but rather to be one of the top producers in her company—and ultimately her industry.  With that in mind, certainly she can take some pride in the steps she makes, but she really can’t allow herself to bask in glory just because she out sold a bunch of other middle of the road sellers.  She has to keep her eye on the ultimate goal and only compare herself against that goal. Does that mean she’ll be ever frustrated—and possibly become discouraged and quit as her manager suggested—by comparing herself against a goal she isn’t close to achieving?  Not at all.  She should be able to see her progress as she continues to close in on that goal.  Like a long-distance runner, she might click off the landmarks as she passes them, but she must know how she stacks up with where she wants to be and keep her eye on the ultimate goal.

It has been almost a half year since my interaction with Beth.  I received a call from her last week.  She has implemented all three suggestions.  She feels she still has a lot of sales training to go through.  She still hasn’t made her goal of being in the top 5% of her company’s sales force.  But she has progressed from being in the top 40% to closing this year in the top 25%–with a very realistic opportunity of being in the top 10% next year.

Beth ain’t there yet—but she’s making great progress very quickly.  She says that so far the biggest impact has been eating with the big dogs—she had no idea how differently they did things than the way she and her fellow mediocre sellers did them.  The sales training is paying off.  Knowing how she stacks up against the big dogs gives her new motivation to make big steps, not just the little ones that she previously thought were reachable.

If you’re looking to take the next big step in your career do the same as Beth—start eating with the big dogs and leave the other average sellers behind; take control of your own sales training; and compare yourself with the big producers, not just the ones you think you can compete with easily.  It will make a difference—and like Beth, you might find the difference comes pretty quickly.

December 5, 2011

Book Review: Bottom-Line Selling by Jack Malcolm

Filed under: Book Reviews — Paul McCord @ 12:12 pm
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Over the past couple of decades sellers, in particular sellers who sell to buyers in the executive suite, have been encouraged to sell solutions and to convert the solution into financial terms—demonstrating what impact the proposed solution will have economically on the company.

Although excellent advice, most often sellers have been told what to do but not how to do it.  Addressing the financial concerns of executives means having to have done the proper research, having analyzed the proper data, and being able to recognize where and how the seller’s solution will impact that data.

Unfortunately, a great many sellers don’t have an MBA.  In fact, most have had little exposure to reading and analyzing sophisticated financial reports—and even many that have, really don’t know how to effectively use them to gain insight into how they might be able to impact the prospect company.

Jack Malcolm in Bottom-Line Selling: The Sales Professional’s Guide to Improving Customer Profits (Booktrope:  2011 Second Edition) not only provides an excellent course in how to read and interpret the information and numbers contained in a company’s annual report, but it shows the seller how to convert that basic information into a financial solution that communicates real value to the executive in terms that are meaningful to him or her.

Bottom-Line Selling goes well beyond the “how to” of research and analysis which are important but ultimately useless if you don’t know what to do with the information.  Simply knowing a prospect’s financial rations won’t get you anywhere.

Anyone with a calculator and sheet with the ratio formulas can work out a prospect company’s various financial ratios from the information on their financial statements.  In order to make that information useful, you have to understand not only what that information means to the prospect now, but how you can impact and change those numbers.  Only when you understand that can you begin to have a cogent conversation with the prospect that will address their core concerns—and unless you can do that, you stand little chance of breaking through and really engaging.

Malcolm breaks the book into three sections:

Understanding: details the “how” of analyzing and understanding a prospect’s financial statements—understanding what has happened in the prospect’s past.

Fixing:  discusses how to understand what the prospect does, that is how the prospect conducts business—and how your solution can help improve the prospect’s ability to conduct his or her business and, thus, improve their financial position.

Selling:  This is where, in my opinion, Malcolm really shines.  Selling is far more than understanding numbers or business processes or even how your product or service will change those—selling is about influencing people.  As Malcolm points out, if selling were only about numbers “the accountants would be earning all of the commission dollars.”  In this section Malcolm goes beyond the numbers to how to get to the right decision makers, how to make the emotional impact, and how to effectively construct a financial proposal.

Bottom-line Selling isn’t a book that you’ll sit down and read in a single sittingIt isn’t meant to be.  It is a serious book for serious sellers.  It is a book that is meant to be digested in bits as each individual bit is important to putting together the whole–and each bit must be digested fully in order to move on to the next bit.  But as the bits add up, your ability to discover issues that you can address and improve for your prospects—and to address them in ways that are both meaningful and moving to them—will not only improve, but your confidence in being able to find and connect with executive level decision makers and to influence them will improve—and with that your sales will improve.

Grab a copy of Bottom-line Selling—and plan to spend a good deal of time with it—you’ll be glad you did.


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