Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 30, 2012

Guest Article: Are You Client Focused or a Client Vulture?, by Charles H. Green

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

Much has been written about client focus. We hear about sophisticated clients who will leave if we don’t focus on their needs. We hear about the virtues of client loyalty, and the virtues of measurements like client profitability. The key to competitive success is to do a better job serving clients than the next guy. And so on.

But there’s a dark side to that theme. The reason to be so client-focused is almost always phrased in terms of the benefits to the seller. And that changes everything.

Client focus, as it is too often practiced in business today, is the focus of a vulture. It is all about the benefit to the firm—not to the client. When client benefits are discussed, they are as discussed as a means to the seller’s ends. Yes, we want to serve clients better—but for our sake, not theirs.

Should we be surprised, then, when clients become cynical, send out RFPs, and refer us to third-party buying agents? In our rush to dissect the client brain, we have forgotten that motives matter.

I’m not talking about ethics—I’m talking about the simple facts of trust. We trust those we believe to have our interests at heart, and we distrust those we believe to have their interests at heart. But we particularly distrust those who pretend to be the former, while behaving like the latter.

Sometimes it’s hard to see trust faults in our own business. By way of metaphor, consider an industry recently hard-hit by trust issues—pharmaceuticals. One of the drug manufacturers’ wounds is self-inflicted—the failed relationship between physicians and reps.

Doctors long relied on reps to keep them up to date on new drugs—an important and valuable advisory role. In recent years, the drug companies tried to increase reps’ sales effectiveness. They increased the number of reps per doctor, focusing on hiring young and attractive people. They introduced complex measurement systems to evaluate rep performance, and purchased sophisticated statistical data to calibrate the impact of rep visits on physician prescriptive behavior.

Sensible steps all, it would seem: but they’ve produced negative results.

  • Less than one rep visit in 10 now results in a conversation with a physician, and lasts on average only 90 seconds;
  • Personal relationships have been reduced and curtailed; reps are valued only for the samples they leave, turning them into pill-pushers;
  • The doctors have little respect for the reps, which in turn is debilitating for the reps.

How did this happen? Each change in the system was motivated largely, if not entirely, by a desire to increase physician prescription-writing of drugs produced by the pharmaceutical company. That motivation was very clear to the doctors—and they saw no benefit evident to them. Like most clients, the doctors reacted negatively. A past trusted relationship was degraded because the seller was motivated only by the seller’s needs.

Relationships and Fake Trust

When client focus becomes a tool for seller profit improvement, clients notice and become cynical. Lately, the language of client focus is adopting the language of relationships, fostering yet another layer of cynicism.

Think of “relationship,” “loyalty,” and “trust.” All once had significant emotional connotations—for “loyalty,” think “semper fi” or “’til death do us part.” For “trust,” think the bonds of a handshake, or of fiduciary responsibilities.

Today, loyalty gets defined behaviorally as repeat purchasing behavior. “Client relationship management” software is sold on the basis of its ability to create client profitability analyses (to the software owner, that is, not to the client).

In the dating world, it’s considered forward to say you want a relationship on the first date—but in business, some firms have gone one better and built “relationship” into a marketing slogan before even meeting the client.

Relationship concepts have been hijacked in service to selfish motives. When a company’s ad copy says, “you care about your children; that’s why we here at XYZ corporation are doing blah blah blah” the company is not only lying, but lying baldly and shamelessly about their motives.
What is at stake here is no less than the meaning of words, and therefore the credibility and trust of the company saying them.

Being Truly Client-Focused

The most difficult act for us as sellers of professional services is to stop viewing everything from our own perspective. And it has to be a personal act—a self-willed, psychological belief or attitude.
The economics of trust-based selling™ rest on a paradox: if we do what is good for the consumer, we will eventually gain more than our proportionate share of business. It may not come from this transaction, in this quarter—or even from this client—but it will come. Nothing motivates repeat business or referrals better than a trust-based relationship with the provider.
If our motives for being trusted are not truly client-focused—then it all falls apart. This is the paradox. Great results come from client focus—but only if you stop doing client focus in order to achieve results for yourself.

In today’s business climate, “best practices” and financial analyses are defined in ever-smaller, ever-shorter, ever-narrower slices. They are often not “best,” but among the most insidious.
These practices are harmful because they blind us to opportunities to serve our clients.

In the perennial Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s Santa Claus is nearly fired for recommending that a client go to competitor Gimbel’s for a particular product. That is, until Macy’s Chairman realizes the profound increase in client trust produced by Santa’s approach—having faith that doing right by the customer will end up helping Macy’s anyway.
Being truly client-focused means believing in the superiority of client relationship strategies over competitor-focused strategies; the medium- and long-term over successive short-terms; and truth-telling over spinning.

The good news is the field is wide open for firms willing to practice what everyone else only preaches—serving the client, believing that to do so will ultimately return more than the self-serving narrowly calculating strategies of the vulture can ever hope to do.

A truly client-focused relationship strategy built on trust is the best deal going. It is rare; most competitors are afraid to try it. It is powerful; ask any successful salesperson about the power of trust. And it is proven—just look at your own behavior as a buyer in relation to a seller you trust.

Trusting relationships have to start with the selling firm, not the client. Go ahead, take a risk. The ultimate paradox is, taking a risk ends up being the lowest risk. Being trusted is a very low-risk, high-return strategy.

Charles H. Green is a speaker and executive educator on trust-based relationships and Trust-based Selling in complex businesses. He is author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005), and co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford, Free Press, October 2000).  Visit his website


January 27, 2012

In 2012 the New Normal in Sales Is . . .

As with the beginning of almost every year we have a number of commentators and pundits proclaiming what the “new normal” is.

We’re told that the old normal was the government strove to keep unemployment below 5% and that the “new normal” is going to be to try to keep unemployment below 7%.

We’re told that the old normal in the auto industry was to try to increase the miles per gallon on a manufacturer’s fleet by selling enough high mileage units to raise the fleet average, and the “new normal” is no longer trying to sell large numbers of high mileage internal combustion engines but to sell hybrids and alternative energy vehicles.

In sales we’re told that the old normal was cold calling, face-to-face meetings with prospects and clients, and using salespeople to find, connect with, and sell prospects, and the “new normal” is that salespeople are an outdated and costly luxury and are, at best, nothing more than an archaic relic of the past that companies just haven’t come to the realization are no longer needed.

Many, including myself, find it amusing to read the “new normal” predictions knowing that for the most part they are nothing more than someone’s attempt to be relevant and gain some attention.

We’ll ignore addressing the issue of the “new normal” unemployment rate and the “new normal” in the auto industry and spend a minute or two discussing the “new normal” silliness in sales.

The “new normal” argument is based on several supposed changes in how buyers buy products and services.

  • One argument is that the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people shop and buy.  Proponents of this position argue that the Internet provides buyers all the information about potential products and services that they used to have to rely on salespeople for, making the salesperson obsolete.  Further, most companies now offer their products and services online, so not only can the buyer get all the information and comparisons they need online, they can complete the purchase online, making a salesperson completely irrelevant.
  • Others argue that in today’s highly competitive market where any company that creates a competitive advantage through product improvement or a more efficient process that reduces price can count on that advantage lasting only a very short time before their competitors catch up and return the market to equilibrium, there’s really no such thing as a competitive advantage.  In such a market all products and services are reduced to commodity status where price is the only differentiator and once price is the one and only deciding factor, salespeople are an unjustified expense whose only significant contribution is to increase the product or service’s cost.
  • And others argue that with the increasing popularity of social media and technology the sellers that are left will never have to leave their homes as they will be able to connect with, develop relationships with, and sell via a combination of social media and tale-meeting technology such as Go to Meeting.  For these commentators the new normal is a world where technology replaces face-to-face meetings and even the telephone.  Sellers who use their car, their phone, or even text are not only behind the times, they’re signing their own death warrant by not learning to adapt to the new reality of business.

Have you heard these proclamations of the”new normal” before?  You probably heard them last year—and the year before that—and the year before that.  This new normal is taking forever to get here but I guess if someone keeps claiming this is the year, sooner or later maybe someone will be right.

But I sincerely doubt it—at least any time soon.

First, let’s look at a couple of statistics that might shed some light on what salespeople are doing.

According to travel statistics, business travel has increased by almost 4% each of the last two years.  I find it somewhat surprising that there’s a significant increase in business travel when supposedly salespeople aren’t traveling.

In addition, every single recruiter I’ve spoken to indicate a significant increase in open sales positions, especially for experienced outside salespeople.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that the sales profession isn’t changing nor am I arguing that social media and technology are not impacting how sellers sell.

My argument is simply that in 2012—and probably for the foreseeable future—there will not be a “new normal.”

  • Almost all sellers will find their offline activities will still be more vital to their success than their social media interaction.
  • Getting out of the office and in front of prospects and clients will still be the primary relationship building and selling format
  • More than likely business travel will increase again this year—and for the foreseeable years to come—including travel by sellers
  • Sales jobs will continue to be created with the corresponding opportunities for both experienced and inexperienced men and women
  • Social media will continue to be an area that sellers need to learn how to effectively engage—but the reality is it isn’t going to take the place of a seller’s offline activities such as cold calling, networking, and seeking high quality referrals and when a connection is made through social media, for it to be effective it will have to be taken offline.

In other words, for now and at least the next few years, the “new normal” will be the old normal.

Do those activities this year that have been successful for you in the past and you’ll be successful again this year.

It’s fun and exciting to talk about the “new normal,” but the fact is not much has really changed.

Human nature hasn’t changed since last year.

The phone still works and people still answer it.

Referrals will still get you more and better business than any other prospecting format.

You will still have to work to develop relationships.

You’ll still have to educate, be a real problem solver for your clients, and bring more value to the table than your competitors.

The world hasn’t shifted on its axis—yet anyway.

So take all the talk of the new normal with a grain of salt.  Don’t ignore social media and by all means use technology to the fullest, but if you want to be successful in 2012, pick up the phone, fill up the car, and hit the streets just like you did last year and the years before that.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

January 24, 2012

Guest Article: Avoiding the Activity Trap, by Jeb Brooks

Avoiding the Activity Trap
by Jeb Brooks

Many salespeople make the assumption that activity leads to results. “As long as I’m doing something,” they argue, “results will come.”

This is a mistake. It’s the best way to get stuck in the activity trap. The activity trap occurs when you begin working too hard to make the sale. Sales is much more simple than a lot of salespeople make it out to be.

Above all, your interactions must be meaningful. If all you’re doing on a call with a prospect is saying ‘hello,’ all you’ll hear is ‘hell no.’ Instead, your activities need to fall into one of these four productive buckets:

  1. They educate your prospects.
  2. They uncover essential information about your prospect.
  3. They reveal pivotal information about your solution to your prospect.
  4. They close opportunities (for the good or bad).

First, Educational activities provide information to your prospects that make them more receptive to your messaging. These kinds of activities help them understand the business impact you can have on their operation. They help them understand that you have something meaningful to say to them. Examples include:

  • Sending useful content (e.g., articles, whitepapers, etc.) to them
  • Sponsoring roundtable discussions for your prospects to meet your happy customers
  • Publishing pamphlets about your solution
  • Providing well-documented case studies to your prospects

Activities that allow you to uncover essential information about your prospects are some of the most important. The most common is the face-to-face (or phone-to-phone) meeting. These probing meetings allow you to ask meaningful questions that help (1) demonstrate your expertise in their field and (2) gather information you need to make a meaningful recommendation to them. They include:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Sales Interviews

Revealing your recommended solution to your prospect is — obviously — essential. Doing it, though, requires more than just activity. Instead, meaningful sales presentations are carefully targeted to your prospects particular situation. This can be done in any number of ways, but is dependent on effectively uncovering practical information in your probing meeting.

  • Webinars
  • Formal Presentations
  • Demonstrations
  • Tours

Finally, the most directly meaningful of all sales activities are those that close business. This is typically in some kind of interaction between a salesperson and a prospect-turned-customer. Alternatively, you might discover that a particular prospect isn’t a good fit for your solution. This, too, can be good because it allows you to move on.

If your “activity” doesn’t fall into one of those four buckets, it’s probably wasteful. Many outside reps believe that activity begets results. With one slight change, the statement becomes true:

The Right Activity Begets Meaningful Results.

Jeb Brooks is Executive Vice President of The Brooks Group, one of the world’s Top Ten Sales Training Firms as ranked by Selling Power Magazine. He’s a sought-after commentator on sales and sales management issues, having appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. Jeb authored the second edition of the book “Perfect Phrases for the Sales Call.” He regularly writes for The Brooks Group’s popular Sales Blog <>. Follow him on Twitter: @JebBrooks

January 23, 2012

Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Prospects and Clients

Filed under: Client Relationships,Communication,politics — Paul McCord @ 12:20 pm
Tags: ,

Once again we are in the middle of the presidential political season.  For the next few months the Republicans will have center stage as candidates wrestle with one another to gain the Republican nomination to run for President.  Once that contest has been decided the focus will shift to a tussle between the Republican nominee and President Obama.

Whether we tend to be politically active or not, we will all have opinions about the candidates and issues involved in political combat this year.

We’ll also have some—hopefully just a very few–prospects and clients make comments about these people and issues or, worse, ask us directly about our opinions regarding them.

When these uncomfortable topics come up what should our response be?

As salespeople we spend a great deal of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients; we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, and that we want to create friends, not just accounts.

Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. Most of us have been taught to avoid the social and political issues that could offend a prospect or client.  Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden we’re no longer too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Rather than being open and honest when these subjects come up we try mightily to obfuscate or avoid.  The last thing we want is for our prospect or client to know where we actually stand on a candidate or issue.

Consequently we’ll spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only what we have determined is safe for public consumption and that will allow them to get to know us only superficially. We’ll try to balance on the head of a pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a politically or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior disingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Some will immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion at all costs. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to answer questions—especially uncomfortable questions–honestly. 

As long as you are respectful of the prospects point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory or degrading language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you.

Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

January 18, 2012

January 12, 2012

Are You Too Fat and Happy to be Successful?

It may surprise you to learn that I speak to a number of sellers and sales leaders every month who although they mouth the right words, their actions say they’re fat and happy and way too contented to become successful.

What I hear most often in today’s economy, of course, is the complaint of not enough business, no one is buying, the competition is cutting prices to the bare bone or some other form of the statement that business is tough and in order to be successful you have to be sharp, aggressive and willing to put in long, tough hours.

But that’s not the only message I’m hearing.  A few times a month I’ll hear how a seller or company is doing just fine, that although business is down from before the recession, they feel they are doing better than most and they’re still making money.  From others I’ll hear that although their income is down and a new home or new car isn’t in the cards, they’re still doing OK, meaning they’re quite  evcomfortable.

I’m always curious when I hear a seller or a company express comfort and/or satisfaction with their situation when, at the same time, they’re admitting that sales are down, income or profits aren’t where they were, and they don’t expect to see a significant change in the next year or even two.




No sense of loss or itching desire to get back where they were?

Inevitably I find that they either have reached the peak where they have no desire to exert the energy to move beyond or they have accepted the recession as the new norm and believe that their current level of success is all they can expect in this new reality.

Seldom do I get this response from the top sellers and the top companies.  Most often this attitude is expressed by average and even below average sellers and companies, ones that were probably looking for the path of least resistance even prior to the economic downturn.

My experience from years of working with and speaking with thousands of top sellers and top companies is they are never satisfied.  And when they find themselves moving backwards—even if the cause is something out of their hands such as a major economic downturn—they fight even harder to get back to where they were and then beyond.

Once you have reached a point where you’re fat and happy, you’ve peaked; you’ve reached a point where you will not—you cannot—become more successful.

Success demands discontent with where one is at.  It requires a level of dissatisfaction and discomfort.  For top sellers and companies success is an ever elusive goal that can never be reached—and it isn’t quelled and extinguished by an outside force such as a recession.  In fact, those outside forces that seek to kill their desire to succeed only fuel their fire.

Have you reached a point where you’re comfortable and can relax knowing you’re successful?  I hope not, for if you have, you’ve probably reached your peak, and if you have, where can you go from there other than back down?

January 9, 2012

Four Signs It Is Time to Throw in the Towel

Filed under: attitude,career development,sales,Sales Failure,selling — Paul McCord @ 1:03 pm
Tags: , ,

A question I’m asked more often now than in the past is “how do I know if it’s time to look for another career?”  With the economy in dire straits it is more difficult to sell now than in the past.

For many sellers who began selling prior to the current economic morass, when selling was pretty easy and many sellers were gobbling up the sales and commissions, they’re having to radically change their thinking as they discover selling isn’t as easy as they thought.

Those who began selling only since 2007, today’s economy is the only selling environment they know.  In a sense, that’s a real advantage.

Although it would seem reasonable to assume that most of the sellers who entered the field prior to 2007 would have adjusted to the new reality by now, I find that many still haven’t and are still having a difficult time trying to get mentally and emotionally adjusted to the fact that what they did in the past isn’t working today.

And, of course, many of the newer sellers are struggling with the traditional problems of learning how to sell which are compounded by having to compete in a very tight and cut throat market.

Thus, I find myself addressing the how to know when to quit question more today than in the past.

I wish I could give a more cut and dried answer, but in reality there are so many factors involved in that decision that for many a cut and dried answer would do more harm than good.  Are the seller’s struggles things that he or she can take responsibility for–or do they lay outside their ability to control?  If the issues are ones they have some control over, are they willing and committed to addressing them?  If they are, do they have the time to do or has their time literally run out?

These and many other questions need to be addressed to really come to a decision on whether it is time to give up a career in selling—for a great many sellers.

However, for many others I think the answer really can be and should be cut and dried.  If any of these five issues apply, you need to make a quick exit, stage left:

  • No Passion or the Passion is Gone:  If there’s no passion for selling or if the passion that had once been there is gone, it’s time to hit the streets.  I’m not talking about a passion  particular products or services (if you’ve lost that passion but still are passionate about selling, all you need do is find a company whose products or services you can get passionate about).  I’m speaking here of a general passion for selling, a desire to provide the goods and/or services that will solve buyer’s issues or wants.
  • A Dread of Doing the Selling:  I’ve known men and women in selling positions who loved the ancillary work of creating selling materials, putting together lists, attending sales meetings, putting together proposals, and attending networking events but who dreaded and hated the actual selling.  For them the fun was in the busy work while the actual work of selling was despised.  If you hate the actual selling, get out and get out quick.
  • Unwillingness to Invest the Time and Money to Become a Professional:  The unfortunate truth is that few companies provide every bit of training a seller needs.  Companies by nature are more interested in providing product training than sales training.  Product training and sales training are not the same, although many sellers and companies want to think they are.

    Professional selling has nothing to do with the stereotypical fast talking huckster and everything to do with being skilled in understanding human nature, having strong analytical and problem solving skills, being an excellent communicator who is more attuned to listening than talking, and having the process that will enable you to work with a prospect to analyze and then solve their issues.

    It is the seller’s responsibility to acquire these skills and since few companies provide all of the needed training, the seller must be willing to invest their time and money in becoming the best seller possible.  If you’re not willing to make the time and financial commitment to become the highest skilled seller possible, a new, less demanding career would be an excellent choice.

  • No Commitment to Succeed:  Having a passion for selling does not necessarily translate into a commitment to succeed.  Selling is a tough business.  It certainly isn’t a 40 hour a week business.  For most sellers the selling part is the easy part, it’s the finding and connecting with high quality prospects and then the follow-up and problem solving that’s the hard part.

    Selling takes a great deal of energy, both physical and emotional.  It also demands a level of commitment that few other positions demand.  In a word, whether you’re a top seller making a million or more a year or an average producer making 6o or 70 thousand, selling is hard work.

    For a great many the time demands and the physical and emotional energy needed is simply too much to ask.  They want the rewards without having to make the investment.  They either can’t or aren’t willing to take the passion and put it into motion.  And frankly, unfulfilled passion is more of a tragedy than having no passion at all.

  • Undivided Focus on Money:  Selling can be extremely lucrative.  On the other hand, many, many sellers starve because they don’t have the commitment, passion and dedication.  Unfortunately for some, money becomes the only focus in the sale.  They don’t care about the prospect, the company they are selling for—and in many cases for themselves as they are willing to sell their soul to the Devil in order to get a few bucks with a “whatever it takes” mentality.

    If the only reason you’re in sales is money, get out as you’ll eventually find that you either hate what you do or, more likely, decide that the end justifies the means and you’ll do whatever it takes to pry the dollars out of the prospect’s hand.

    Selling is a high potential income SERVICE business and when the service becomes secondary to the income, ethics and honesty have a way of becoming secondary also.

Do any of these ring a bell?  If they do, it’s time to get out.

If they don’t and you’re still questioning whether or not it’s time to throw in the towel, I advise you to get with someone you trust—a mentor, coach, or maybe your manager—and work through to discover the issues you’re facing and whether or not you can and if you are willing to take the necessary steps to overcoming them.

Selling is tough and you need to be tough to succeed.  But if you’re struggling and are wondering if it is time for a new career, do yourself a favor and make an honest analysis of the situation before you make your decision.  If you decide to stay, you’ll know where your issues lie and what to do about them.  If you decide to leave, you’ll know you made the right decision and won’t be wondering for years to come what might have been if you’d stuck it out.


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January 4, 2012

Having a Tough Time Getting Started? You Need a Ritual

Filed under: attitude,career development,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 3:47 pm
Tags: ,

Do you, like many others, have a difficult time getting yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to begin certain tasks?  Some have a hard time getting “in the mood” to make cold calls while others have trouble getting themselves geared up for a face-to-face meeting.

Certainly we can force ourselves to make the cold call even though we’re not prepared or we can make ourselves go through the motions of the job interview or sales presentation even though we know we’re neither mentally or emotionally in the right frame of mind.

And what usually happens when we simply go through the motions in order to fulfill an obligation or check off a task to be done?

Most of the time the cold call is crap, we don’t get a second interview, or the sales call was a total bust.

Many a cold caller confronts the phone every day with the same lack of focus, the same mental and emotional dread of what is about to happen.  And they fail time after time.

Many a job seeker goes into job interview after job interview unfocused, stomach churning, brow sweating—and comes out feeling that they couldn’t have made a worse impression if they had tried.

Thousands of sellers hit the streets to make presentations and go into them with nerves on end, thoughts blurred, tongue tied and they know they’ve lost the sale before they’re half way through.

These are not incompetent or lazy folks.  These are not cold callers who have no idea of what they going to say, or job applicants that are in over their head, or sellers who don’t know their products and markets.

Most of the time these are simply men and women who haven’t learned how to slow the process down, to de-stress themselves before the event, to create some action that signals their mind and body to focus for a very specific purpose.

Simply, these are men and women who haven’t learned the power of ritual.

What is a ritual?  Put simply a ritual is a specific action that when performed prior to an event has a calming effect on the individual and helps them focus for the task at hand.

Let me give a couple of examples:

Mike Adams is a pitcher for the Texas Rangers.  Pitching is a high stress occupation that demands a great deal of mental and emotional focus and control.  During a game a pitcher will have to find a way to be able to control his emotions and focus his undivided attention on throwing a baseball accurately anywhere from a few to over 100 times a game.  To make things a bit more difficult, after every pitch there is a break in the pitcher’s action as the ball is fielded, thrown back to the pitcher, and the team gets set for the next pitch.  You focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch, then you have nothing of consequence going on for a minute or two, and then once again you have to find a way to focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch.  Try to do that time after time without losing your focus every now and then.

Any way you look at it, that’s a tough, tough job.

How does Adams maintain his high level of focus over an extended period of time?  He does it by using a simple ritual to get his mind and body ready to focus only on making the next pitch.  Mike’s ritual is that after each pitch, after the catcher or an infielder has thrown him the ball, he lifts his cap off and then perches it lightly on top of his head.  He leaves the cap that way while he is waiting for the batter and the fielders to get ready.  Once things are settled and it is time for him to make his next pitch he will lift the cap up and adjust it on his head in its final position.  That adjustment is his ritual signal to his mind and body to focus, to concentrate on the job at hand, to block out everything else and focus only on making the pitch.

Such a simple action, but one that he has practiced to the point that the action alone automatically puts him in the frame of mind and prepares his body to give attention to only making the best pitch possible.

Now Mike is not alone.  If you pay attention during the baseball season you’ll find that many pitchers use their cap in one way or another as a ritual action to settle their mind and body into the work at hand.  Likewise, many batters will use the bat or their batting gloves to do the same.

But it isn’t only athletes that use rituals.  Back many years ago, when smoking wasn’t yet a social criminal offense, I had a salesperson, Wes, who was a heavy smoker.  On occasion I’d do ride alongs with him and I eventually came to recognize the ritual he went through before going in to meet with a prospect or client.

As we were pulling up to the office building where Wes’ sales prospect was located, he’d inevitably light a cigarette.  He would take two or three puffs of the cigarette, open his door and get out, close the door, take one final puff and then forcefully throw the cigarette down, take the toe of his shoe and smash the cigarette butt into the ground putting it out.  That forceful grinding of the cigarette butt was his ritual action telling his mind and body what was about to happen and to get ready.  Like Mike’s adjusting of the cap, Wes’ action was very simple, so simple that it could be easily ignored by an observer.  But it was there—and was important for Wes to go through that motion to prepare himself for the minutes ahead.

I’ve known a great many sellers who had some form of ritual action they performed, whether in preparation for hitting the phones, making presentations, giving large group presentations and speeches, or putting sales proposals together.  For that matter, I’ve known a couple of salespeople who seemed to have to go through some kind of ritual before doing anything,

I’ve also noticed that humans aren’t the only ones who rely on ritual behavior.  Our Golden Retriever, Lola, goes through a ritual every time she is greeted by someone.  When she approaches someone or when someone approaches her, before she allows herself to be touched she must reach her front legs out as far as she can and she then bends down and out in a huge stretch.  Once she has stretched, she’s ready to greet the person and get petted.  If anyone else walks up, before they touch her, she has to go through her stretch once more.  I’m not really sure what her stretch does for her, but it is certainly a ritual she has to go through before she’s ready to be greeted.

Although simple, rituals really work.  If you’re having a difficult time with a particular task such as cold calling, conducting face to face meetings, public speaking, or any other task that you do often and need to find a way to help you really relax and focus, try creating a ritual that once ingrained will automatically put you in the right mental and emotional frame to perform at your peak.

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