Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 3, 2015

The Myth of Selling as a Highly Paid Profession

We in sales work in what we like to claim is one of the highest paid professions, yet statistics indicate we are, in fact, employed in one of the lowest paying professions.  In fact, we are engaged in a business that is unevenly divided between a relatively small group of highly skilled professionals, earning some of the highest wages in the world, and a huge group of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, earning unskilled and semi-skilled wages.

One of the Lowest Paid Professions

Take a look at the following income statistics for some other professions (these are MEDIAN incomes gathered from various job and industry sites, meaning half those in the profession make less than the income listed, while the other half make more that the income listed):

Truck Driver:
Median income for those with less than 1-year experience:  $30,539
Median income for those with 10 years experience:                $48,654

Business Banker:
Less than one-year experience:   $42,000
10 years experience:                         82,539

Registered Nurse:
Less than one-year experience:    $44,969
10 years experience:                          58,988

Less than one-year experience:     $98,041
10 years experience:                         122,248

Family Physician:
Less than one-year experience    $101,423
10 years experience:                        130,593

Less than one-year experience:    $47,218
10 years experience:                         68,968

Less than one-year experience:    $57,494
10 years experience:                        102,709

Less than one-year experience:    $55,011
10 years experience:                          81,221

Less than one-year experience:    $35,697
10 years experience:                          50,107

Less than one-year experience:    $28,885
10 years experience:                          50,319

Now, here’s the median income for sales:
Less than one year’s experience:   $32,500
10 years experience:                           47,240

Notice something?  The only professions we start at a higher rate of pay are truck driver and carpenter-but by the 10th year we’re trailing them, as well as every other profession listed, in median income.

Can We Really Call This a Profession?

Why do so many of us make so little?  What do the other professions do that we don’t?

One glaring factor is education and training.  Seven of the ten non-sales professions above require a minimum of a college degree-along with additional specialized training.  Only two-banking and carpentry-don’t require a professional license of some sort (OK, some engineers don’t have to be licensed either, but a great many do). 

And sales?  With a few exceptions by product or company, no degree required.  Specialized training?  None required and little, if any, sales training provided by most companies.  Certainly, most companies provide product training; they want their salespeople to know the company’s products and services.  But most companies offer little sales training. 

Selling is one of the few professions where the ‘professional’ is often left to train him or herself because, after all, anyone can do it.  Give someone a phone and a list and they’re a salesperson, right?

Few professions or trades allow an untrained individual to “practice” their “craft,” because until trained, they don’t have a craft to practice.  That’s certainly not the way most companies and salespeople see selling.

No rational person would accept a doctor or lawyer who had not received extensive formal training in his or her profession and then proven a minimum level of competence by passing a professional licensing exam.  Likewise, we expect those engaged in skilled trades such as plumbing and truck driving to also have both formal training and certification in their profession.

The reward for their training?  For many, the rewards of their training are job satisfaction and enjoyment, but the primary reward is increased wages.  We naturally expect that the more time-and money invested in one’s professional training, the larger the income reward. 

A doctor will invest 8 to 10 years beyond college in learning the basics of his or her craft and is rewarded with one of the top wages in the country.  An attorney will invest 3 or more years beyond college and is likewise rewarded with top wages.  Plumbers go through an apprenticeship and extensive testing to acquire their license and are rewarded with a top hourly wage, and those plumbers who continue their studies beyond the Journeyman stage and proceed on to become Master Plumbers are rewarded with even more income.

Yet few salespeople have undergone extensive and comprehensive sales training.   We, as a group, are woefully under trained, yet we expect to make professional wages. 

The typical company gives their sales team members less than 50 hours a year in formal training-and the majority of that training isn’t sales training but is rather product training.  Studies have discovered that the typical salesperson invests less than 30 hours a year–two hours a month–in study and training outside of what they receive from their company.

As a group, we are among the least prepared and skilled of any profession or trade.  Is it any wonder we are also one of the poorest paid?

The Professionals Amongst Us

Nevertheless, there are a great many highly skilled professionals in the sales industry, men and women who through hard work and substantial personal investment of their time and money have developed the knowledge and skills to reach the top of their profession. 

Although many average and less than average salespeople rationalize these top performer’s success as nothing but luck, having been given a book of business by a favorable manager, or as simply being a ‘natural,’ that is seldom the reality of their success. 

Top producers for the most part entered the sales profession in the same way as most salespeople–by accident, without knowing anything about selling, without the contacts and skills needed to succeed.  Most struggled for months or even years before they discovered the ‘secret’ to success. 

Virtually all of these top producers were given the standard advice to always be prospecting, ask for referrals, spend time in building rapport, find and solve the prospect’s needs, ask for the order.  Like most salespeople, they were told what they should do but were never taught how to do it. 

It wasn’t until they began to acquire training on their own through reading, listening to tapes and CDs, attending seminars and workshops, and diligently applying what they learned that they began to move from unskilled laborer to true sales professional.  Many, if not most, in this group invest anywhere from 200 to 300 hours per year or more in personal training and skill development-that’s 7 to 10 times the investment in training as the average salesperson.  Is it then any wonder they are not only better prepared to sell, but make 2, 5, 10, 20 or 30 times what the average salesperson makes?

Professional or Semi-skilled Laborer-It’s Your Choice

You don’t become a sales professional or stay an unskilled or semi-skilled laborer by accident.  You either do those things that will make you a highly paid professional, or you do those things that will keep you in the unskilled or semi-skilled labor category. 

You get to choose whether you want to become a professional and enjoy professional wages-or whether you’re happy being an unskilled laborer.  There are thousands of quality books, CDs, seminars, workshops and other training opportunities available.  You can pinpoint your specific needs and find a multitude of training resources to address them.  All you need do is commit yourself to getting and applying the needed training, and then do a simple Google search to find thousands of learning opportunities.

If you’re waiting for your company to train you, you stand an excellent chance of never growing beyond a semi-skilled wage.  You control your destiny.  Yes, it takes a commitment of time, energy and money-but rewards are not only a far more enjoyable and satisfying job, but also one that will provide you with the income you dreamed of when you entered sales.




January 14, 2015

The “Prospecting” Disease

During my three decades in the sales industry I’ve worked with, met, coached, and observed thousands of sellers from a multitude of industries.  They’ve been new and experienced, inside and outside sellers, big ticket and small, specialized products and services as well as common, commodity products, some very successful and a great many barely holding their own or failing.

Some have been hail fellow well met types, others have been shy introverts.  Some pound the phones, others pound the pavement.  Some are highly attuned to technology, others can barely turn their cell phone on.  Some like to hit the office or the road early, others prefer to work late, a few do both.

But with rare exceptions they all have one thing in common—they’re busy.

They’re all doing stuff.

And a great deal of the time when you ask them what they’re doing they tell you they’re prospecting.

They’re busy trying to find business.  They’re focused on getting a contract in the door and getting paid.

Some, not the majority by any means, are very successful.  Most are not.

So the natural question is what’s the difference?  Why are a few really good at finding prospects and brining in business and most aren’t?

Turns out that most of the time the answer is really pretty simple.

The successful sellers spend their time prospecting.

The majority are simply infected with the disease of “prospecting,” that is, the illusion that what they are doing is prospecting when in reality it is nothing more than busy work to keep them from having to do the tough work of actually prospecting.

These unsuccessful sellers can show lists of several hundred names and phone numbers they have spent hours and hours researching that they have on a call list—a few dozen will have check marks beside them, even fewer will be scratched through.  They can show stacks of fliers and letters they have mailed out.  They can produce a list of networking events they have attended over the past couple of months.  They can produce a passel of emails they have sent out.  They may even have their business card pinned to every corkboard in every restaurant, laundromat, and other business that has a board to display customer’s cards.

Certainly they’ve been busy; no doubt about that.  The problem is although they have been busy, they haven’t been prospecting.  Instead of prospecting, they’ve been “prospecting”—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, making a phone call here and there—and increasingly spending more and more time “connecting’ with prospects via social media, tweeting and updating their facebook page and searching LinkedIn for any warm body that might be a prospect to try to connect with.  They confuse preparatory and busy work for prospecting, with the actual activity of interacting with a qualified prospect.

Although they spend a great deal of time doing busy work, they spend very little time actually prospecting.  They “feel” they are always prospecting, but in reality they are always finding ways not to prospect by spending their time preparing to prospect.  They engage in a great deal of activity, but the activity isn’t the activity that will produce business; instead, it is the activity that makes them feel good, feel productive, allowing them to convince themselves that they are being extremely active.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the business we must have in order to succeed.  But activity alone is fruitless.  Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a way to failure as inactivity.

Prospecting isn’t preparation to prospect; it isn’t finding easy ways to feel like you’re getting your message out; and it isn’t simply being busy all of the time.  Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting and interacting with qualified prospects.

If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to get on the phone.  If you network, it means actually being in front of and meeting prospects or garnering introductions to prospects from referral partners, not researching events or even spending time at non-qualified events where you’ll meet few, if any, prospects, or spending your time at the event hanging with friends and co-workers.

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed as many sales careers as inactivity has.

As salespeople we have three very basic duties—finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them satisfy needs or wants, and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale. 

Everything else is busy work and busy work doesn’t make a sale, doesn’t generate income, and doesn’t move us toward our sales or income goals.

Before you engage in any activity consider whether that activity is income producing or not.  If it isn’t directly producing income, does it really need to be done?  If not, move on to an activity that will directly lead to a sale.

To succeed you need to spend your time prospecting.  Getting infected with the “prospecting” disease where you “feel” you’re prospecting but in reality are finding ways to keep from having to prospect is a career killer.

February 8, 2013

You Have to Act the Part to Become the Part

Back in the days when Indians roamed the range, before leather helmets, when the Flying Wedge was all the rage, I played football in high school.  My high school team wasn’t all that great since I went to the new high school in town and the city fathers finagled it so that most of the good players went to the old, established school. 

We had a coach who would tell us that in order to become the player we wanted to be, we had to act the part to become the part—that is, we had to act like good football players in order to become good football players.

That small bit of advice has a tremendous amount of wisdom packed into it—and a lot of room for misinterpretation. 

First let me say what Coach didn’t mean—seems especially important in today’s culture.  Acting the part didn’t mean trash talking, acting like the school stud, or grandstanding.  He would never put up with someone putting on airs, demanding special treatment, or getting too big for their britches. 

Acting the part meant imitating the play of a quality player—doing those things that the good players do that make them good. 

Acting the part means forgetting that one might be relatively new or inexperienced or hasn’t mastered necessary skills

It means consciously forcing oneself to go through the same motions good players go through, using the same techniques and strategies, assuming the same confidence and self assurance (and faking it if necessary).

The philosophy behind Coach’s words is simply that you cannot become the person you want to be if you don’t do the things that person would do.

That small bit of advice works not only in sports but in all aspects of life, especially in selling.

Are you not the seller you want to be?  Are you new or haven’t produced in the past at the level you want?  Are you not one of the top sellers in your organization?  Are you not at the top of your industry?

You can be—but not unless you act the part of a top seller, doing the things top sellers do.

I have heard literally thousands of average or slightly above average—and especially below average–sellers claim that they want to sell their way rather than imitating the top people in their organization.  Some say they “can’t” sell the way the top sellers do, others that they know a better way.  Ultimately they all have the same thing in common—they never make it to the top level.

There are thousands who claim to be sales trainers and gurus, all ready and willing to give you the secrets of selling success for the right price.  And much of what they sell is really good and will help you increase your sales.  I’m not downplaying the role of a quality trainer—after all, I’m one. 

That being said, the quickest, surest way to becoming a top seller is to simply act like a top seller, doing the things a top seller does.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly the “act” becomes the reality.


Follow me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

January 31, 2013

The Myth of the Nobility of Failure

I’m a failure.  I’ve had two failed businesses in the past.  I agonized over them.  I lost lots of money trying to build and eventually save them.  I lost sleep over them.  I lost self respect over them.  My failure hurt other people—people who worked for me or whose business my business helped support. 

I learned a great deal from those experiences—although my initial lessons learned were false lessons.

Friends, family, acquaintances, and business “gurus” assured me that my efforts to build something were quite noble and that I really hadn’t failed, I simply came up a bit short of my goal.

I was told that I should take pride in my effort as I was one of the few who had the courage to take the risk–and that itself was a magnificent reward.

I was told that failure wasn’t my fault—I was a victim of the marketplace, seeking to compete against a system that was stacked against the little guy where I could only succeed through luck.

I was told to shrug it off as simply a learning experience; that the only failure was failure to learn.

At the time, I bought into that BS.  Because I wanted to believe it.  Because I didn’t want to admit that I had failed. 

Because I wanted—needed—reassurance that I still had value, that I wasn’t worthless. 

Over time I came to realize a painful truth, one that to some extent is still a bit difficult to admit—I failed.

And there’s nothing noble about failing.

There’s no magnificent reward in failure.

I wasn’t a victim of the system—I failed because I didn’t do the right things.

My failure wasn’t someone else’s fault or the economy’s fault or the “man’s” fault or my employee’s fault.  It rested completely and totally on my shoulders.

While buying into all of the excuses provided me for failing, I believed I had learned a good deal from those failures.

It wasn’t until after I came to the realization that all of those supposed reasons for my failure were nothing other than feel good excuses did I really learn some valuable lessons from my failures.

Only after I was willing to take responsibility for what happened and recognize how I was the architect of my failure did I learn the real lessons to be learned.

We live in an era where there’s a great deal of excuse making for failure.  When you fail there are people everywhere willing to give you a reason why it wasn’t your fault.  In today’s culture—even our business culture—everyone is given the victim excuse.

When you fail—and you will, whether it be big or small—don’t allow yourself the luxury of being fooled by family, friends, and supposed gurus.  They’ll try to make you feel better by letting you off the hook.  It’s an attractive but deceptive lie.  It’s a lie that will prevent you from learning the real lessons to be learned from failure.  It’s a lie that will set you up for further failure.

Rather than falling for the kind lie, face up to the harsh truth of your responsibility for your failure. 

There is no nobility in failure.

You weren’t a victim of anything other than yourself.

Failure isn’t a reward in itself.

Yes, it’s much harder than the alternative.

The weight of that realization is far greater than when others try to lift the weight of failure through their lies.

But the lessons learned will serve you well—and most importantly, wage war against future failure.


Follow me on Twitter: @paul_mccord

September 15, 2012

Numbers Don’t Lie? Oh Yes They Do

How many times have you heard that one that numbers don’t lie?  Probably like me you’ve heard it thousands and thousands of times. 

And we in business, especially sales, love numbers.  We track everything that could possibly be tracked with a number—the number of calls made, the number of times someone answers a call, the number of appointments set, the number of contracts signed, the number of pencils used, the number of no’s we get, the number of contacts made before we get a yes, the average commission earned, the ratio of calls to appointments, and the list goes on and on and on.

We live our life by numbers.  We rival baseball in how fanatical we are about numbers.

We swear by our numbers. 

We live and die by our numbers.

Our numbers tell us when we’re doing something wrong and when we’re doing something right.  They tell us whether to be happy or sad.  They tell us if we can bitch slap Joe in the next cubical this month or whether he is going to be slapping us.  They tell us how much swagger to put in our step, whether we need to pick up the pace or if we can take a weekend off, whether we should answer that call from our boss or ignore it.

We also do some really stupid things because of our numbers.

I’ve had sellers get all giddy because their close ratio is super high or because their average contract has skyrocketed.

I’ve had sellers totally transform their way of doing business because they’ve busted through to a new level.

I’ve had sales leaders beef up personnel because their teams have finally got it and the sales are flowing through the door.

Some of the situations above were perfectly justified.  In fact, in some of the cases the seller or sales leader had waited too long to make the proper adjustments.

But in way too many cases the sellers and sales leaders have overreacted and ended up doing great damage to themselves and their company.

In all of the above cases decisions were made based on hard, cold, concrete numbers.

So how come some make wise decisions based on numbers while others make disastrous ones?

In my experience there are three major reasons why the numbers don’t tell the real story:

  1. Emphasizing the Wrong Numbers.  Most companies and a great many sellers and sales leaders keep track of a large amount of data such various ratios, numbers, averages, and such.  At any given time some of this data is positive and some negative in terms of our performance. With so much data it can be easy to get lost in the forest of “stuff.”  It is even easier to drift toward the positive numbers and downplay or even ignore the negative data.  If perchance the positive numbers are the truly significant ones and you act on them, you stand an excellent chance of growing your business. On the other hand, if the negative numbers are the significant data and you brush them aside to concentrate on the positive numbers, you stand a very great chance of pursuing numbers that will damage your business.I had a client whose data indicated that their average sale for the past two quarters was over twice their pervious average.  But the data also indicated that the profits from those sales had declined substantially due to increased sales and delivery costs.  Which number got them excited?  Bigger contracts.  Which numbers did they assume were aberrations?  Increased costs and decreased profits.  What did they do?  They concentrated on going after larger contracts and consequently suffered a major hit to their bottom line.Using a very critical eye when analyzing what is happening in your business—whether the analysis is of a large business with tens or hundreds of millions at stake or your own sales business where your personal income is on the line—is critical.  We all like to see those positive results from our hard work and hate to confront the negative.  But the only way to grow our business is to look at the business as it really is which often means correcting or eliminating the negative is of more immediate importance than expanding the positive.
  2. Taking Too Short a Time Span as the “New Normal.”  Each of our businesses changes over time.  We all reach new plateaus or crater to new depths.  We all have winning streaks as well as slumps.  Our numbers ebb back and forth while over time remaining consistent or possibly increasing or declining. That constant near term change creates a long-term pattern. Although the near term ups and downs are important, it is the long term pattern that is most vital to telling us what is really going on in our business.  Unfortunately too often we get caught up in the short term change and convince ourselves that it marks a sea change in our business when in fact we’re simply on a short term roll or in a short term slump.  This isn’t to say to ignore short term trends, but rather that they must analyzed in the context of our long term history.If you’re a sports fan you’re more than a little familiar with short term rolls and slumps.  You live and die each season based on the streaks your team or a particular player is on.  Those streaks are one of the reasons they play a complete season and why players are paid based on a history of production and not based on short term bursts.   Hot and cold streaks come and go but over the long term their real win/loss or batting or passing record emerges and reveals their strengths and weaknesses.It is easy to get suckered into believing that what has happened over the past few weeks or months is the new reality.  It may be.  More than likely it isn’t.  Numbers have a way of being consistent and working themselves out over a long period of time.  Those short bursts and potholes get washed out over the long term.New plateau or momentary spike?  Only time will tell—but far too many businesses and sellers turn on a dime when they should be holding steady based on what’s happening today in relation to what their long term history has been.
  3. Ignoring Reality and Making the Numbers Conform to Their Pie in the Sky Hope:  In a sense, you can make numbers say anything you want them to say.  Good can be bad and bad good if you know how to spin them.  And many a manager and seller are good at spinning to make their numbers conform to their own fantasiesA few years ago I was speaking to a group of Realtors about building their businesses through referrals and how to become a referral based seller.  One lady raised her hand and proudly proclaimed that her business was already referral based because over the past year almost 90% of her business came from referrals from clients.  I and the rest of the group were duly impressed—until I asked her how many new clients she had acquired during that time.  Nine was her answer.  Hell, with nine new clients over the course a year she wasn’t a referral based seller, she wasn’t even in business.  But she had convinced herself that she was going great guns in the referral area.Too many find it all too easy to take a number they like and force it into a story that makes them feel good.  The sad part is they so often believe their own BS and must then suffer the consequences.

The truth is numbers don’t lie, we do.  We lie to ourselves; we cherry pick the number we like and ignore the one we don’t; we react to the immediate without regard to history. 

So I apologize to numbers that I so callously accused of lying.  They’re innocently just doing their job; we’re the guilty party taking them out of context and forcing them to represent something they don’t.

The moral of the story is simple—let numbers do their job.  Let them marinate for a period before trying to declare them to be shining a light on a completely new path; let them say what they’re trying to say instead of what you want to hear; and by all means, don’t force them at gun point to be an accomplice to a personal crime of self deception.

Now, go in peace and sin no more and your numbers will faithfully lead you in the right direction.

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August 23, 2012

Is Now a Good Time to Make the Move to Another Company?

Filed under: career development — Paul McCord @ 5:23 pm
Tags: , ,

Over the past several years while we’ve been faced with a bad economy, companies laying people off, sales for most companies being stagnant or declining, I’ve been asked one question more than any other—“Is now a good time to be looking to make a move to another company?”

My answer is always the same—is what you have to offer worth buying?  Now, I’m not asking the individual if they’re selling something that people want or if the product they’re selling is of any value, I’m asking them the key question they must answer when looking to move from one employer to another—do you have anything of value that the other company would be interested in acquiring.

Whether we’re talking about today’s slow economy or the bad economy three years ago or the economy three years from now, there are always opportunities.  Take a look at any on-line job site and you’ll find hundreds, thousands of opportunities.  Even in cities and areas that are supposedly so mired in a horrific economy that there simply are “NO JOBS”—there are open jobs that employers are anxious to fill.

No matter the economy—and many are predicting that we may be headed for another serious decline–the question is never “is this a good time to make the move to another opportunity;” the question is “do I have anything to offer that another employer wants and needs?”

Value and skills are always in demand. 

If you have the skills, you can make the move successfully.

It may take time to find the right opportunity.

It may not be easy.

You might even have to move to another local.

But the opportunities are there.

Here are four steps you need to take if you are thinking about making a move:

Evaluate Your Offer Before beginning to make contacts or sending resumes, take stock of what you have to offer a new employer.  Be honest with yourself.  What superior skills can you bring to the table?  Don’t list the things you’ve done such as prospecting, closing sales, making presentations.  Everybody in sales has done those things.  Instead, make a serious analysis of your skills and determine which, if any, are superior to the majority of other sellers.

Strengthen Your Offer Once you’ve determined your superior skills, figure out what other skills you need in order to make yourself valuable to the best employers in your industry.  Again, be excruciatingly honest with yourself.  What skills must you strengthen in order to put yourself in the top tier?

Maybe you’re superior at developing relationships or making presentations to upper management or prospecting but need help developing other skills such as asking questions or cold calling or building trust.

Just because you’re top of the line at one or two skills won’t necessarily put you in a position to be salable.  Companies won’t be looking to hire a skill or two.  Selling demands a package of skills, not one or two. 

Look at what you need to improve to make yourself the complete package that your ideal employer will want and needs.

Once you know what skills you need to hone, spend the time and money getting the training and coaching you need to develop those skills.  This may only take a short time—or might be a major commitment of months or more.  But if you’re serious about making the right move, it is crucial.

Find Your Opportunities Use every method available to you to find and evaluate the opportunities in the marketplace.  Ask friends and family, business associates, and social contacts—and if appropriate clients—to alert you to any opportunities they become aware of.  Let them know in as much detail as possible exactly what you are looking for and what you bring to the table.

At the same time, scour top on-line sales job sites.  Some will concentrate on specific geographic areas such as the UK and Europe or the US; others may have positions from all over the globe.  And by all means don’t forget the sites of the individual companies you’re most interested in.

Rather than submitting resumes willy nilly, focus your time and attention on those opportunities where the skills you’ve identified as superior will give you a edge in both being hired and working within that company.

Be Prepared to Sell Your Skills As we all know, getting the interview is only a small part of the battle.  Once you’ve got the interview you have to nail the position.  And despite all the great advice about how to try to position your interview (do you want to be first or last?  How do you handle a single interviewer vs. a group interview, etc), you must be prepared to answer the most important question of all—what do you bring to the table that will make a real difference for the company and sets you apart from your competitors for the job?

After you’ve developed your skills, found the great opportunities, gotten the interview, you still aren’t ready to get that great new job until you can communicate to the interviewer(s) how and why you can make a real impact on their sales or to their sales team.

This is probably the most important aspect of the process.  Knowing exactly what you’ve accomplished and what your skills are that allowed you to do that and can communicate that succinctly and in terms that the interviewer can understand and appreciate. . That means having not only studied your past results and understanding what you bring to the table, but being able to communicate that at the drop of a hat. 

And that takes thought.   It takes practice.

It means you can’t wing it and expect to make the impression you want to make.

Any time is a good time to make the change to another opportunity—if you have developed the skills that make you irresistible and know how to communicate that in an interview.

It isn’t easy.

It means that changing jobs isn’t to be taken lightly and demands preparation.

But if you take it seriously, put in the effort, invest the time and money to develop your skills, and then learn how to communicate that value to a new employer, anytime is a great time to look for a new sales or sales leadership opportunity.


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July 16, 2012

The Value of Fear

Filed under: career development,motivation,success — Paul McCord @ 12:08 pm
Tags: ,

“I’m not afraid of anything,” goes the boast so often heard from sellers who are trying to impress their manager. 

The idea that a top seller is so confident, so cool, so well prepared that they’re not afraid of anyone or anything, including failure, seems to be more prevalent now than in the past.  Maybe I’m just more attuned to it now than I had been. 

Whichever it is, I’m hearing it more and more often and most of the time it seems to be coming from young sellers who grew up being told that they not only could do anything they put their minds to but they deserve success because they are the most educated and admirable generation ever.

It seems that the coddling has bleached out all sense of fear and anxiety—and a great deal of hardness and determination—from the up and coming generation of sellers.

And although this isn’t universal, of course, it seems we’ve done them a mighty disservice. 

To pervert one of Gordon Gekko’s quotes, “Fear is good.”  Fear is, in fact, the stuff that success is made of.  Fear of failure.  Fear of losing one’s job or status or position or respect.  Fear of disappointing oneself and others.  Fear of not achieving.  Fear of not living out one’s dream.

Fear is more powerful than the lure of success.  It puts more demands on you than the want of things.  Fear is a motivator like no other.  For most of us it isn’t the carrot as much as the stick that is the base motivating factor.

And we have a generation that has been force fed unwarranted success through the elimination of the potential for failure and, thus, the purging of the sense of fear of failure.

I’ve yet to find a highly successful person who doesn’t respect fear—and if you haven’t had the opportunity to taste it in big chunks you can’t respect it.  It is so simple and terrible, yet so powerful.  Don’t allow yourself or your sales team to live with the illusion that success can be acquired without the help of fear.

If you’re a sales leader who has sellers who voice a lack of fear, encourage them to go out and get a really good taste of failure.

May 30, 2012

Four Hours a Day Guaranteed to Make You a Successful Seller

Filed under: career development,prospecting,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 10:17 am
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 There have been hundreds of millions—billions and billions if not trillions and trillions—of words written about how to become a successful seller.  Who knows how many tens of thousands of books and millions of articles have been written in the sales area? In my 30 plus years of selling I’ve read hundreds of the books and thousands of the articles.  I’ve even written three books myself and written hundreds of articles.  All of it designed to deal with one simply action—making a sale.

Some of these books and articles are quite profound with wonderful charts and diagrams designed to show the flow of a sale or the relationship between different parts of the sale or to expound and clarify how buyers and sellers interact.  Others are less complex and more immediately applicable, usually dealing with specific segments of selling.

Whether the work is simple or complex, a short article or a tome rivaling War and Peace, the supposed goal is the same—help the reader sell more.

We’ve broken the sales process into miniscule pieces and then put back together again.  We’ve developed numerous theories of the sales process.  We’ve analyzed how buyers buy, how sellers sell, and how sellers shouldn’t sell but instead help buyer’s buy.

We’ve done so much talking and writing that at this point 99% that is said and written is nothing more than a rehash of what has already been said and written.  I honestly don’t know if I’ve read an original thought in any book or article I’ve ever read.  In fact, it is highly likely I haven’t.

All of this is not to condemn the thousands of books and millions of articles.  I personally think they are needed as they not only appeal to different men and women, the same message in one book or article may not resonate with a reader whereas the same message in a bit different format in another book might really communicate.

But in the end, as much as we sometimes like to intellectualize our profession, we’re not dealing with rocket science.

And in the end, there are still a few actions that if done and done religiously will virtually guarantee success.

Let me suggest a four hour daily routine that if carried out will produce a pipeline bursting with top prospects—and sales.

In fact, if you implement this four hour daily routine you’ll soon find yourself trying to figure out how to maintain it as you’ll be so busy with the business of selling that you’ll struggle to keep feeding the pipeline.

Hour One: Research
Spend one hour a day researching prospects.  Most sellers know little to nothing about the prospects they contact.  They don’t know much about the prospect company or its niche, much less much about the prospect himself or herself.  Most of the time, they don’t even know if the targeted prospect is really the individual they need to be speaking with.

The more you know about your prospect, the better chance you have of making a meaningful contact.  When connecting with a prospect you have only a few seconds to make an impression and to capture their interest.  If you can’t do that within a few seconds, your chances of moving them along to an eventual sale are cut by more than half.

Know your prospect.  Know who they are, what they do, what’s important to them, what their successes have been—and their failures.  Know where they are going and where they’ve been.  Know what kinds of companies they work with.  Know who they are and who they want to be.

To do this takes research.  Fortunately there are wonderful research tools on the internet and a great many of them are free starting with Google and Bing and then moving on to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and many other sites that can provide a massive amount of pertinent information.

Hours Two and Three: Make Calls
Two hours a day of speaking to new prospects is far more than most sellers spend—but in reality still barely enough.

Let’s clarify the word “calls.”  By calls I don’t necessarily mean cold calls or even phone calls.  Calls can be calls to referred prospects or could be cold walking or could be warm calls to people you’ve met in a social setting.  Calls are simply contacts with prospects, no matter how you find those prospects or how you connect with them.

Even though the how of connecting isn’t important, how the two hours are spent is extremely important.  Sitting at your desk and dialing the phone every 7 to 10 minutes with lots of shuffling of prospect cards or flipping through CRM records in-between doesn’t qualify as two hours of making calls.

Two hours is exactly that—a solid two hours of making contact.  You make a call and don’t get anyone, don’t put the phone down but instead make the next dial.  You walk into an office and there’s no one to talk to, walk out the door and right into the next door.

Many of us fool ourselves into thinking we spent time prospecting because we were at the desk for two or three hours when in fact we only made a few dials and only spoke to two people. 

That’s not prospecting, that’s wasting a morning or an afternoon.

Hour Four: Follow-up
What do you do with all those people you’ve spoken to but who aren’t really moving along the pipeline?  You don’t do what most sellers do—you don’t drop them and let them die from inactivity.  You follow up.

During your initial conversation with a prospect, try to find an area or reason for follow-up.  Maybe you need to supply more information, find an answer to a question, or research a competitor.  Maybe there has been a recent trigger event that provides for a follow-up call.  Maybe your research uncovers new information that your prospect should know about.

Spend at least one hour a day following up with those prospects in your database that are good prospects that you haven’t been able to move along.  Every prospect should be contacted at least quarterly if possible.

Spending four hours a day prospecting will fill your pipeline.  Yes, for many it isn’t the most pleasant four hours of the day–but it is the most important four hours.  You cannot make a sale without prospects and since they aren’t beating your door down to talk to you they won’t become clients unless you take the initiative and contact them and then make the follow-up contacts to eventually bring them into the fold.

I encourage you to buy and read all the great books on selling (and, of course, in particular my books), as well as the many tremendous articles that are published daily.  But in the end, remember that your success is really based on finding and connecting with great prospects—and you have to invest daily in doing exactly that. 

Take four hours a day to build your business and you’ll find that magically you’ll be successful.

May 18, 2012

It’s Time We Get Right with Our Words

Filed under: career development,Communication,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 11:35 am
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Almost every sales seminar or workshop I go to and the majority of sales books I read at some point talk about the need to address the prospect’s or client’s emotional side; that sales, all sales, are at their heart emotion based decisions.  And with that statement, for many the doors to manipulating the prospect are flung wide open.

Language and emotion are so important in sales yet we seem to take them so lightly.  Most sales books, seminars, and courses spend little to no time addressing language and how to use it ethically.

Most of us pick up our use of words and language on the fly, not really understanding the forces behind it.  If we discover something that seems to work we use it, never asking whether it is a legitimate use of language or whether it is nothing more than a cheap way to manipulate.

I suggest that every seller take the time to head back to your local community college or the university in town and take three courses that will help you clarify how you are using the words you use–and in addition will give you some powerful new tools to use when putting together your prospect solutions, not to mention the advantages you’ll gain in terms of constructing your presentations.

The first course would be a good course in Rhetoric.  Many schools call their basic composition class a rhetoric class.  That isn’t the class I’m speaking of here.  Rhetoric is the study of the art of argumentation and discourse with the aim of improving one’s ability to persuade, influence, and motivate–ethically.  You’ll acquire tools that will help you become a better communicator and you’ll be able to recognize some of the flim flam manipulation strategies used in marketing (and heaven forbid, by sellers also).

Next I would suggest an Introduction to Logic course.  Although it is true that emotion plays a strong part in the sales process, so does logic, especially in more sophisticated sales environments.  A course in logic can help attune you to how easy it is to go awry when constructing an argument.  You will learn about deductive and inductive reasoning along with consistency, validity, and completeness, as well as learning about logical fallacies of which there are a ton.  And to your delight, you’ll have the joy (sarcasm here) of analyzing syllogism after syllogism after syllogism. The important thing is you’ll learn how to recognize logical inconsistencies and how to construct an argument that holds together and leads to a logical conclusion.

After your introductory course I’d advise you go one step further and take a symbolic logic course.  You’ll get further immersed in the rules of logic and go well beyond the syllogism.  After this class you should be able to recognize logical fallacies and be able to knock those false arguments down.  (And if you’re not good at or are afraid of math you need not know that this is a course taught in conjunction with the math department and is usually a senior level math class.)

Of course none of these courses are necessary to be a seller–or to be a top seller.  But I guarantee they will make you a better seller.  Take a look at your local college or university’s offerings and register for a class next fall.  You will be glad you did (but maybe not until after the semester).

April 23, 2012

Sales Lessons from the Two Best Sellers I’ve Ever Seen

Filed under: career development,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 10:10 am

I wrote this post about four years ago and am bringing it back as a reminder that what we do really isn’t nearly as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be.  In essence all we need is a solid process and a good understanding of human nature, both of which we can learn a good deal about from Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe.

In just under 30 years in sales I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands upon thousands of salespeople. Some have been very good, many not so good, and a few phenomenal. But there are two that I know that are simply the best salespeople I’ve ever met. They work as a team and their closing ratio is well over 90%–most of the time with additional add-on sales to boot. I can honestly say that I’m not aware of a single serious prospect that they’ve failed to approach—ever. And they have an incredible ability to always be in the right place at the right time.

Many times we tend to overcomplicate things. We analyze things to death. We search for the smallest nuance, the tiniest little thing that might give us a bit of an edge, a little bit of an upper hand in nailing down a sale. We sometimes lose sight of the basic nature of selling which is to find a prospect, develop a relationship, make our case, overcome their objections, and close the sale. That’s the basics of a sale no matter what we sell. Of course there are twists and turns, some more complicated than others. But in the end, that’s what we all do.

Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe understand this concept better than any other salespeople I’ve ever met. More importantly, they don’t try to complicate it and they practice their craft religiously and are constantly honing their skills. And for their diligence, their highly honed skills, and commitment to being where their prospects are, they are rewarded with a fat income.

So, who are these top producers and what secrets have they learned?

Mr. B.J. is a miniature dachshund and Ms. Chloe is a miniature Yorkie. OK, yes, they’re dogs. Don’t let that fool you. They are also highly skilled salespeople with the highest close ratio I’ve ever seen, with a sense of timing we humans can only envy, and with a dogged persistence in asking for the order that puts us human salespeople to shame—rejection doesn’t bother or discourage them in the least.  If they fail with one prospect, they know another is right around the corner.

But our lessons come from their sales process. As mentioned previously, it is basic. No fancy tricks, no deception. (In the spirit of full disclosure I have to mention that in their sales process there is tons of manipulation which is unethical for human sellers but appears to be a perfectly ethical sales practice in the animal world.)

Their Process:

1. Going to where their prospects are: Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe are always prospecting. They have two prospecting methods—cold calling and waiting for the occasional walk-in prospect. Since they don’t like to rely on the happenstance of walk-ins, they spend a good deal of time cold calling.

Cold calling consists of keeping a close tab on the neighborhood for any prospect—prospects being anyone outside.

Upon spying a prospect both are eager to introduce themselves. They wait for an appropriate opportunity and approach for the introduction. Since our block is a favorite for walkers and joggers throughout the neighborhood, they are in a constant prospecting mode, meeting dozens of potential customers daily.

If they are in the house, they are ever aware of anyone going into the kitchen. The kitchen is where sales are made and they make sure that at least one of them has the kitchen covered at most times—but since they don’t trust the other to let them know if someone is approaching the kitchen, they are generally both positioned to keep an eye on that most important room.

2. Building relationships: Upon meeting a new prospect they concentrate on establishing a relationship, with the initial emphasis on understanding and addressing the prospect’s needs and wants. Relationship building typically entails a great deal of licking and kissing, demonstrating their sincerity and trustworthiness, as well as their eagerness to please.

They don’t rush the sale. They are content to move at the prospect’s speed, allowing them to become comfortable with the relationship before pressing for an order.

3. Making their presentation: For B.J. and Chloe, moving from the initial connection stage to the presentation stage can sometimes be a bit abrupt, somewhat like some of our less skilled human salespeople–although in this case it appears to be quite effective.

Their presentation tends to consist of sniffing the food or drink the person may have, smelling the prospect’s hands or breath for traces of food, or, if called for, dissolving into pathetic, irresistible sad-eyed looks.

4. Asking for the order: Once they’ve made their presentation, they ask for the order with lots of jumping up and down, barking and whining, and running around the prospect. No one ever fails to understand the request.

5. Overcoming objections: Neither B.J. or Chloe are willing to accept a no. An objection simply means they have not made their case persuasively enough. Upon hearing no they simply brush it off and their kisses, loving, jumping, barking, running around the prospect, and their big doe eyes become even bigger, their mournful looks become even sadder.

It takes nerves of steel to resist them and few do it successfully.

6. Asking for the add-on order: Once the prospect has bought and provided a treat, they have opened themselves up for the add-on sale. The add-on tends to be a more subtle sale than the initial sale, taking the form of nudging the bag the original treat came in or rubbing on the prospect’s leg.

7. Maintaining relationships: After they secure a new client, they make sure they follow up with regular visits and a consistent flow of kisses and leg rubs.

Their sales process is incredibly simple and straightforward. Their reward is a consistent flow of treats from our neighbors, walkers, joggers, and of course my wife and me. They’ve even managed to teach some of the neighbors what their favorite treats are (dried chicken strips, unshelled peanuts—they love to shell the peanuts themselves although it makes an incredible mess, and string cheese).

We may not be as cute as Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe. We may not be able to manipulate (and manipulation is never a valid part of selling for us humans) prospects as they do. But if a dog that can’t speak can follow this simple process and make tons of sales, we should be mindful that this isn’t rocket science. Their secret is simple—they meet lots of prospects, develop relationships, make a compelling presentation, overcome the objections, and ask for the order.

Yes, our sales are more complicated. No, we don’t have the cute factor working for us as they do. But we have the same opportunity Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe have. We have the same time to work with—they get all of their prospecting and selling done in about 6 to 7 hours. And in a bigger, more complicated form, we have in essence the same process. All we have to do is to be as committed to our success as they are to theirs.

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