Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 5, 2008

Fear, Failure and Choices

This past week I acquired a new coaching client.  Nothing unusual about that–except this client, like many in the securities industry, finds himself in the position of having 120 days to develop a practice capable of sustaining his family—or he is out of the industry.  He just finished his 13 weeks of training, passed his series 7 and 63 exams, and is now on a four-month do or die schedule.

I have the opportunity to speak with thousands of sales people from dozens and dozens of industries.  Depending on their industry, their “life support” (their initial guarantee, draw or salary) to help them get started may have been as long as a couple of years—or as short as, well, none at all.  Almost without exception, each had to work their way through their initial start-up stage with the stress and fear not only of failure, but of potential financial disaster if they failed since many had to dip into savings in order to meet their basic obligations, not to mention having funds to help them market themselves.  My newest coaching client is just starting his ramp-up period—and he is fully aware of just how short four months is.

For most of us, the fear of failure is a strong motivator.  No one likes to fail, no matter what they are trying to accomplish.  A salaried employee wants to succeed at their job.  An hourly employee wants to succeed at theirs also.  However, both the salaried and hourly employee knows that they have the security of a future income—even if they simply do the minimum to retain their job.  For us in sales, the minimum required to retain our positions is producing at least enough income to survive.  Whereas the salaried or hourly employee is given tasks and all of the means to accomplish those tasks and is then rewarded with a set income, we salespeople are given a task, many times without the means to accomplish it, and then must create our own reward—be it large, small, or, God forbid, non-existent.

Not only do we have the fear of failure, but our failure may well have life altering consequences for numerous people.  Our fear of failure goes well beyond the personal disappointment, embarrassment, and depression of failing at a task.  Our failure literally puts our family in jeopardy.  Our failure may very well mean debt collector calls, reposed autos, foreclosed homes, and no food on the table.

In addition, often like my new client, we have a very short timeframe within which to succeed or fail.  Time is an ever present enemy.  We hear the clock ticking—even in our sleep.  We wake up to one more day gone, one more day closer to the ultimate consequences of our actions.

Yet, that ticking of the clock can be either our chief motivator—or the cause of our paralyses.  For most salespeople time is a dominate factor in our actions.  We either find the clock a massive kick in the pants that moves us—forces us— forward and we find the strength, creativity, and determination to succeed; or we become mesmerized by the metronomic ticking, incapable of productive movement as we watch the hands of the clock inexorably move toward our final hour as a salesperson. 

Even after we get over the hump and begin to establish a consistent monthly commission income, the clock ticks away.  A slump, a slowing economy, an unexpected illness, and a hundred other factors can catapult us back to the edge of the precipice of joblessness and financial crisis. 

As a salesperson, we must prove ourselves each month, each week, each day, each hour.  The clock is unforgiving.  That mortgage is due on the first of each month no matter what your previous month’s sales were like.  The bank expects their car payment, utilities must be paid, and food must be bought. 

How do you beat this relentless, heartless enemy?  The simple answer, though massively difficult for many, is action.  Selling is a high energy, fast moving sport.  More akin to jai-alai than baseball or football, it requires a tremendous amount of concentration, dedication, and mental and physical activity with few breaks to recuperate. 

A more accurate and precise answer is that it is through well thought-out, highly targeted action.  Many salespeople mistake simple action for progress.  Action, though crucial, is hardly enough.  Undisciplined, random action contributes to our failure just as surely as inaction does.

What is targeted, disciplined action?  Targeted, disciplined action is action that directly contributes to putting prospects in our pipeline and clients in our database.  In simple terms–prospecting, making sales presentations, signing contracts, and handling client issues.  Everything else—all of the designing of fliers, organizing of files, making of lists, reading and studying product brochures, and all of the other “stuff” we do, may directly result in our failure.

Not that these other ‘busy work’ activities aren’t important, they are.  Nevertheless, they are secondary to our primary mission and they don’t contribute to our success in a meaningful manner if performed during selling hours.  If engaged in during selling hours, these non-income producing activities hinder, rather than aid our production.  These non-essential activities should be set aside and performed only when some direct selling activity isn’t possible.

In order to free ourselves for the activity of selling we must have a plan in place that will allow us to spend our time and energy performing our four primary activities.  This means using our non-selling hours to formulate our future moves.  Instead of shuffling through stacks of leads or searching the internet for our next call as we sit at our desks “prospecting,” these activities should have been preformed the evening before so our prospecting time is really spent prospecting, not doing prospecting research.  Instead of gathering our data sheets in preparation for making calls, they should have been gathered and put in a logical order during our non-selling time.  Instead of discussing marketing methods with the new salesperson in the next cubicle, we should have phone in one hand and be dialing with the other.

It’s your money you’re leaving on the table.  If you don’t get it, someone else will.  If you wile away your time and choose to fail, you’re directly contributing to someone else’s success.  Success is a choice.  It’s a simple choice that takes great disciple and effort, but still a choice.  A tremendous number of highly talented people fail in sales every year—every month, in fact.  They simply choose to fail by making the wrong time choices.  They allow the clock to win.  On the other hand, many with little talent succeed simply because they are unwilling to fail.

January 31, 2008

Guest Article: Top 3 Fatal Sales Mistakes, by Colleen Francis

Top 3 Fatal Sales Mistakes: What Not To Do To Succeed In Sales!
By Colleen Francis

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a series of particularly heinous sales techniques – all of which were aimed at getting through a gatekeeper to a decision maker, and all of which ended disastrously for the sales reps involved.

I firmly believe that, to improve our skills and the relationships we have with our prospects and clients, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. In that spirit, I decided to recount and dissect these painful experiences, in the hope of sharing with you where these sales people went so wrong – and what they could’ve done instead!

One word of warning: while I’ve chosen not to use any names in order to protect the potentially innocent companies who may be employing these sales reps (and may not be aware of the “techniques” they are using), the stories you’re about to read are, unfortunately, all true. Viewer discretion is definitely advised…

#1: The case of the anonymous acquaintance
First, a couple of weeks ago, I received a magazine article in the mail that detailed the benefits to sales people of taking a public speaking course. On second look, I saw that the article was actually an advertorial, complete with a registration form for the course at the end.

Attached to the piece was a post-it with a handwritten note which read: “Colleen, I thought you would find this interesting.” It was signed with an illegible initial – maybe a J? Maybe an I? – I couldn’t be sure. I had no idea who had sent me this “highly informative article,” but because of the handwritten note, I assumed I must know them. I looked at the envelope it had come in, and, sure enough, found no return address and an automated bulk mail stamp – sure signs of unsolicited mail.

I’d never heard of the company offering the seminar, nor anyone they were associated with. Clearly, they were trying to hide behind their anonymity because they knew, that I knew, that they did not know me.

Why is this crossing the line?
Because by trying to pretend that they know and have a relationship with me even though they don’t, they are lying. To me, an approach that is based on a lie is the worst kind of mistake – and the absolute worst first impression – that any sales professional can make.

This lie is being used in the hope that I’ll feel guilty enough about not remembering who they are that I will call the company to find out, at which point they can try to sell me on their seminar. Will I be in the mood to be sold anything once I figure out their game? Will I ever buy anything from this company, or recommend them to my colleagues and associates? Am I likely to respond warmly to any follow-up call that might happen to come along?

The answer is NO! So if you’ve ever been tempted to try to lure new customers with a lie, first ask yourself this: if the customer or prospect finds out what I’m really up to, will they be mad, or will I be embarrassed? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then find yourself a different tactic – fast!

How not to cross the line
The idea of staying in touch with your customers and prospects by sending them an occasional article or other information is a good one. But if you use this technique, make sure the following rules of thumb are applied consistently, and without exception:

  • The article is relevant to the prospect.
  • The prospect knows you and you clearly sign your name so they can see it is from you.
  • You identify who you are on the envelope.
  • You make a follow-up call after they’ve received it.

#2: The case of the schoolyard bully
While on vacation in March, I received a frantic call from my office.

My assistant was panicked because she’d gotten a call from a man who insisted that he had a meeting set up with me for that day, and that it was “critical” that he talk to me. He also told her that he “had talked to me directly,” that this was “a follow-up meeting,” that I had “promised to talk to him” – and even that he had “time sensitive information” he had to get to me.

When she finally got me on the phone, explained the situation and told me what company he was calling from, I realized it was all a ruse. I had never talked to that rep or his company before. I did know enough about what they did, however, to realize that what they sold was not relevant to my business and I was not, nor ever would be, interested in the service they offered.

In other words, this rep hadn’t even spoken to me before, let alone scheduled a “follow-up” meeting. He also didn’t offer anything that would be so “critical” to my business that I’d be glad to interrupt my vacation to talk to him.

Why is this crossing the line?
Once more: he lied. As far as I was concerned, that spelled the end of any business relationship he and I might ever have had.

To make matters worse, in order to get though to me (the “decision maker”), he tried to instigate panic in my assistant (the “gatekeeper”) by confusing her into thinking she and I had made a mistake, and I would have to be disturbed.

He knew we’d never spoken, and that we did not have a meeting scheduled. He was simply hoping that I would feel so guilty about the possibility that I’d made a mistake that I would be willing to cancel whatever else I was doing to take his call. He was probably also hoping that same unwarranted guilt would make me feel I “owed him” enough to listen to his pitch.

Whenever you use a tactic that requires making someone else feel bad simply to get what you want, you’re crossing the line not only between appropriate and inappropriate sales techniques, but also between being a smart or stupid sales person – and, to my mind, between being a decent human being and a schoolyard bully.

Just ask yourself: if your prospect found out what you were doing, would they want to have a relationship with you?

How not to cross the line
Assistants can be used effectively to secure appointments and get decision makers on your side. However, you should never attempt to manipulate them or their relationship with your prospect. If you do get a gatekeeper on the phone, try the following, and see how much farther it will take you:

  • Show them respect at all times.
  • Treat them like the decision maker, and try your opening lines or lead-in questions with them. They may be able to point you towards other decision makers in the company who could be important to your sale.
  • Ask them when is the best time to reach the decision maker.
  • Ask if they can schedule 15 minutes of time with the decision maker for you.
  • Always thank them for their help.

#3: The case of the “close, personal friend”
Finally, just a few days ago, a sales person called our office claiming to be a “close, personal friend” of mine. My assistant asked if I knew her, and while I didn’t think so, I decided to have her put her through to me anyway.

A couple of minutes into her pitch, I interrupted the rep and asked, “excuse me, do I know you?” She answered: “Not now, but if we do business together, I guarantee we will become good friends.”

Needless to say, we didn’t do business together, and we aren’t likely to at any point in the foreseeable future.

Why is this crossing the line?
Say it with me now: because she lied! Even worse, it was a really stupid lie!

Did the rep really not think that, as soon as she had me on the phone, I’d realize she wasn’t the “close, personal friend” she was claiming to be? Either she was hoping I would think her “idea” was clever, or that I was so stupid I can’t remember who my friends are. Any sales tactic that makes the prospect feel like you must think he or she is an idiot simply can’t end well.

Before you try any technique like this one, please ask yourself: if the prospect finds out what I’m doing, will they want to be my friend? Or will I be happy with the consequences of earning a bad reputation, and a lost opportunity?

How not to cross the line
Every time you call a decision maker, have a compelling reason to speak to them, and make sure your opening line or leading question is tuned to their needs, and offers them value. Then they will want to take your calls, without your having to lie to get them on the phone.

If you want to develop commonality with your prospects without resorting to trickery, try the following simple – and honest! – approach:

  • Use a REAL reference from someone you both know.
  • Tell them a third party story about a customer you’ve helped who is in their industry, and/or who is in their same position (Director, VP, etc).
  • Offer a piece of information that shows you know something about their business or industry that you can help them with. One of my clients who sells to the medical research industry, for example, leads with “your research into XYZ disease caught my attention…”

When it comes to being honest and being branded a liar, the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t, isn’t so much a “fine line” as it is a gaping chasm. Fall in, and you may never be able to find your way out.

Consider yourself warned.

Colleen Francis is driven by a passion for people – motivating them to reach for the highest standards of success. For over 15 years, she has studied the business habits of the top 20% of sales performers in organizations of all sizes and shapes-from Fortune 500 companies, to small- and medium – sized businesses. Through her company, Engage Selling Solutions, Colleen has condensed that winning formula into an internationally acclaimed sales-training approach, helping sales and marketing professionals everywhere achieve their maximum potential.

Distinguished by the Canadian Professional Sales Association as a Certified Sales Professional (C.S.P.), Colleen thrives on challenging conventional assumptions about the winning edge needed to stimulate profits, grow new markets and sustain a loyal customer base. Her savvy, no-nonsense approach to sales is rooted in the belief that there really isn’t a single magic formula to success. Rather, her researched, field-tested approach is about emulating the winning ways of those top-20% achievers. Colleen helps find ways to consistently apply a commonヨsense process for working with, listening to, and tending to the needs of customers. Her website is

January 30, 2008

Referral Selling Isn’t About You

Becoming a referral-based salesperson has tremendous benefits: 
•  You spend far less time prospecting
•  Your sales increase
•  You spend less on mass marketing activities
•  Your income increases substantially. 

Referral selling isn’t about you

To become a truly successful and profitable referral-based salesperson, your focus must be on your client and their needs.  Your client, no matter how much they may like and respect you, is NOT concerned about your wants and needs.  They are concerned about THEIR wants and needs and in order to generate a large number of highly qualified referrals from your clients and prospects, you must communicate to them why it is in their best interests to give you referrals. 

Certainly, there are clients who will give a couple of good referrals now and then simply because they like you or they respect the work you do.  Buy you don’t want a couple of referrals every now and then.  You want a large number of highly qualified referrals from every one of your clients.  Unless the client understands that giving referrals is in his or her best interest, you will not generate the volume and quality of referrals you are seeking.

Why is it in the client’s best interest to give referrals? 

TIME AND ATTENTION:  you must make the client understand that you, as a referral-based salesperson, are unique.  You, unlike the vast majority of other salespeople, have the time to take care of their wants and needs because your clients provide you with your client base through their referrals.  If it were not for your clients providing referrals, you, like all the other salespeople, would have to spend 70-80% of your time prospecting for new clients, leaving only 20-30% of your time to sell and to monitor and administer your client’s purchases.

Asking your client a few simple questions will generally help remove any doubts about the value of you having the vast majority of your time free to see to their needs.  Ask your client:
•  if they have had purchasing experiences in the past where the salesperson didn’t properly monitor their purchase
•  if they have had experiences in the past where the salesperson was difficult to contact
•  if the salesperson didn’t keep them fully informed during the sale
•  if they have had an experience where problems arose during the sale that were not deal with in a timely manner
•  if they have had experiences where their expectations and priorities were not met. 

Every client you deal with will answer yes to at least one–and probably all–of these questions.

Explain that the root cause of these problems and issues is that the salesperson did not have the time and freedom to oversee the client’s purchase.  Rather than taking care of their client, the salesperson had no choice but to spend his or her time seeking out new commissions, leaving their current client’s sale to be worked on as they could eek out time.

After this line of questioning and your explanation of where the problems in past purchases arose, virtually every client I’ve dealt with quickly grasps how referrals are in their best interest.  People are self-centered.  They want their purchase, whether dealing with the most sophisticated high-tech system or simply a new washer and dryer, to go smoothly with all the details attended to.  They don’t want problems, and if they can legitimately help you pay more attention to their purchase—and you’ve earned the referrals—they will give referrals because it helps them, not because it helps you.

Since you don’t earn the referrals until after the sale has been completed, you must come through with results.  Just because a client agrees to give referrals upon completion of the sale because it is in his best interests, if you don’t perform to expectations, you will not receive the referrals because you have not earned them.  In fact, you will have lost all credibility with the client because your explanation of why you deserve referrals and how they benefit the client will have proven to be false.

EGO:  Clients will also give referrals to stroke their egos.  If you have established yourself as a referral-based salesperson whose business is exclusive enough to demand potential clients come through referral, then many clients will be happy to refer you to others for no other reason than to flaunt the fact that they work with you.  From your perspective, that is a valid enough reason.  You want the referral; the client wants the perceived prestige.  You both win.

In both of the above cases, the focus is on the client.  And of the two reasons for giving referrals, you will find far more clients motivated by the care you can afford their purchase than by the stroking of their ego.

Either way, you must take the time to explain to your client why you work by referral and why providing referrals are in their best interests, not yours.  If you are mindful that the client is self-centered and needs to be motivated by self-interest and you live up to the promises you make, you will find almost all clients are open to giving a number of quality referrals.

January 28, 2008

Are You Missing this Most Underutilized and Effective Marketing Format?

Salespeople and business owners often overlook one of the most effective and quick ways to both establish themselves as experts in their field and generate a pipeline of quality prospects.

Most salespeople and small business owners are all too familiar with cold-calling; purchasing leads; sending out mass direct mail and email pieces; and using print, radio and TV advertising and other common methods of lead generation.  However, becoming a niche expert and taking that expertise on the road in the form of speaking to groups and organizations that cater to their prospects is seldom considered.

The natural fear of public speaking is a deterrent for many, but most salespeople simply have not considered the possibility.  When we think of a speaker, most of us envision someone with grand ideas speaking to the most crucial events of the day—or maybe someone who has lead an extraordinary life, regaling the audience with tales of high adventure.  If we do think of business experts as speakers, we tend to think of names such as Jack Welch, Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar or some other high-profile guru who commands tens of thousands of dollars per appearance.

Those sorts of people may be the most visible, but they are, in fact, the tiny minority of speakers.  Literally tens of thousands of organizations in the US need speakers on a regular weekly or monthly basis.  A large percentage of these organizations are actively looking for businesspeople that have a message that will appeal to the majority of their members—and you could be that speaker.

You need not be expounding on the evils of the Democratic takeover of Congress, or the how badly the Republicans have governed, or the great coming economic downfall of civilization as we know it.  You do not have to be a stand-up comedian or a storyteller on the level of Garrison Keillor.

Speaking for local groups and originations only requires you to have information that is relevant and interesting. 

A realtor client of mine became an expert in the minutiae of every neighborhood in her city and began speaking to groups about the transitions taking place in the city—which neighborhoods are on the verge of taking off, and which in decline.  Her presentation is laced with statistics but also stories and history, with fact and prediction. Within a matter of several months, she became the “go to” person when members of audiences she had spoken to began to think about buying or selling their home, because she is recognized as the expert on where to move, where to build and where to avoid.

Another client of mine, a business insurance broker, began speaking about the issues that businesses in his city face in terms of risk.  His presentation centers on crime, employee theft, and upcoming city ordinances that may affect business, and other, unexciting aspects of risk management.

Although he is a likable and entertaining man, his presentation is hardly worthy of an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.  Nevertheless, he has information that is of interest to other businesspeople.  Moreover, he, like the realtor, has become known as expert in his field.  Businesspeople come to him first because of their perception of his extraordinary knowledge of both business risk and how to manage it and the local issues facing businesses.

Neither of these people is exceptional in the sense that they have led extraordinary lives or have mythical business prowess.  In fact, the business agent has only been in the insurance business for a couple of years.  However, both recognized the power of getting in front of groups and presenting themselves as experts.  Their average audience is fewer than 40 people.  Their average talk is less than 20 minutes, and each speaks less than four times a month.  Nevertheless, if they speak three times per month to an average audience of 35 people, they are in front of about 1,200 per year as “the” expert in their field.  Moreover, many of these people are potential prospects.

How do you become the expert?  First, find something about your business that will be of interest to a broad range of potential customers.  Concentrate on areas that could give your audience information on potential risks or opportunities that could expand or enhance their life, open new doors, or increase or protect their wealth.  Once you have found an interesting niche, connect it to your local market.  The realtor deals only with local issues and demographics, but the insurance broker mixes general risk statistics with local business-related issues.  He takes mundane national statistics and brings them home, to a more personal level.

Do your homework on both your subject and your public-speaking skills.  Hone your presentation so that you are confident and do not have to speak with notes.  Work in front of a mirror until you have managed to eliminate all of your nervous movement.  Go over your presentation—both verbally in front of a mirror and in your mind as you drive—until it becomes second nature.  Check and recheck facts and figures.  And, join the Toastmasters.  Most of us probably think of the Toastmasters as simply an organization that will improve our public speaking skills.  It certainly will.  However, it will improve your leadership skills also, not to mention your interpersonal skills in general.  Most every community has at least one Toastmasters club within reasonable distance.  In addition, in a city of any reasonable size, you’ll probably have several options of meeting days and times as there will probably be several clubs from which to choose.

Then, once you have mastery over your subject and yourself, get the word out to groups, associations and organizations where you can get in front of potential prospects.  Send a self-promotion package and follow up with a phone call.  As you begin to set speaking engagements, more will follow.

Keep your material fresh and up-to-date.  Look and act like a professional.  Within months, you’ll have gained the reputation of an expert, the image of the guru, and the self-confidence to match.
Speaking to relevant groups can literally change your business.  Over time, you can create a steady flow of prospects coming to your door seeking your expertise and guidance.  Getting in front of real prospects is key to success.  Getting in front of them as the recognized expert puts you on a different level from your competition.  Far more effective than cold calling, direct mail or advertising, speaking gives you the opportunity to connect, to educate, and to impress your prospects in a format that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere. 

January 27, 2008

Guest Article: Escape From the FUD Trap, by Jeb Blount

Escape From the Fud Trap       
by Jeb Blount    

In life and business change is always tugging at our shirt tail urging us to move forward and inspiring us to dream. Change is as inevitable as it is scary and how we deal with change has lasting implications for our success and happiness. At the root change is about choices. Our choices will either drive change in our lives or be driven by change.
You take control of your life by mastering your choices. Of course, that means breaking out of the trap that holds the vast majority of the people in the world back from living up to their true potential. I call this the FUD Trap.

Most people fail to drive positive change in their lives because their decisions or indecisions are stymied by Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Each moment of the day FUD is working hard to kill your dreams and extinguish your hope. FUD is the father of Status Quo. FUD revels in your excuses, procrastination, and inaction. FUD is your enemy and is holding you back right now!

You have the power break out of the FUD Trap. You have the ability and fortitude inside you right now to change and shape your life. There is literally no thing or no person that can stop you from choosing positive change. So what will you do? Will you step forward, take life into your own hands, and live your dreams? Or, will you stay in the warm, comfort of the FUD Trap and allow your dreams and life to pass you by?

Two PowerPrinciples for Escaping The FUD Trap

Get A Coach:  When you are facing change, FUD and the excuses that follow, look very real to you. A coach or mentor will see your situation from a different point of view. Their perspective, encouragement, and guidance can help your gain the courage to overcome FUD and move forward.

Take Small Steps: When you feel overwhelmed with a big decision, choose an easier path instead. Determine one small step you will take immediately to move you forward just a little bit. For example, if you are contemplating becoming an author, instead of worrying about the whole book, take immediate action to write one sentence, one paragraph or even one page. Small wins energize you and give you confidence to get bigger wins. Soon, a little bit at a time, you pull yourself from the FUD Trap and forward towards your dreams.
Jeb Blount is CEO of The Sales Leadership Group, author of PowerPrinciples, the creator of the popular internet sales community, and the host of the top rate Sales Motivation Podcast, SalesGravy: PowerPrinciples. Considered one of the leading experts in sales and sales leadership with over 20 years experience in Fortune 500 sales and marketing, Jeb holds a core philosophy that in sales and life there are a handful of basics, which if focused on intently, will drive peak performance and achievement. He seeks to remove complexity from inevitable challenges, and instead, focuses individuals and businesses on key actions that deliver quick and sustainable results.

January 26, 2008

Guest Article: Reflections on Old School Selling, by Rick Johnson

Reflection on Old School Selling      
by Rick Johnson 
How time flies. I remember back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when professional selling was easy and a whole lot of fun. We were Lone Wolfs back then. We controlled everything, we were professionals, and we owned a patch of dirt. All we had to do to maintain ownership was to produce sales. We had our tools, a company car, trunk files, brochures, samples and a calendar/card file. We even carried roles of dimes so we could make those mandatory calls twice a day to the office by pulling into a rest area or going in a local restaurant to use the pay phone. (Do we still have pay phones?)  As time passed, some of us even got car phones. Sure, we did call reports and had sales meetings, but make no mistake, we were pros. We owned that patch of dirt and most of the customers who were on it. If we chose to leave for greener pastures, most of our customers went with us. We had respect. Everything focused on relationships. I even remember my first sales training seminar, “Needs Satisfaction Selling.” I was a rookie and having the time of my life. In fact, being a rookie was part of my strategy (although back then I didn’t know I had a strategy) to develop relationships, especially with new accounts:

“Mr. Customer, I’m kind of new at this. I’m learning a lot. Can you help me understand some things about your business?”

I called myself a rookie well past my fifth anniversary as a sales representative. Most purchasing agents felt sorry for me. They wanted to help. They wanted to teach. And, what better way to begin a relationship than to be the recipient of advice and counsel?

That’s what relationship selling was all about. It worked. Cocktail lunches, ball games, golf, fishing trips and visits to a hunting lodge were all part of our repertoire. These were tools of the trade, relationship builders.

Getting to know your customer as a person, that’s what it was all about. He became your friend. To do that, you couldn’t spend most of your time talking about features and benefits or doing little product demos. No, you asked questions, questions about them, and then you shut up and listened. Another tidbit of advice from a mentor that stuck with me through the years emphasized that very thought:

“If you spend one hour with a customer and you talk for 45 minutes making a presentation about features and benefits, your company and God knows what else and the customer only talks for 15 minutes, you’re a dead man. You’ll walk out of there and your customer is going to think you’re a loser, no matter how good your pitch was. But, listen to me, son, if you spend an hour with that customer, you ask a few questions and let him talk for 45 minutes about himself, the sale is 75% made. You’ll walk away and the customer will think you are the greatest thing since peanut butter. You made a great sales call. How can he not think that when he spent 45 minutes telling you all about himself? You alone have the control.”

Change is the Only Guarantee in Life

Things have changed in the last 20-30 years. We have gone through an evolutionary process in the world of professional sales. We cannot be Lone Wolves anymore. We cannot control every piece of data, every contact with our customer, or be in command of the total customer relationship. To succeed and grow as a professional in sales today we cannot afford to “own” the account. Buyers are more sophisticated today. Selling is more complex. It isn’t good enough to just have product knowledge. We must have industry knowledge, market knowledge and, more importantly, we have to understand our customers’ customers. To excel in sales today we have to educate our customers and help them make money. We must become total solution providers.

Words of Wisdom

Everyone needs a mentor to become really good in sales. Sure, I treated my customers and potential customers as mentors. It made them feel good and it helped me build that relationship that was key to success in the 70’s and 80’s. But, we all have one or two special individuals in our lives that make a difference in our success as sales representatives: a former boss, colleague or professor, someone who turns the light on in our head and keeps it burning.

Those of us who have been successful in sales could probably write a book on lessons learned from our mentors. But, there are generally a few comments that stick with us for a lifetime. When it comes to relationship selling, two have stuck with me over the past 30 years:

“Establish a relationship with your customer, Rick. Build his trust, gain his respect and he’ll tell you how to do business with him.”

Times Have Changed

Today’s professional sales people understand that. Times have changed. Consolidations continue to occur. Purchasing is a profession. Customers are smarter. They gain more market power everyday. Success today depends on an architecture aligned with customers’ needs and profit opportunities.

Relationships Still Matter

The more you develop your relationships throughout the customer’s organization, the easier it is to become or remain supplier of choice.  Ultimately, any company is simply a collection of individuals, each with his own interests, motivations and biases.  Key players are the people who heavily influence the buying decision or heavily influence those who make the buying decision.  They obviously deserve special consideration.  Keep in mind that informal relationships within your customer’s organization may be more important than the formal reporting structure.  For example, the receptionist or the repairman that plays golf with the owner may be key players that can contribute to your success.  Sales representatives are successful today because they gain the majority of their targeted customers business. They manage the relationship and continuously build relationship equity

A positive mental attitude or a constructive and optimistic way of looking at yourself, your work, and your management goes hand-an-hand with being successful no matter what company you work for, no matter what industry you are in. A positive mental attitude is the key ingredient necessary to create relationship equity with your customers. Developing this attitude of unshakable self-confidence and enthusiasm, no matter what is going on around you is your passport to becoming successful.

Dr. Rick Johnson is the founder of CEO Strategist LLC. an experienced based firm specializing in leadership for wholesale distribution. CEO Strategist LLC. works in an advisory capacity with company executives in board representation, executive coaching, team coaching and education and training to make the changes necessary to create or maintain competitive advantage. You can contact them by calling 352-750-0868, or visit for more information.

January 23, 2008

Using Incentives to get Referrals

I’m often asked why I don’t advocate using incentives to influence clients and prospects to give referrals.  My reasoning is two fold:  first, if your referral generation process is effective and you execute it correctly, you don’t need to give incentives; and second, if done correctly, incentives can be very effective—but most salespeople find giving effective incentives to be cumbersome and time consuming.

Let me explain.

I coach and train clients who use incentives very effectively.  They are a key part of their referral generation process.  They follow my referral generation system to the letter—with the exception of their explanation of why it is in the client’s best interest to give them referrals.  Instead of explaining to the client how their being referral-based is an asset to the client and why giving referrals insures the client receives the purchasing experience they want, these salespeople prefer giving incentives.

The difference between the incentives they give and those most salespeople give is the secret to why their incentive program is so successful—and why it is so cumbersome.

Typically, salespeople will make one of three mistakes when giving incentives:
•  The incentive is not an incentive, it’s a bribe—a sizable chunk of money, at least in relation to the cost/value of their
    product or service, in the hopes of getting referrals.
•  The incentive is not an incentive, it’s a come-on—it is nothing more than a discount for their own products or services
    which many clients see as nothing more than another way for the salesperson to get more business from the client.
•  The incentive has limited appeal.  For instance, they’ll give a $10 gift card to Starbucks or coupon for a car wash.  That
    is, an incentive given to everyone but with limited appeal.

Incentives need to be just that—an incentive, something that encourages people to give referrals, not a reward, not a bounty. 

What does an effective and reasonable incentive look like?

Let me give an example from one of my clients.

I have a small IT client who uses incentives very effectively.  As a matter of fact, prior to working with me, they gave cash incentives believing money would motivate clients.  Although they initially resisted changing their incentive program, since changing they’ve increased their referrals by over 1,700%.  Much of that change is due to implementing the PWWR Referral Generation System, but the incentive they provide is their reason referrals are in their client’s best interest to give.  Not only have they saved a small fortune by not giving large cash incentives, the incentive itself is far more effective.

They focus mainly on installation and service work for small to mid-size companies.  They, of course, are constantly looking for other small to mid-size companies that don’t have an IT department that they can help with both their installation and performance issues. 

They use incentives as their reason that it is in their client’s best interest to give referrals.  But their incentive isn’t a discount nor is it dollars.  Rather, they get to know their clients very, very well.  They get to know their clients so well that they can focus their incentive to meet that individual client’s personality and interests. 

For instance, one of their clients is a small publishing company.  The company publishes cookbooks.  The owner of the company collects antique and rare cookbooks.  Although her collection is quite large, she is still constantly looking to add to her collection.  Every time she refers someone to her IT service company, they go to a used and rare bookstore and purchase her—you guessed it, an antique cookbook.

They never spend more than 25 or 35 dollars.  The incentive is small—nothing compared to what she will spend with them over the course of the year—or what they would have given her in the past.  But she will kill to find new referrals that she can make because she appreciates the attention they give her.  Obviously, they aren’t giving every client who refers someone to them a cookbook.  They go out of their way to show their appreciation to her by doing something unique just for her.

Another of their clients is a minor league baseball team.  This team has been around since the 50’s.  Over the years, they’ve had hundreds of players come through their team and eventually go on to the majors, some for only a few days, others have become stars.  What do they do for this client?  Every time the team gives them a referral they find and purchase a baseball artifact associated with one of the players that had played for the team who eventually went on to the majors.  The team has started a “museum” (read trophy case) based on the artifacts they’ve received from their referrals.  Again, they only spend a few dollars on each item.  The dollars they spend isn’t what gets the client’s attention—it’s the attention to detail and the uniquely personal nature of the incentive.  Like the publisher above, the baseball team is always looking for referrals to give—and new artifacts to include in their display.

Obviously, this incentive system requires getting to know the client well.  That’s actually the easy part.  The tough part is finding the incentive item.  The IT company above may spend weeks looking for the appropriate incentive gift for their minor league client.  Instead of investing money in the client’s incentive, they invest their time, their effort, and their creativity.  Most importantly, they invest their attention and their sincere interest in the client.

Using incentives can be very effective and need not be costly if done correctly.  Avoid costly bribes.  Don’t give money; give personal attention.  Certainly, don’t give a discount coupon or any other “incentive” to spend more money with you.  And avoid blanket incentives that are easy to give and have little impact.

The key to an effective incentive program isn’t the dollar value—it’s the personal value.

January 22, 2008

20 of the Best Sales Resources on the Web

Below you’ll find 20 resources every salesperson, professional, business owner and sales manager should be aware of.  They cover a great deal of ground–from sites with top notch articles, to sites that aggregate and review the best productivity enhancement tools, to associations, to tools to help you research prospects.

The list does not include any individual training companies, training blogs or websites.  Rather it concentrates on general resources that should be of use to all sales professionals. 

They are in no particular order:

1.  Sales Team Tools:  a site devoted to finding and reviewing the best sales productivity tools.  From CRM programs to book reviews, the site seeks to give objective reviews of all types of tools to help you and your team sell more. 

2.  CEO Express:  a site that really just brings a great deal of links together for easy access.  From newspapers and magazines, to travel and business research sites, CEO Express is a one-stop site to help you find information quickly.

3.  EyesOnSales:  One of the best sales and sales management article sites on the web.  The site has several years’ worth of archived articles, as well as new articles added every month from some of the best sales trainers in the world. 

4.  800 CEO Read:  book reviews of some top sales and business books.  By no means does 800 CEO Read cover all the top books, but it is still a good site to get information on some of the best–particularly marketing and customer service books.

5.  Selling Power Magazine:  One of the top rated sales and sales management magazines.  Their website gives a fair amount of free material.  You can also download your monthly issue if you’re a subscriber.

6.  Sales Marks:  a relatively new site that has lots of room to grow.  Much like Digg or Furl, the site allows you to “mark” articles, blogs and websites you find particularly useful and highlights them for others to see.  Although new, Sales Marks will continue to grow and will probably become an important destination for salespeople and managers.

7.  Marketing Profs:  a combination article site and community forum that concentrates on marketing as opposed to sales, although it does have a fair amount of sales information.  Excellent site for salespeople and small companies to get marketing advice and information.

8.  Top 10 Sales Articles:  Site that selects the top 10 sales articles published each week on a variety of sales and management article sites.  The articles are selected by a panel of top sales trainers.  Quick way to get and read the best published web articles without having to surf the web.  Each month the top article for the month is selected and at the end of the year, the top article for the year is announced. 

9.  Sales and Marketing Executives International:  one of the best associations for salespeople and managers.  Has a number local chapters spread around the country.  Offers a number of educational opportunities throughout the year.

10.  Toastmasters:  Developing personal confidence and presentation and communication skills is key in sales.  One of the best organizations to help you do this is Toastmasters.  With chapters everywhere throughout the country, there is undoubtedly one near you.

11.  Sales and Marketing Management Magazine:  another of the top rated sales and sales management publications.  Their site, like Selling Power’s, offers a number of free resources as well as online subscription to the magazine.

12.  Business and Industry Associations:  A large list of hundreds of business and industry associations with links to the association homepage.  If you’re looking for a business or industry association, this list is pretty comprehensive and FREE.

13.  ZoomInfo:  Looking for information on an executive or business owner?  ZoomInfo has basic information on about 23 million people.

14.  CanDoGo:  Another relatively new website offering sales insights and motivation to salespeople and managers on a subscription basis.  From Anthony Perinello to Zig Zigler and a couple dozen other of the best names in sales training, the sales “insights” are offered in written, audio and video format, so no matter how you’d like to receive the information, there’s a medium for you.

15.  Top Sales Experts:  site designed to help individuals and companies find the sales training–and the expert to deliver it–they need.  Site gives comprehensive information of a number of the best trainers in the business, making selection much easier than spending hours surfing the net.

16.  Salesopedia:  another article site that also has hundreds of great articles from top trainers from around the world.

17.  BizStats:  Researching an industry or market segment?  If so, you’ll need lots of accurate statistics.  BizStats gives average ratios—net return, cash flow turnover, balance sheets and more—for various types of companies in hundreds of industries.  Company types are segregated by corporations, S-corps and sole proprietorships. 

18.  American Management Association:  Best general management association you’ll find.  Great training and educational resources and opportunities to meet with and learn from the best managers from all segments of business.

19.  Financial Forecasts:  Again, if you’re doing research, you’ll need to have an idea of where the economy is headed.  Here’s your source for a ton of economic forecasts. 

20.   Linkedin:  one of, if not the best, social networking sites on the net for salespeople.  Develop your network by contracting prospects directly or by getting introduced by someone you already know who knows your prospect.  Not cheap, but not really expensive if you select your prospects well. 

21.  A bonus:  Your industry associations and the associations of your prospects.  You should be an active member of your industry association and especially the association(s) of your prospects.  You can find hundreds of associations and links to their websites by clicking on number 12 above.

January 21, 2008

Measuring Your Words–Everything You Say Has a Price to Pay

What do you think of when you hear the name Oprah Winfrey?  Do you think controversy?  Do you think protests?  Do you think anger?  Or, do you think caring, concerned, audience oriented?  Do you think beloved and admired?

Probably until a few days ago you would automatically think of a loved, caring, extremely successful woman with legions of admiring fans.  You probably thought of someone who strove to connect with her audience and worked hard at cultivating a base of loyal fans.  Most would probably think of a woman who understood her audience and had the ability to connect with them in ways few others could.

That image has been tarnished, at least for the moment. 

According to a story in the Times On Line, Oprah’s endorsement of Barak Obama has caused her to lose as much as 20% of her audience.  A large segment of her base views her endorsement of Obama as turning against women by not endorsing Hillary Clinton—because she is a woman.  This group of fans (former fans?) accuse her of endorsing Obama because of his race, not because Winfrey agrees with his policies.

Likewise, Obama has come under intense fire from his Democratic rivals because of a statement he made last week comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan.  Obama pointed out that Reagan, with his message of optimism and revival of the American Dream during a time of great anguish and despair in the country, connected with people, giving hope for the future.  And Obama says his message is doing the same today.  For that seemingly innocent reflection on history, Obama is paying a price.

What do these two incidents have to do with sales?  Everything.  Communication is the heart and soul of selling.  The decisions you make in communicating with your prospects and clients sets the stage for your success or your failure.  Whether you decide to make a definitive statement such as Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama or simply a comparison as did Obama, everything you say has consequences. 

Both of these examples deal with a current heated topic—politics.  But we could take other examples to illustrate the point. 

For example, many years ago I was meeting with a new prospect.  During the initial conversation, he brought up a then popular sitcom, Alf.  He asked me if I had seen the last episode.  I responded that no, I hadn’t, and that it wasn’t a show I watched.  Apparently, my tone of voice communicated that I thought the show a bit juvenile (I did).  He was offended by my reaction—the appointment may as well have ended right then as it just went downhill from there. 

A coaching client of mine, Jesse from Colorado, was walking out to his car after a meeting with a prospect late one afternoon.  It just so happened that the prospect’s car was parked only a couple of spaces down from Jesse’s.  The prospect noticed the NRA sticker on Jesse’s bumper.  End of sale.  The prospect was a major supporter of PETA.

About a year ago in one of the posts on my blog, I predicted that we’d see a recession and that the sales environment would be much tougher within 12 to 24 months.  My prediction was based on some solid economic data.  However, I lost several subscribers from that post.  I was accused of not understanding the “new economy” where there was no reason for the economy to ever slowdown, much less go into recession. 

Should whether or not you like a sitcom, whether or not you agree on political issues, or whether or not you believe the economy will change affect a sale?  No.  Do they?  Certainly.

I’m not advocating you not have opinions.  I’m not advocating you not take stands.  I’m not advocating as some that you become whatever your prospect wants you to be.  But I am advocating that you understand that what you communicate to your prospects and clients has consequences.  Even the most banal comment can affect your relationship.

I’m sure that both Winfrey and Obama knew their words would have consequences.  Maybe neither guessed the repercussions would be as great as they have been, but both knew there would be some price to pay.  Both were willing to pay a price.  One, however, may be paying a higher price than she imagined she would have to pay. 

Don’t take your personality out the sale.  Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Don’t try to whitewash who you are.  But do understand that everything you say and everything you do has consequences. 

In the examples from my life above, I wouldn’t change the blog post that cost me subscribers.  I was simply communicating what I believed then and believe now to be accurate information that is important for salespeople and companies to understand and prepare for.  On the other hand, I’ve regretted that silly comment about Alf from the moment I said it.  There was no need to alienate a prospect over a stupid sitcom.

I don’t know if Oprah thought she’d attract as much ire from her fans as she has; however, I’m sure Obama knew that invoking the name of Reagan would rile his opponents and draw immense criticism.  Oprah’s price may well be more than what she had intended to pay; Obama is probably getting the exact reaction he expected. 

The lesson?  Think before you speak.  Is what you’re about to say important enough to you to say it?

January 20, 2008

Guest Article: Change Your Self Talk–Change Your Results, by Mike Brooks

Change Your Self Talk – Change Your Results
by Mike Brooks

First of all, did you know that you are talking to yourself all day long? (You’re thinking, “Do I talk to myself? What does he mean, talk to myself? I don’t talk to myself!”) Psychologists estimate that you are talking to yourself at a rate of 1,200 to 1,500 words a minute (in contrast, when we speak aloud we can only go up to 250 words a minute and that’s if we’re talking REAL FAST).

The problem is that most of our self-talk is negative. And even worse, we tend to believe our self-talk and that influences our performance – in a big way. For example, have you ever stopped to listen to your self-talk after you missed a sale? Mine used to go something like this:

“There I go again. I’m an idiot! I’m amazed I’ve ever made a sale. This product sucks, nobody is ever going to buy and I even knew he wouldn’t buy. I wonder when lunch is – do I have enough money for lunch today? I wonder if I’ll make a sale this week – how am I going to pay the rent if I don’t close at least X amount of business. I wonder how long they’ll keep me, shoot, why didn’t I stay in college. I hate sales….”

Sound familiar? This is the self-talk (or some variation of it) of 80% of your competition. Not very empowering, is it? And the biggest problem with this is that it leads to even poorer performance. With self-talk like this, you automatically stop using effective sales techniques, you don’t qualify properly, you begin using negative, closed ended questions, etc., and you anticipate being blown out (and then give up). In other words, poor self-talk leads to and creates poor sales performance.

Here’s the good news: The opposite is also true. When I committed to becoming a Top 20% producer, the first thing I did was begin to monitor and change my self-talk. When if missed a sale, I began to say:

“Gee, that wasn’t like me. Let me think about what didn’t go right with that and here’s what I’m going to do to change it. OK, I’ll use this line or I’ll ask this qualifying question next time, and here’s how I’m going to improve on my next sales call.”

Then I’d pick up the phone to prospect and say to myself, “OK, watch this, this will be much better!”

And it really worked! Suddenly, it was “like me” to use proper qualifying questions and to qualify red flags. Suddenly “I regularly” used my scripts and was “in the habit” of practicing perfection on each call. And my performance and production reflected it. Within 90 days I was the top closer in the office. And monitoring and changing my self-talk was a HUGE part of it.

I challenge you this week to begin getting accountable for what you say to yourself, and begin taking responsibility for your attitude. When you find something you don’t think is positive or helpful, don’t beat yourself up, but rather, change it to something more empowering. I’ve been using and teaching this (and other) attitude adjustment techniques for years and THEY WORK!

The bottom line is that your attitude determines how much of your ability, knowledge and desire you have. The question is, “What are you doing to improve yours?”

Mike Brooks, Mr. Inside Sales, offers FREE Closing Scripts, and a FREE audio program designed to help you double your income selling over the phone. He works with business owners and inside sales reps nationwide teaching them the skills, strategies and techniques of top 20% performance. If you want to Close Business like a Top Closer, then learn how at:

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