A recent blogger on My Fitness Pal wrote the following (excerpted):
When I was a young a Marine Corps Officer Candidate…the Master Sergeant would ask us one question about the rest of our day. “What are you going to do to make your life better today?” The Master Sergeant didn’t ask us what we did yesterday, or so far that day—that was the past and didn’t matter anymore. And he didn’t want us to make promises or predictions about distant days in the future, either. He cared about how we were going to use that day –today—to reach our goals.
I found the story to be a good reminder that we don’t change in huge leaps. We change in small steps, repeated daily or at least increasing in frequency until we overcome the inertia that binds us to our old patterns. Self-defeating thoughts keep us from our goals in many ways:
- They whisper in our ears that if we make one slip we might as well give up trying.
- They tell us it takes too long to do it the new way and we’re under so much pressure we’d better just do it the old way for now.
- They tell us we’re too old to change.
- They tell us we’ve tried before and failed so might as well not try.
Taking the approach of changing just for today is the antidote to self-defeatism. Programs like AA have demonstrated since the thirties that “one day at a time” works miracles. We can do anything for 24 hours unless we psyche ourselves out by moaning that we will have to do it every single day from now on and for the rest of our lives and thereby invite inertia to once again pin us to the mat.
So ask yourself:
- Just for today can you make three prospecting calls before noon?
- Just for today can you ask a customer for a referral?
- Just for today can you re-examine your diagnosis questions to see if you can make them more about the customer and not whether there is a big opportunity?
- Just for today can you refine your favorite statements about your products and services and see if you can turn them into questions that stress how they are used and paint a picture in the customer’s mind?
Change is hard, but rewarding, and it is the only thing that gets us to the satisfaction of achieving our goals. So as this wise blogger also said in his post, “Have the courage to aim low, but often.”
We’ve all worked for or with people who are quick to blame others for their mistakes, their accidents, or for anything they don’t like about themselves. A manager I once worked for had a sign in his office that read, “The man who can smile when everything goes wrong has already found someone to blame.”
While we all like to feel right and justified in our actions and choices, blaming others is abusive. It feeds the shame we carry inside that we’re not good enough or that we are not loved enough. It builds a culture of fear that is anathema to people doing their best. That culture of fear and shame is at the heart of toxic organizations, the kind that seem to suck the life out of the people working in them. If you are serious about living your own best life and doing your own best work, blame and shame have no place in the picture.
Accepting responsibility for our own mistakes is step one in the learning process. When we try to rationalize them, we deprive ourselves of the lesson that’s there for the learning. Blaming someone else for our own poor choices not only shames them but leaves a residue of guilt in our own souls. We know we’re being less than 100% truthful and that guilt feeds our own sense of shame. No one wins.
I want to share a quote from Brene Brown about the toll that management by fear takes on us and the need for empathy:
“In an organizational culture where respect and the dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. There is no leading by fear. Empathy is a valued asset, accountability is an expectation rather than an exception, and the primal human need for belonging is not used as leverage and social control. We can’t control the behavior of individuals; however, we can cultivate organizational cultures where behaviors are not tolerated and people are held accountable for protecting what matters most: human beings.”
Excerpted from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Published by Published by Gotham Books. Copyright (c) Brené Brown, 2012.
It’s the first day of summer and the kids are out of school demanding our time and attention, many of our customers are going on vacation, and we may be spending more time dreaming and planning for our own. Some of our customers are preparing for their annual one or two week shutdown. The boss is taking his vacation time. It’s a really bad time to sell anything, right?
As Steve Jobs said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” Just as spring is a great time for us to clean “house,” ridding ourselves of cluttered thinking and old notions to make room for growth, summer is when we plant the seeds we hope will bring us a bountiful harvest in the fall. For sales people that means the dreaded task of prospecting.
Just as you wouldn’t throw your seeds on a pile of rocks and hope for the best, prospecting with a scattered approach and little preparation yields poor results. We must prepare the “soil” by answering these key questions:
- Who is my ideal customer?
- What are they likely to care most about?
- How can my expertise and my products or services help them achieve their goals?
Without this preparation, we reach out without focus, scattering our message anywhere we can. We waste our efforts because we have not taken the time to do focus. We base our outreach on products, features, and alleged benefits and watch our message fall on the stony ground of rejection. It’s the sales stereotype at work. The people we call hear only self-interest on our part and put up the barriers. Rejected, we slink off to nurture our bruised egos in whatever way we prefer and then find ourselves avoiding the task of prospecting as long as possible.
If you take the time to understand what your ideal customer is likely to care about you put their interest first. You reach out with a question, not a statement. Statements invite contradiction. Questions invite conversation. Asking a prospect what their top priorities are right now may not elicit much response, but a question that shows preparation and situational expertise might. For example, if you are calling manufacturing managers, your introduction might be something like this: “I’ve helped other manufacturing managers increase capacity without sacrificing quality. Is that something you are interested in?” Even better is offering three choices in your introduction, such as “I help manufacturing executives reduce the cost of manufacturing, improve quality, and increase capacity. Are any of those goals you’re focused on today?
When you have a conversation with a prospect who fits your ideal customer profile, it’s like watching your little sprouts grow. You have an opportunity now to nurture that prospect along, developing a shared vision of their goal and how you can help them achieve it. You facilitate their buying process and help them make a good decision. The old saying, “we reap what we sow,” is a good reminder that you can’t get corn by planting wheat, and you can’t win a customer without first understanding what they want to grow.
Wishing you a great summer,
How is the virtual environment affecting sales people? Are they able to deliver compelling messages over teleconferences or the internet? Recent data from Corporate Visions indicates that today there is a “high prevalence of group audiences—64% include more than one person” (American Society of Training and Development, June 2012, p. 18). To prepare for this new reality, Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer, explains that “Salespeople must practice delivering the content through role play, in a mock virtual environment.”
This virtual selling is not natural. Many of the best sales people read nonverbal cues as accurately as they hear what is being said and not said. Contextual listening is essential in selling, but how do we practice it over non-visual media? Many people rely on the messages and content they have used for years and try to deliver it as a script within an online meeting. This brings little success, The messages we deliver over virtual meetings must be more than the same content delivered over a new medium. They must take the form of planned and well-crafted key points. Our world these days thinks in sound bites: concise and well-honed messages. To develop these skills, sales training must include skills practices, role plays, and lab work to create and test messages, in addition to on-site instructor-led workshops. Seeing isn’t enough. Some 70% of adult learners are primarily visual but that option is severely limited in many virtual meetings. In its absence, becoming skillful at delivering concise messages to tap into the listening learner is essential, and telling stories that create a visual picture for the customer becomes the key differentiator. That’s why in our sales training process we craft usage scenarios, visual pictures of our customer’s people using our “stuff” to solve their problems. We develop sound bites for introductions, opening statements, and outreach. And, most importantly, we practice, practice, practice. It makes the difference.
We were given 2 ears and 1 mouth to remember to use them in that proportion, goes the old adage. The best salespeople are the best listeners. They aren’t waiting for their turn to talk. They aren’t listening with happy ears for any words they can jump on to talk about their product or service. And, most importantly, they aren’t only concerned with themselves and their agenda. Instead, they listen for what is said, how it is said, and for what is not said by their customers. They ask questions and they take notes. They are committed to practicing and enhancing their listening skills, including contextual listening and recognizing their own biases and filters.
For example, if my friend asks me while we’re out and about, “Are you hungry?” I know what she is really saying is that she is hungry. We both grew up in the midwest and were taught that being indirect is more polite than saying directly what you need or want. When she disagrees with something I’ve said, she will say something like, “well, I’m not sure about that.” Recognizing these phrases, or what is being said, as clues to what is not being said is part of how we communicate well with each other. When I talk with my husband’s family on the east coast, I have to speed up my listening to allow for their faster pace of speaking. When I teach and train in the south, I have to slow down my own speaking to help others hear me well. We all have cultural and regional patterns that can impede our listening ability. Recognizing them is essential to improving our understanding.
We may also find our political or religious biases getting in the way of effective communication with our customers. As Stephen Covey pointed out in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, seek first to understand and then to be understood. Where there is disagreement there is a learning opportunity. Not a conversion opportunity! That is an entirely different form of communication and in my experience often builds resistance and resentment instead of understanding. Similarly, the desire to prove ourselves right is often anathema to a relationship. The old joke that you can be right or you can be married makes light of this fact but is based on a truth. There are more facets to truth than many of us see without challenging ourselves to look and listen better.
Hiring and keeping good sales people is an ongoing challenge for businesses, especially now as more and more Baby Boomers opt for retirement and GenXers and Millenials demand more from their work experience. If you are still managing your sales people according to the numbers and have not invested in acquiring coaching skills, you are behind the curve. For many reasons, companies have not invested in developing the leadership and coaching skills of their sales leaders. Sales managers are often evaluated on their ability to manage the pipeline and submit a reasonably accurate forecasts–a task which many sales managers say is an exercise in futility because they have no science-based metrics to help them with the task and must rely on intuition and knowing their people to massage the numbers. The pressure on sales leaders to manage to the numbers drives behaviors that lead to stress-related illness and poor morale and further contribute to turnover. They are not only experiencing damaging levels of stress, they are carriers!
This may be why the average tenure of a sales leader is only eighteen months according to Sales Benchmark Index in The CEO’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Salesforce. So how do we help our sales people achieve their personal best and build a bench of up-and-comers? A coaching culture is the necessary.
Much has been written about the difference between managing and coaching and about how coaching is the key to long-term realization of human potential. But how does coaching apply to a sales force where the focus is too often on the numbers even if it means winning sales at lower revenue and less margin than patience might have produced? A manager has to tell people what to do and by when, answer questions, provide information, allocate resources and solve problems. A coach, by contrast, asks questions, helps people solve their own problems, and guides them to develop an action plan to achieve a higher level of performance or acquire a new skill. The process relies on a relationship of trust and a clear intention to help. Then it involves contextual listening skills, the ability to deliver a clear message, and the commitment to follow-up.
To be successful sales leaders, we must be skilled managers and effective coaches. Developing a culture of coaching leads to higher performance, less attrition, and a stronger bench of leaders in training. For more information on coaching and The Coaching Clinic, contact me at email@example.com.
Are You Leading Your Sales Team to Excellence? A former CEO and President wrote me recently commenting on my newsletter article on how difficult it is for sales leaders to teach/coach others. He wrote, “When it comes to teaching selling to others – great salesmen easily take for granted what they do so well, even effortlessly, and cannot easily pass it on to others, because they never had to struggle to learn/master it themselves. And for that reason, they often struggle as teachers, and cannot understand why others have a hard time doing what came relatively easy to them. They think and say “do what I do”, which of course is very difficult for someone with lesser talent.”
He went on to compare coaching sales people to being an NBA coach. “You see the exact same phenomenon with coaches in sports – where the greatest players frequently fail as coaches – and the greatest coaches were almost always marginal players…NBA legends like Bill Russell, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and other hall of fame caliber players, had short and mostly failed coaching careers. In contrast, nearly all the NBA’s most successful/winningest coaches – Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, George Karl, and many others were all marginal players. What made them great coaches is they had to learn how to succeed as players despite limited God-given talent. They overcame their limitations with hard work, self-evaluation, determination, endless practice, etc., which are hard earned lessons that can be mastered and taught to others.”
Do you know how to coach your sales people to achieve their personal best? In 6 small group teleclasses you can learn a coaching model that will sharpen your ability to lead and teach your team. Many of us are taught to manage to the numbers and when we become sales managers we focus on quotas, forecasting, and quarterly results. But managing the team is only half of the job. Improving the skills and the performance of your people is the rest.
Join the Sales Leaders Group beginning March 1, 2012, for 6 sessions and learn a coaching model that works. For more information, contact Sharon@sparkercoaching.com.
Sales Managers: are you guilty of telling your sales people what to do but not how to do it? This often happens because now that we are managers, we know what used to work for us but we’re not confident we can teach it to others. A good example is telling our people to call high or to get to the executive level.
Sales Managers: are you spending all your time and energy with your problem children? Sales managers complain that a few of their people are carrying the rest. It is a natural tendency to leave our best performers alone while we try to get our average performers to do a better job of bringing in revenue, but that’s like trying to double our sales by investing time in the 80% of the accounts that only bring in 20% of the revenue. If we really want to grow, we need to invest where we’ll get the best return and that is with our top performers.
For many reasons, companies have not invested in developing the leadership and coaching skills of their sales leaders. Sales managers are often evaluated on their ability to submit a reasonably accurate forecast and manage a pipeline by requiring frequent updates and status reports. This may be why the average tenure of a sales leader is only eighteen months according to Sales Benchmark Index in The CEO’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Salesforce.