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.”
One of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama is this one:
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Many of us don’t do the little things that make a difference in how our customers regard us. Things like sending a follow-up that actually summarizes a conversation. Or taking notes in a call and asking clarifying questions to make sure you understood. Or remembering to listen attentively and to keep your mind from wandering. It’s these little grace notes that differentiate us from the average sales person’s trite tune.
Learning the basics skill set is crucial, of course, and a fundamental understanding of the buying cycle from the customer’s perspective is essential. But as in so many things in life, it’s the people who go one step beyond the expected who are most successful.
When you are reaching out for new business, making that one extra contact can be the effort that finally uncovers the opportunity as it rewards you in the prospect’s mind for persistence and follow-up. Checking your notes to make sure you and your customer are both clear on next steps and who is responsible for what by when instead of trusting your memory shows professionalism. Sending a written thank you for an order shows good manners. What other little things do you do or have you done in the past that you feel made a difference?
Remember that people buy from people and maintaining trust and respect between two people often is no more than paying attention to the little things. And like the mosquito that can keep you awake, anxious, and annoyed, failing to pay attention to the little things can drop you right back into the category of anxious, annoying salesman instead of a respected business professional.
Wishing you good selling!
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.
In his book, What Matters Now, Gary Hamel lists five (5) issues as paramount for whether an organization will thrive in the coming years:
For the next five weeks I want to address each of these from the perspective of selling. The first issue, values, determines a lot of what happens in the others so we’ll start there.
When a company says it values their customers, the key issue is whether they are walking the talk. Does senior management actually have a program for measuring customer satisfaction? If not, how can they address this goal? We all know that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Do they interact with customers on occasion and demonstrate their commitment to this stated value? Or do they rely on the Sales Manager and the outside sales force to handle this for them?
Do senior managers offer training for their sales force in how to understand business issues facing their customers? Do they teach their sellers how to have conversations with their customers at every level based on better understanding the customer’s priorities and goals? Do they help their sellers bring creative ideas and suggestions to the customer based on actual usage of products and services rather than marketing material?
If you value your customers, you invest in serving them better. While many companies are willing to spend some time and money on training for their outside sales people, many focus on technique rather than intent. If a seller lacks the ability to approach a customer with integrity as their guide, they will not be able to foster the trust and respect necessary for building a long-term successful customer base. If they lack the ability to understand and empathize with the customer’s business challenges, they bring less value to the customer than those who do.
And what about technical support? The inside sales staff? Credit and accounts receivable? Many times they have more day-to-day contact with the customer than the outside sales force, yet few companies invest in sales training for people providing these vital functions. When companies do invest in training these people in how to do their jobs with the value of customer satisfaction as their guide, the whole company benefits from the increased loyalty of the customer base.
I agree with Hamel that values are the number one priority for businesses who want to succeed, but those stated values must guide decisions from senior management down to the “feet on the street” and the voice on the phone to create sustainable success.
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.
Ten Tips for Selling and Living with Soul
- Respect yourself and your customer. Maintain your personal power while allowing your customer to be empowered.
- Recognize the importance of empathy. Take the time to imagine yourself in the other person’s place. What is important to them? Ask yourself how can you help them achieve their goals while being true to yours.
- Listen to yourself and others with sensitivity. Recognize that we each have our own history, experiences, and biases. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
- Practice persistence and patience. Remember that all things take time, and that anything worth doing, is worth doing really badly at first.
- Avoid rationalization. While we all like to feel justified in our actions and our decisions, honestly analyzing our choices is the only way to learn from them. Forgive yourself and others for mistakes. We all make them.
- Embrace change. It is the only constant. In all of nature, nothing stands still. We are either growing or falling away.
- Be a lifelong learner. The rate of change makes what you know today less important than how quickly you learn. Challenge yourself to learn one new thing each day.
- Live every day as though it will be recorded for posterity. If that doesn’t motivate you to be your own best self, live as though your every action will be reported on and criticized on Sixty Minutes.
- Seek philosophical alignment. The more consistently we live in harmony with our values at work, in our home, and in our community, the more peace and contentment we experience.
- Practice daily reflection on what you value most. Whether its family, health, career, or another passion, ask yourself if you have honored that value this day. Use this as feedback to establish your priorities for tomorrow. Remember, tomorrow is another opportunity to work and live with soul.
I was reminded again this week of how many of us carry a negative stereotype about selling inside our hearts when I heard a great coach protest that they didn’t want to appear “sales-y.” We all know what that means: pushy, aggressive, self-interested, etc. But is that really sales? Selling starts with understanding what the customer wants and needs. What is their goal? What is their problem? The second step is deciding whether or not what we offer can help them. If it can’t, we say so. We may even make a referral to someone who does have what they need. The stereotype of selling assumes that whether or not we have a “solution” we will push it. The old saying that if all you have to sell is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail is a perfect description of this approach. But that’s not selling. That is a shoddy imitation of a real and vital profession. There are people out there who need what we have to offer and finding them, helping them, and following through with them are the real elements of selling. Feeling proud that we have helped a customer achieve a goal, feeling committed to see our customers all the way through to a successful implementation, feeling good at the end of the day that we did our best for the people we met–that’s selling with soul. That’s the way it’s done. It’s time for all of us to do a little spring cleaning in our own hearts and to be proud of what we do and how we do it. Remember, no one benefits from what we have to offer until something is sold.