Tag Archives: sales_strategy

The Road to Sales Is Paved with Positive Intentions

In a sales call, which of the following salesperson attributes is completely within the salesperson’s control:

a. Persuasiveness
b. Intent
c. Rapport
d. Trustworthiness

The correct answer is B. Each of the other choices depends on the perceptions of others. Mahan Khalsa, author of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, described the idea with plainspoken eloquence back in 1999, when his book was first published: “The decision to trust doesn’t start inside [your prospect]—it starts inside of you. Intent is a choice, and your choice will have consequences. You will communicate your intent whether you want to or not . . . Based on your intent, people will decide to trust you or not.”

Not everyone adheres to this idealization. In a blog, 3 Sales Strategies to Build Trust When Your Prospects Don’t Believe You, Jill Konrath wrote, 1) Don’t say anything nice about your product/service, 2) Focus on being helpful in every interaction, and 3) Be truthful, even when it hurts. I can’t quarrel with her recommendations, but they tiptoe around the big beastly culprit behind distrust: bad intentions.

That sounds judgmental, so I’ll tone it down a notch. How about misguided intentions? They are everywhere in selling. Just sit in on a quarterly sales kickoff meeting, and breathe the smoke. Then, venture out into some sales calls. “My intention is to . . . close this deal . . . get this prospect to move to the next step . . . make my quarterly quota . . . keep my job for another year . . . make Club . . . impress my boss . . . make my bonus . . . outmaneuver my competitor . . . prove I can land a big customer.

On the other end sits the prospect, who perceives the signals that emanate from those intentions. How many truly trust a salesperson who waltzes into a meeting, hellbent on closing the deal? The intention I’d like to see is “creating a mutually-valuable result that brings success to both seller and buyer.” I know it sounds soft and squishy. The same kindly sentiment you’d expect to hear Mr. Rogers say if he were making a sales call in his neighborhood. Hang in there with me, though. Any salesperson who doesn’t hold sincere concern for his or her client’s success isn’t trustworthy. But any salesperson who doesn’t appear to have a reciprocal concern for his own success appears strange—at least to me. “It’s not really important whether you buy from me. I just want to help out.” That seemingly-benign statement gives me the jitters.

A 2012 article from Psychology Today, Positive Intentions Build Workplace Trust, offers three questions to ask about personal intentions:

1. What is your attachment level? The higher your attachment to a particular outcome, the greater indicator of your intention.

2. What is your comfort level? If you’re feeling great about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, your comfort level, most likely, matches a positive intention.

3. What is your assumption level? Check your intentions by the assumptions you make about others, since we tend to believe people are like us. If you’re well intentioned and trustworthy, you’ll assume most are, too. If you’re not, you’ll doubt others are.

Good stuff, though I disagree with #2. Not a week goes by that I don’t learn about a person with fiduciary responsibility caught stealing from the till. A person can have truly malevolent intentions without experiencing a shred of remorse. To my knowledge, nobody has said, “making those illegal deposits to my personal bank account over the past three years was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done!”

The road to sales is paved with positive intentions. But fostering positive intentions isn’t formulaic. Positive intent requires a combination of empathy, honesty and moral integrity – behaviors anyone can cleanly show in seconds on a PowerPoint slide, but can only be modeled over years of consistent practice.

Many things influence sales outcomes, but positive intentions are one of a select few that are under a salesperson’s full control. When building trust, why squander that important choice?

Evolution or Extinction? Is the Sales Workforce Future-ready?

Will salespeople be driven into extinction, victimized by over-predation by cost-cutting CFO’s? Will they be rendered irrelevant by empowered buyers? Years from now, will anyone remember the glorious meaning of Individual Contributor? Will the selling profession be able to extract itself from the primordial swamp that sustains festering, negative sales stereotypes?

The extinction siren has sounded – at least if you believe Gerhard Gschwandtner of Selling Power magazine, who predicted in 2012 that out of 18 million salespeople in the US, fewer than 3 million will be needed by 2020. A radical trajectory that means in eight years, 15 million people will have transitioned out of sales by retiring, or by finding a new day job. If you believe Gschwandtner’s prediction, you have to wonder when this nosediving forecast will intersect with zero.

Don’t look for a glut of buzzy new fresh-faced recruits to offset the exodus. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is hot in schools today, and unless you believe salespeople build robots, wear white lab coats, and carry stethoscopes, you won’t see the serious, tenacious images of sales hunters adorning career websites. Interested in a rewarding career where you’ll be out on the bricks every day? Consider construction engineering!

“I’ve noticed that people in the Millennial generation just don’t think sales is a cool job.” says Elli Sharef, co-founder of tech-recruiting firm HireArt. “Among our parents’ generation there were millions of people making decent salaries as a sales rep for this that and the other thing. These days salesmen are regarded as shmucks.” It used to be easy to draw people in for sales interviews when you could bait the hook with high financial rewards and workplace autonomy.

At least if you’re an HR recruiter who must appeal to Millenials, there’s kind-of-good news: Many companies are actively redistributing selling tasks throughout the organization, giving positions anodyne titles like Customer Support Associate and Technical Support Specialist. These roles can be staffed with lower-wage people who earn smaller commissions than traditional salespeople, or no commission at all. That improves profit margins, but smudges the crisply-defined boxes in organizational hierarchies. When revenue is driven through multiple departments, where, exactly, does Sales fit?

You can thank Big Data, in part, for leveling the who-can-sell playing field. In a November, 2013, customer experience forum on CustomerThink (The BIG Shift from Service to Sales), a case study described a US-based Fortune 100 financial services firm that provided 1,600 customer service agents with “access to actionable investor information,” and gave them the ability to “use analytics to resolve problems, cross-sell, up-sell, and improve customer satisfaction.” 1,600 Customer Service Agents who don’t need to say, “please hold while I transfer your call to Sales.” That’s employee empowerment!

I promise not to get preachy about how change is the only constant and how salespeople need to face reality, adapt, and evolve blah blah blah—or risk becoming irrelevant. In fact, I believe there will always be a need for salespeople. There—I said it for the record! But in a future-ready sales force, the new generation won’t resemble yesterday’s sales producers. Or today’s. The new generation

1. will proudly wear multiple functional hats as client manager, project lead, support staff, and more.
2. will be more mobile throughout the organization. The future-ready sales professional will build customer value by transitioning from other departments, including marketing, into sales—and then back out again.
3. will be motivated by more than money. As Lisa Earle McLeod of McLeod & More said at a recent program, “salespeople want purpose and meaning” in their jobs, as well.
4. will be concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Twenty years ago, salespeople rarely stressed about whether their products were manufactured using child labor, or by people earning less than a living wage. Today, those issues matter.
5. will be better educated. As selling has become more knowledge-dependent and business focused, formal education requirements have increased, as well.
6. will be lifelong learners. The rapidly-changing demands on knowledge workers will favor those who continue to augment their skills through online courses and professional certifications.
7. will have strong written communication skills, as new technologies expand on—or in some cases, replace—voice as the predominant method for holding sales conversations.
8. will be better connected. When I entered college, social networks did not exist in a formal way. Unlike many college freshmen today, I did not have over 1,000 friends, or even a meaningful network of professional contacts from summer jobs.
9. will be needed to train their managers on social media and other information technologies. The future-ready sales force will enter organizations with more IT knowledge than their supervisors, and they will be valued for bringing innovation into organizations.

The future-ready sales organization will be smaller and flatter than its predecessors. Management-heavy territory/district/region strata will become organizational dinosaurs. Through software automation, salespeople will generate more revenue per person, manage more accounts, and cover larger territories than before. Expect to see a rapid expansion of hybrid selling models that include combinations of outsourcing, channel development and strategic partnering, and the distribution of selling roles to other entities within an organization. Algorithms will take over a measurable chunk of traditional repetitive sales work. And expect voracious competition to hire those who possess the ideal combination of skills. Even though there will be less demand for salespeople, there will be high demand for those who have talent.

Fifteen million salespeople fleeing for greener vocational pastures over the next eight years equates to attrition of about 5,100 per day. Who will replace them? The better question is what will replace them? Will the future-ready sales workforce need dedicated sales professionals, or will new archetypes evolve? Technology no longer limits the possibilities. The answer depends on how an organization intends to manage its strategic risks, what its customers will demand, and its passion for capitalizing on opportunities.

“Thou Shalt Not . . !” Are Sales Commandments Dumbing Us Down?

Crystal-clear sales advice is as close as your fingertips. Just enter “salespeople should never” into a search window. Then stand back, or you’ll get bowled over with commandments.

Questions salespeople should never ask.
Things salespeople should never say.
Things salespeople should never do.
Activities salespeople should never do.
Salespeople should never perform telephone follow-up.
Salespeople should never prospect.
Salespeople should stop cold calling.
Salespeople should stop giving buyers so many choices.
Salespeople should stop selling.

I’ll save space by stopping here. To follow biblical convention, couldn’t we just confine results to a Top Ten list? Maddeningly, creating commandments has never been easier, especially when we don’t have to chisel Roman numerals into stone. Just follow these steps:

1) Identify a commonly-mishandled sales tactic (very easy to do).
2) Brainstorm for a few highly-negative outcomes (also very easy to do).
3) Create a blog title by putting the words Salespeople Should Never in front of the tactic.
4) Write the blog.

People click on Thou Shalt Not-style titles because they’re memorable and easy to grasp. I can skim Questions Salespeople Should Never Ask on my iPhone, while stopped at a red light. The Harvard Business Review article on sales strategy? I’ll read it later. Besides, who even likes mealy, academic-sounding content, oozing with probabilistic disclaimers? Seems, might, could, on the other hand . . . People who think that way wear cardigan sweaters and Hush Puppy shoes. The stuff I want to read looks me straight in the eye, doesn’t waste my time, and makes no apology for taking a firm stand. Necktie, not optional.

Unfortunately, our appetite for certitude and quick-fix advice has a price. It requires sacrificing diversity of understanding, stripping away subtle nuance, and omitting important context, caveats, and exceptions. What remains is the less-nutritious husk—advice, dumbed down to be Tweeted, read or heard in a conveniently-short time snippet, and optimized to fit on a mobile device.

Do salespeople throw too many buying choices in front of prospects, hurting their chances of closing the deal? Absolutely! I can give you more than a half-dozen reasons to support why that’s bang-on accurate. But I can also provide several situations where proposing more than one option provides powerful competitive advantages. So, Salespeople Should Stop Pitching Single-Solution Proposals, right? No! Figure out which tactic works when—and why.

“That didn’t work. Stop doing it!” I’ve said it, too, copping an aura of inerrancy. But we have to continually ask ourselves, is the tactic itself flawed or obsolete, or did the poor result come from the way the tactic was used? Sales commandments dumb us down, because they don’t allow space for answering that question, let alone even inviting people to ask it.

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