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How to Take Care of Your Most Important Asset

On December 15, I flew home from Louisville, KY, to my home in Kansas City, after speaking at a conference.  As usual, I flew Southwest (I’ve been a loyal Southwest customer for over a decade).  Unusually, the flights were badly delayed – both my flight from Louisville to Chicago, and from Chicago home.  What made these delays unusual were what I call “incompetence delays” – paperwork not being ready at takeoff time, gates not being ready, etc.  The flight from Louisville to Chicago takes about 45 minutes of flying time and we spent about an hour and a half sitting on tarmac at both ends of the flight.

I was lucky.  I got home that night, albeit four hours later than planned.  Watching the current Southwest Airlines meltdown makes me realize how lucky I was – I was seeing a preview of things to come.  Right now, Southwest’s biggest problem isn’t getting thousands of people to their destination.  It’s not the thousands of bags sitting in airports.  It’s not even the outdated computer infrastructure that, according to reports, is the cause of this mess.  It’s trust.

Every purchase requires trust.  When we purchase a meal, we are trusting that the food will be as represented on the menu, that it will be prepared under safe and sanitary conditions, and that it will be edible without making us sick – or worse.  When your customers purchase whatever you have to offer, they are trusting that you will fulfill your promises.  Some purchases require a little trust, some require a lot – but all require some.

There are few expressions of trust that are more personal than purchasing a plane ticket.  When we purchase a ticket, we are trusting that the airline will get us where we are supposed to be going – and get us home (on a round trip ticket) – in something approximating the schedule of the ticket we bought.  A quick search makes it difficult to find an actual number of stranded passengers, but the flight cancellations are running over 2,000 PER DAY, as Southwest runs about 1/3 of their schedule to try to get back on track.  Conservatively, I’d say that over 100,000 passengers either didn’t make it to their Christmas, or didn’t make it home.  That’s a lot of blown trust.

Southwest’s management made it worse, in my opinion, by blaming “weather” and “staffing” for the issues.  The winter storm certainly played a part – but when other airlines recovered within a day or two, it became obvious to customers that something was wrong with Southwest specifically.  Numerous social media posts from pilots, crew, gate staff, and other Southwest employees saying that there were planes at the airports and crews ready to fly them, but that the computer system couldn’t match them up, went viral, as did one video of a pilot helping to load bags onto this plane so that he could take off.

So, what did Southwest do wrong here (other than just have a meltdown of their system, that is)?

  1. They knew a problem was coming (with their system), and kicked the can down the road. Southwest’s new CEO, Bob Jordan, only took over ten months ago, so this was a problem that he inherited.  The previous CEO had been in the job more than a decade without making updates, even as the airline grew.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to know how to fix a software system like this – it’s unbelievably complex.  But I do know that other airlines have done it, and Southwest did not.
  2. They didn’t have a backup plan. If you have a system in your business that you know could cause a problem, but you haven’t been able to address it or fix it yet for whatever reason, you should have a backup plan other than raw panic.
  3. The worst, however, is that they weren’t honest. The excuse was “weather and staffing.”  This angered many of their employees, who posted messages all over social media that “staffing” was not a problem – they were there, planes were there, but Southwest’s antiquated computer system was unable to match planes to people.  Hence, many of the flights that are going out on Southwest right now are being done by hand – a tedious and time consuming process.  Ultimately, the corporate spokespeople lied to their customers (this, by the way, can be blamed on the current CEO).  I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but I’ll say it again:  NEVER LIE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS.  Today, the truth always gets out, and gets out quickly.  You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you.  Southwest chose to have it forced upon them.

I should point out here that Southwest’s front-line people have always been terrific to me.  They have been kind, fun, personable, and to a person dedicated to getting me and my bag where I needed to go.  Once, after waiting an hour and a half on the tarmac at Kansas City to fly to Vegas (weather related), the pilot came on the intercom and said, “Hang on, folks, they just gave me the go-ahead and I’m getting in the air before they can take it back.  This is gonna be fun!”  What followed was the quickest takeoff I’ve ever experienced in a 737 and one of the quickest flights to Vegas (the captain then said, “There are no speed limits in the sky.”).  My criticisms are in no way aimed at the people at the airports and on the planes.  However, this is out of their hands.

So, what happens now?  It’s hard to say.  This episode has thrown Southwest’s viability into question.  Many formerly loyal customers – myself included – will be switching to other airlines (my go-to now is Delta, if you were wondering).  The real costs to Southwest are going to be monstrous.  There will be refunds, travel reimbursements, and luggage reimbursements (there are going to be thousands of customers who never see their luggage again, bet on it).

Then there will be the costs of doing what they absolutely have to do now, which is updating their IT infrastructure.  Fixing problems at emergency speed is always far more expensive than fixing them on your own schedule – and we all know that updating IT systems usually creates more short-term operational issues.  And we haven’t even discussed the likely government actions and fines.

The biggest cost will be in customer trust going forward.  How many people simply won’t fly Southwest again?  I have a flight booked on them in late January to go to California.  I’m going to be watching the situation as it develops, and if I don’t see them running mostly on time in a week and a half, I’m going to cancel and rebook on Delta.

How Southwest will recover from this is yet to be determined.  But, I can give you some good advice on how to retain customer trust in your business:

  1. If you see a problem coming, address it before it becomes critical. Even if it’s an order that you see going out wrong, catch it and fix it NOW.
  2. Have a backup plan for when anticipated problems happen.
  3. Be HONEST and own the problem. The truth will get out anyway – it might as well be you telling it.

Whether your business is large or small, the trust of your customers is your biggest asset.  Protect it with everything you have.

Glengarry Glen Ross is DEAD.

A few weeks ago, I was doing a training program for a client in Texas.  At the end, I always like to go around the room and ask people to talk about the experience, and what they gained from it.  One veteran salesperson said, “I want to thank you for something.  I walked in here expecting a bunch of Glengarry Glen Ross B.S.  There wasn’t any of that, and I really enjoyed it.”

That comment struck me as humorous – that movie is something of a touchstone in the sales world.  It of course has an epic cast, but the movie itself paints a pretty depressing view of sales and sales management.  And yet, some trainers and managers still spout passages from it as if they were gospel on how to sell and manage!  Think about it – how often do you still hear some hammerhead saying, “Coffee is for closers,” and not joking?  There are many huge misconceptions held about sales, but one of the biggest is still held by entirely too many in our profession, and we should talk about it.

That misconception is this:  Some people still think that sales is about the size of your bravado and not your brains.  That sales is all about “closing” people until they bleed from the ears and are forced to buy.  That sales isn’t about customer-friendliness and relationships, but instead is about being the biggest badass on the floor.  That sales is a win/lose proposition where the salesperson wins and the customer loses.  And that sales managers are all about chewing ass and less about supporting and coaching.

Yes.  There are a lot of people who still feel that way. I see it every day.  And I’m here to tell you that is not true anymore, if it ever was.

Think about the climactic scene of Glengarry Glen Ross.  A customer appears in the office.  We’ve seen this guy before.  He was sold a plot of land the night before (over drinks in a bar) by Ricky Roma, played by Al Pacino.  Ricky is the “star” of the sales office.  He’s the “closer” of the group. The customer is distraught, on the verge of a breakdown.  His wife, upon finding out about his purchase, is angry and his marriage is soon in trouble.  He apologizes to Ricky, nearly in tears, but he says he’s discovered that he has three days to void the contract.  Ricky’s deal is about to die.

Does Ricky exhibit human compassion and unwind the deal?  Of course not.  He feigns compassion, but he is quite obviously trying to stall his customer until the three days has expired, damn the consequences for his customer.

Throughout the movie, we also see Shelley Levene (played by Jack Lemmon) impersonate an executive with American Express, and other tactics of lying and manipulating customers executed by nearly every salesman in the office.  As a movie, it’s truly a great one with a terrific cast and great acting.  As a sales tutorial, it’s depressing at best.

I’d love to say that GGR is completely gone from our profession – but it isn’t.  I still see and hear phrases like “coffee is for closers” and “always be closing” from people who should know better.  So, what are some good sales mantras for today’s salespeople?  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Comfortable customers buy. In fact, they buy more often, buy more, buy at more profitable prices, and are happier to repeat the experience.
  • Selling is about the process of helping customers reach positive buying decisions – meaning positive FOR THE CUSTOMER.
  • You must help the customer define success in their world – and then help the customer achieve it.
  • Sales management is a job of reflected glory. Great sales managers aren’t the star of the show.  They are, however, the director, producer, and coach.  They shine because their people shine.
  • Sometimes you can win a relationship by losing a sale – IF you are doing the right thing for your customer.

I’ve always felt that if you wouldn’t like a sales tactic if it was directed at you, don’t use it on a customer.  Perhaps the best line of the movie is uttered by Kevin Spacey’s sales manager in the climactic scene:  “Those people are insane.  They just like talking to salespeople.”  That, better than anything else, describes the old-time sales approach.  Today’s customers require something very different.

How to Succeed in Group Sales Presentations

Most sales trainers – myself included – think of selling in terms of what happens between two people (one seller and one buyer).  Hence, they don’t talk much about how to succeed in group sales presentations. Sometimes, we gang up on customers by bringing our managers, tech people, service people, or other internal resources to serve as “expert witnesses.”  We’re pretty much okay with that.

But sometimes, the customer gangs up on us.  Usually, the conversation works something like this:  “Mr. Harrison, we’ve created a committee to evaluate this purchase, and we’d like you to present your program to them.  Would Tuesday at 11 A.M. be all right?”  Now, we’re into a new kind of challenge, with different rules and structure.  If there’s ever an environment that removes all semblance of control from the salesperson, this is it.  But are we totally at the customer’s mercy?  Well…yeah.  But there are some things you can do in this situation to help tip the scales in your favor.  These are my top eight tips for how to succeed in group sales presentations:

Research.  Hopefully, you’ve established enough of a relationship with your contact to ask for their help.  Do so, and find out who will be attending the meeting, what their roles in the company are, and what their anticipated role on the committee is.  If your contact suggests a hierarchy (“We’ve got Doug and John in the meeting, but they probably won’t affect the decision one way or another”), great – but take it with a grain of salt.  Hard experience has demonstrated that in these situations, any member can kill your sale in the womb, regardless of “official” status.  Try to anticipate the concerns of each member and speak to them in your presentation.

Know the decision making process.  A question that I teach in my sales training, and that you should ask on every sale (group or not) is, “Could you please describe the decision making process for this purchase?”  If you ask it right, you should understand both the players involved and the mechanics of the process.  This information is golden.

Arrive early.  If you get there before your appointed time, you may catch members wandering in ahead of time, or catch them on a break.  Either way, it’s a good time to speak briefly one-on-one, and establish some rapport.  You may even get clues as to what they are looking for in a presentation, if you’re a sharp observer.  This is probably a good time to address the preferred order, too.  Typical sales thought indicates that it’s best to be first or last in the order (First, you set the standard; last, you’re their last impression).  While that’s probably true, don’t get too hung up on the order of presentations.  I’ve won and lost sales from every possible spot in the order.  My experience is that sharp committees generally pick the winner pretty accurately, regardless of where the best presentation comes from.

Merchandise the room.  There’s one small way to regain a little control over the presentation, and that’s to create the atmosphere that, for the next block of time, it’s “your” room.  That means bringing samples (and arranging them attractively), having a backdrop if possible, and branding your company throughout the speaking area.  Make the room speak to them the same way you do.

Follow the rules of public speaking.  When salespeople present to a group, they have a tendency to simply dive into features and benefits.  Don’t do that.  There is a specific order to a public speech, which is:  Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), tell them (the body – features and benefits), and tell them what you told them (concerns).  I like to recap key issues in the introduction, then preview my solutions.  Make sure not to overload the body of your speech, particularly if you’re time limited.  Most of the time, the decision is made on a few key issues, so don’t feel like you have to hit all 27 positives about your product.  Hit a few and make them impactful.

Speak to everybody.  You’re talking to a group of people, one of whom you know (your contact), and many of whom you don’t.  Don’t focus your entire presentation on any one person, because you’ll offend the rest of them.  Remember the research?  Here’s when we use it.  When we’re addressing how our product will speed production time, we talk directly to the production manager.  When we refer to safety, we talk to the safety coordinator.  When we hit the growth issues, we talk to the VP of sales and marketing.  You get the idea.  Spread your attention, eye contact, and enthusiasm around the room.  I once did a group presentation where they put the CEO in coveralls and represented that he was the maintenance manager, so when you are doing one of these, remember that everyone in the room is important.

Save your literature for the end.  We use sales literature to offer proof, establish credibility, and leave evidence behind of what we said.  Great.  Do that after your presentation, not during.  If you hand out literature during your presentation, your audience will naturally look through it instead of listening to you.  It’s not because they’re bad or inattentive people – it’s just a human tendency.  Save it for the end.

Close the sale.  Don’t forget – you’re there to close the sale.  The closing of your speech should include you asking for the order.  You can be assumptive (“I’m looking forward to getting started”) or direct (“After what I’ve told you, I hope you’ll agree with me that mine is the best solution for your company,”) but make sure to ask.  In a one-on-one presentation, you’d never leave without asking for the sale.  Make sure you ask the group for the business.  On that note, always be prepared to get the business.  On the 1% chance that your group will decide on the spot that you’re the solution, don’t be caught without a contract, order pad, or whatever paperwork you need to transact.

One other note:  In group presentations, we often fall into the trap of “whoever has the most colored lights and brass bands wins.”  This has become more prevalent in the era of light, portable laptops and projectors, portable video, and multimedia.  That stuff is great, if it fits into your presentation.  Many times it won’t, and if it won’t, don’t use it.  Your customers can watch TV anytime.  They’re in the room to hear how you will solve their problem, not to be dazzled by a computer.  Make your presentation personal and impactful, and you will be far more effective than if you just rely on PowerPoint.

And THAT is how to succeed in group sales presentations.  Good luck and good presenting!

The Six Qualities That Win Sales

I have a close friend who is on the receiving end of a number of sales calls – some very good and some pretty lousy.  And she likes to share horror stories with me.  This is one, and it sheds light on the six qualities that win sales by addressing what customers need and want from us in today’s environment.  During a phone conversation, the salesperson said, “Can you shoot me an e-mail with the details on this?”

Well, my friend has a sense of humor like I do.  So she said, “Sure.  I shoot emails all the time.  Sometimes it gets pretty bloody in my office.  Nothing but dead emails laying all around the floor.  I’ll tell you, it’s carnage!”  Hey, I’m laughing.  But this guy?  He didn’t even notice what she said.  Just kept going as if she had said nothing.  So at his next pause, she said, “And I take it your company came out okay in that big fraud investigation?  You weren’t indicted?”  The salesman said, “Nope,” and just continued on.  This highlights one of the six qualities that win sales, and that salespeople MUST have to succeed these days.  These will be in no particular order – except that the most important one will be LAST in this list.

  • Listening: As you’ve probably guessed, listening – the ability to capture the words coming from your customer’s mouth, processing them, and interpreting them in order to build solutions for your customer – is incredibly important.  For most salespeople, this boils down to simply taking the time and effort to listen, instead of using the time the customer is speaking to form what you’re going to say next.  Even so, it’s amazing how many salespeople don’t do this – like the hammerhead that was selling to my friend.
  • Questioning: Of course, to be a good listener, you have to have something worth listening TO – hence, you should be a good questioner, as well.  What does “good questioning” entail?  Well, it means getting beyond the basic questions that are asked in your industry and understanding what the buyer’s real definition of success is.  It means understanding your customer’s needs as a whole, and understanding what they will be, or are likely to be, in the future.  It means not leaving a question unasked, and it means re-asking questions periodically to refresh your knowledge.  Precious few salespeople do that – but the ones that do are the ones who succeed.
  • Tech savviness: In today’s world, you have to be able to understand and use technology.  You have to be able to have, and use, a CRM system.  You have to be able to use various forms of communication platforms – email, text, IMs, Zoom, Teams, and Webex, and be prepared to communicate on any of them at a moment’s notice.  It means knowing how and when to use LinkedIn – and it means having, at minimum, a smartphone and laptop available to do them (I add in a tablet as well).  Age and seniority are no excuse – if you’re not keeping up, you’ll lose to people who are.
  • Intellectual curiosity: Intellectual curiosity is that characteristic which makes us want to know more, learn more, and explore more, even when no one is telling is that we have to.  This drives us to ask more questions (see above), and it drives us to seek out new ways to solve problems and add value for our customers.
  • Continuous development: I wrote about this in a recent Navigator, but it shocks me how few salespeople take it upon themselves to grow and develop their skills independently of their employer.  The salesperson that knows exactly what they knew five years ago is the salesperson who has put an expiration date on their own career.  Don’t be that person.  Spend time each week reading, watching videos, and building your skills.
  • SMART: This is the final and most important one.  Today’s salesperson must be SMART.  That’s not an acronym – I mean they need to be intelligent.  The age of the “charismatic dunce” personality who sells on charisma but can’t think on his or her feet is over in our profession.  Sales is an activity of the mind today, not of the emotions – and today’s salesperson must be smart, savvy, and ready to think on their feet and use their expertise to benefit their customer.  Nothing less will suffice.

So, there you have it – the six qualities that win sales.  Some can be learned and developed, some cannot – but if you are a hiring manager, you need to be thinking about these qualities and assessing them in your hiring processes.  If you’re a salesperson, you need to be figuring out what you can learn and develop (remember Continuous Development above), and making yourself the salesperson your customer needs you to be.

That way, when someone throws a great joke at you (and it was a great joke – I cracked up as she was telling the story), you can share a good laugh with your customer and let them know that you really are listening to them.

Activity Drives Results.

“Why do you care how many customers I see if I’m hitting my sales quota?”  That’s the question that sales managers have dealt with since forever.  Sales managers have been accused of being small-minded bean counters because they look at their salespeople and say, “Congratulations for the big sale – but let’s talk about your appointments.”  Even some “sales trainers” feel this way.

The truth is that activity drives results, and there are some extremely good reasons for sales managers to care how many appointments their reps are getting – and if you’re one of those reps, there are some very good reasons that you should, too.  Let’s talk about them:

For the sake of the discussion, let’s say that we’re in an environment where the average sales rep sells one out of every six customers he or she meets.  In this environment, management wants a minimum of one sale per week, so salespeople are expected to meet six people per week.  That’s easy, right?  Most salespeople on the team are hitting that number without problem.

Of course, not all salespeople are at the same talent level.  One is only meeting three customers per week, but still making the one sale.  And his defense to management is, “I’m hitting my number.  That’s all that matters.”  Sometimes managers get a bit tongue-tied at this moment, but they shouldn’t.  Here are the reasons why it matters that that rep goes ahead and sees six customers per week:

Marketing exposure:  Unless you work for a highly branded company (think Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Xerox, etc.), most of the potential customers in your territory don’t know who you are or what you do.  And in sales, if they don’t know who you are, they can’t buy from you.  In the small to medium sized business space, the best marketing material is a business card passed across a desk during a sales call.  Salespeople aren’t just salespeople, they are MARKETING people.  Working at half-speed takes away half of the company’s marketing in that territory.

We work on thin margins: In sales, we tend to work on thin margins.  Even that salesperson who is selling one out of every three people is failing 2/3 of the time.  It’s easy to go 0 for 3 instead of 1 for 3.  Stack that up for a few weeks and we’re in a slump.  More opportunities to do business = more chance for success.

Work up to potential:  In sales, the job isn’t just to hit quota – it’s to maximize our potential.  I’ve said many times before that the truly successful salespeople love the activity and not just the result.  The salesperson who loves the activity doesn’t only work half-speed; they work to their maximum and overachieve if their talent will do so.  As a manager, I always felt my job was to get the most out of my people – not just to hit quota.

It hurts the sales team:  Most of the people on the team don’t have the ability to work a portion of the appointments and hit quota – that’s why standards are devised around the average salesperson.  When the manager allows one set of rules for one member of the team and enforces a different set of rules for other members, it creates problems and hurts morale.  Many times, this morale actually harms the performance of other team members – thus taking away any benefit from the top person.

Sales is a full time job:  Your company employs many people whose job it is to make the stuff, distribute the stuff, ship the stuff, etc., and all of those people work a full time job and are dependent upon the sales staff to keep selling.  Frankly, I find it disrespectful to them to allow salespeople to work half-speed to sell that which they produce and service.  Salespeople should be good team members, as they expect others to be.

Look, if you’re that salesperson and your manager tells you that you need to work full-time and to hit certain activity numbers, there are several reasons for it – and if you’re that good, you’ll just sell that much more and make that much more.  Those are good things.  And if you’re that manager, don’t be afraid to confront this issue.  You’re working a much bigger picture, and if your team respects you, they’ll respect your wishes on this issue.

Activity drives results.

Are You Improving or Stagnating?

I started my sales career selling new cars in Topeka, KS, in 1990. At first, I wasn’t very good, as you would expect.  But, although the environment was pretty cutthroat, I worked hard at developing my skills.  I listened to a set of tapes that the dealership had (lousy).  I went to a car sales training school (not much better).  But then I started reading sales books.  Some of those were car oriented (Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, is still on my bookshelf), and some were not.  What was interesting was this – I was surrounded by salespeople who did the same.  We bought sales books.  We read sales books.  We traded sales books around.  And we worked hard at getting better at our profession.

I’ve been interviewing candidates for a client of mine.  This position is a highly paid position and is attracting mid- and senior-level candidates.  And a question I often ask is, “What’s the last sales book you read?”  And normally, the answer I get is either a blank stare, or an honest, “I don’t read sales books.”  “Okay,” I ask, “How do you develop your skills?”  Again, I get blank stares.  I find this both concerning and disappointing, and it ties to the most frequent question I get when I speak at conventions.

The most commonly asked questions I get are how to deal with price.  More specifically, it’s along these lines:

“Troy, I constantly have a problem with customers taking my (lower) price and using it to get their current supplier to drop my price.  Then I don’t get the sale.  How can I protect myself from that?”

Pardon me while I sigh and roll my eyes for a minute.  Okay, I’m back; here’s my answer.  There’s a dirty little secret in sales, and here it is.

Customers buy from who they want to buy from.  If that’s not you, your price doesn’t matter.  If it is you, your price might matter, but it’s far from the only thing that does.  If low prices are your only sales tactic, you aren’t a salesperson.  Period.

“But, Troy, all my customers care about is a low price,” salespeople wail.  Utter nonsense.  If everyone was paying the absolute lowest price possible for everything, there would only be one provider of any given service in any given market.  Before you think about offering “the cheapest price,” ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you asked and understood the customer’s definition of success for the purchase?
  • Have you shown them how you can solve their needs and achieve this success?
  • Has the customer agreed that you can achieve their success?
  • Have you gotten the customer to explain how they see an advantage in buying from you?

If you haven’t done these things, you haven’t positioned yourself to truly “win” the sale.  You’re cranking out a quote and hoping that it’s good enough.  And then you’re probably complaining that they took your price to the supplier that they wanted to buy from all along, since you didn’t persuade them that they would achieve a better result by buying from you instead.

Entirely too many salespeople ask a few rote questions trying to find a common problem in their industry, and then fire off a proposal figuring that this will make the sale.  Most of the time it doesn’t. It’s lazy and unskilled selling.

So, how does this tie back to my original point about sales books?  Simple.  The salespeople who take the time to reinvest in themselves, their skills, and their careers are seldom the ones who ask me price-based questions.  That’s because they understand how to ask great questions, how to make great presentations, and position themselves to truly win sales.  If you’re getting wrapped around the axle about price all the time (or even if you aren’t), maybe it’s time to get serious about this great profession of ours.

Read books.

Watch videos.

Read articles (there are over 400 of them on this blog, for instance).

Get SERIOUS about the art, science, and skill of selling.

From your learning, try one new skill per week.  Maybe it’s coming up with a new question.  Maybe it’s presenting in a different way.  Your customers will tell you – quickly – what works and what doesn’t.

Get better and your results will be better.

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse – and these days, our customers want and need us to be better.

How Not to Impress People in a Restaurant

A few days ago, I was having lunch with a good friend.  Just as we were seated, a man at a table about ten feet away started a phone call.  I couldn’t tell whether he was the recipient or the dialer.  He was wearing a very nice polo shirt embroidered with the name of his company, which was locally owned.  My friend and I overheard his conversation.  We weren’t eavesdropping; we couldn’t help it.  Neither could a few other groups around us.  That’s how loudly he was talking.

As we listened, we realized that this was the sales manager.  We knew this because he was discussing sales reports, prospects, and even individual results of salespeople.  At one point, he was speaking of one particular rep (whom he named to the person on the other end, including first and last name), and said, “Yeah, he’s not going to make it.  He’ll probably get fired in a couple of weeks.”

Wow.  Again, this was a locally owned company, so it wasn’t like he had a shirt of a company like Budweiser or Pepsi, where you weren’t 100% sure where he worked.  As I watched the faces of the people around us – who were clearly annoyed by this guy – I wondered if anyone knew the person who was about to get fired.  It was very possible – we weren’t in a bigger city like Kansas City.  And the conversation just went ON AND ON.  I was there for an hour, and he hadn’t stopped talking when we left.

There’s a lot to unpack here.  First and foremost, to have a loud conversation of that length in a busy restaurant is just plain bad manners.  He was disturbing the lunches of other people – myself included.  I could tell by the face of the server that she wanted to ask him to pipe down, but wasn’t quite feeling brave enough to do so.  I do of course take the occasional call when I’m eating lunch, but I keep them short or I step outside.

Second, when you are on a call in a public place, you should be careful about WHAT you say.  More than one sale has been lost because of an overheard conversation.  I saw this exact thing happen in an airport a few years ago.  I was heading back from a convention and a few other people from the same convention were at the same gate.  One of the attendees was having an easily overheard conversation about pricing strategy.  The guy next to me got really quiet, and I could tell that he was listening.  After the first conversation ended, he jumped up and walked off quickly.  After a couple of minutes he came back grinning.  I said, “You’re going to snake that guy’s customer, right?”  He just looked at me and smiled.

Third, when you are wearing apparel that readily identifies the company you work for, you must be on-brand at all times.  That’s because you are not 100% yourself – you are a representative of that company.  And yes, that even goes for times when you are not “on duty.”  Look, I’m as much of a “work hard, play hard” person as the next guy.  Maybe more.  But you have to be conscious of what you’re doing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone drunk and behaving like a jackass in their work apparel.  Do you think that leaves a good brand impression on those around that person?  It does not.  And in this case, based on the glares that our subject was getting from those around him, he was leaving a negative impression of his company.  And I’m betting it’s not the first time.

Much of what we are talking about here is simply common sense.  Use good manners.  Keep company business within the company.  And don’t do harm to your company.  The sad fact is that “common sense” sometimes isn’t common.

How to Define a Successful Sale

A few weeks ago, I was engaged in a debate with someone in one of my training classes.  The salesman that engaged me was a good guy, well intentioned, but like a lot of salespeople, he’d been trained into some bad techniques.  He asked me about a particular technique for voice mail that relies on deception (getting the contact to believe you are a customer, rather than a salesperson) to get the contact to call you back.

“It works,” he said.  “I get a lot of calls back.”  When I asked him how many of those call backs result in sales, the answer got a lot more vague – but I can’t blame him.  It occurred to me that one of our problems, in building sales methodology, is that we (salespeople and trainers) many times define “success” incorrectly.  We only look at the immediate step rather than the overall result.  So how should we define success?

The ultimate success in selling is when you sell a customer, they’re enthusiastic about buying from you again, and they will evangelize for you by giving testimonials and referrals.  That’s the ultimate success in selling.  Too often, we settle for much less, and the reason is the way we sell to our customers.  Let’s look at a sales process and see where we can go wrong – at EACH STEP – to prevent ourselves from doing that.

Initial contact:  Typically this is a prospecting call but it can be a call from the customer to you.  Our objective is to turn this initial contact into an opportunity to discover the customer’s needs and present solutions. Definition of success:  The customer is interested enough to enter into a sales process with us.  Failure point:  Either we don’t give the customer a reason to be interested, or worse, we do or say something that creates a NEGATIVE impression so that the customer becomes biased against us.  Deceptive tactics fall under this umbrella.

Discovery:  Our purpose here is to work, in tandem with the customer, to discover their needs, define the successful result of a purchase, and create interest in a Presentation.  Definition of success:  You discover needs and the customer agrees that you have identified the correct needs, and the customer is enthusiastic about seeing a presentation.  Failure Point:  You skip or shortcut the needs, you don’t get the customer’s agreement that these are the needs, you move to Presentation before the customer is ready.

Presentation:  Our purpose here is to show the customer how we can satisfy the needs and met the customer’s criteria for a successful result.  Definition of success: The customer’s interest increases, the customer agrees that your solution would achieve their desired result, and the customer requests a proposal.  Failure Point:  You don’t show the customer how you can achieve their needs, you don’t confirm with the customer that you have achieved the needs, or worst – you do or say something that is perceived as deceptive.  Rushing through the Presentation to get to the Proposal will create customer discomfort.

Proposal:  We show the price and terms of our solution.  Definition of success:  The customer understands the price and terms clearly because we present in a simple fashion with no “fine print” involved.  Failure Point: You quote a proposal that glosses over important details, leaving the customer to be surprised later by things like incidental and ancillary charges, etc.  You use “sales words” that increase customer skepticism about your credibility.  All of these can “stall” a proposal and kill the customer’s urgency.

Closing:  We want to get the business in a customer-friendly fashion.  Definition of success:  Your customer agrees, enthusiastically, to buy.  Failure Point:  You ‘hard close’ the customer until they bleed from the ears.  Maybe you even get the order but the experience is so unpleasant that they won’t repeat and won’t evangelize.  When I first started in sales, selling cars, we had a sales manager that was nicknamed “The Hammer” because of his hard closing style.  Many times he “hammered” a customer into buying a car – and most of the time, they wouldn’t ever return our calls again.

Post Sale:  We want a customer that, as I said above, would happily buy from us again, would evangelize and refer us, and in general smiles when they think of us.  Definition of success: Your customer recommends you, takes your calls, takes your meetings, and is open to buying more from you.  Failure Point:  Poor customer service, poor follow up, or any negative experience during the sales process.

Some tactics in selling are best thought of as “buy or die” tactics – in other words, if the customer doesn’t buy, we’re dead to them.  In my experience, I’d rather lose the sale today and preserve a potential customer than go all-in on burning a customer with the hope of slapping one deal together.  If you stay in your business and your job long enough, you’ll be surprised at how many of those customers come back to you later because you treated them with respect – and many times, the ultimate deal ends up being far more lucrative.

On the other hand, you can use tactics that deceive, manipulate, and use words to try to box your customer in to try to get them to buy once.  And when you do, they’ll remember you, but not in a good way.  The choice is yours.

Buy NOW, NOW, NOW, or Get Lost!

Spoiler alert.  The title of this email is a selling philosophy that can cost you sales – but it’s still prevalent.  I had a reminder of that at a convention in Orlando when someone took the wrong message from my program.  My speaking program, “Win it Easy or Come In Fourth,” is about making good decisions regarding time allocation.  The basic idea is that salespeople spend too much time on customers that don’t move the needle and not enough on their “Freds,” the customers that are difference makers.

One attendee misinterpreted it and recounted how, when he was a sales manager, he would make sure that his team quickly qualified who was in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, and if they weren’t, to move along.  Wrong move.  I’ll explain why.

In today’s world, when someone is in the market to buy RIGHT NOW, they can do so without ever dealing with a salesperson.  Most of the time, they can order what they want to order online and get near-immediate gratification.  That means that salespeople are superfluous in this type of buying environment.  So what are our jobs?

Well, we need to be relationship builders.  Relationship building is more than being their buddy – it’s positioning yourself as a valued business resource that can help the customer achieve their objectives. Being a “person of value” is far different than being a “good time Charlie,” but people of values will be in position to get that opportunity when the customer is ready to buy.

We need to be expertise providers.  That means that we contribute value through the sales call itself – by finding ways to help the customer achieve efficiencies, by sharing best practices, and by helping the customer anticipate future change.  And we must do that without first getting an order.  Yes – that goes against the old “don’t be an unpaid consultant” canard, but I’m here to tell you that most “unpaid consultants” eventually get paid, and paid very well.

When I sold cars at the start of my career, they told me that the best thing I could do to start a customer’s visit was to ask, “Are you here to buy a car today?”  I counted.  50 times out of the first 50, the answer was, “no.”  Worse, I started the customer off by making them uncomfortable – and then I had to climb out of that hole to get them to buy.  I stopped asking that stupid question, and my sales went WAY up.

Making good decisions about time allocation isn’t about scurrying around looking for a customer with a pregnant RFP that you can price-cut to “win” by being the cheapest.  It’s about positioning yourself to be top of mind with difference-making customers so that, when they are ready to buy, you’re the one they call (or email or text).

What’s Your Sales Maintenance Program?

Most of you know by now that I’m a car guy.  I should point out, however, that I’m not a NEW car guy.  In fact, my daily driver is a 2006 Cadillac Escalade.  It’s the newest vehicle I’ve ever owned.  I bought it, used, over three years ago.  I’ve put nearly 100,000 miles on it. It’s as least as nice now as it was when I bought it.  Most of my vehicles are.  I have friends who buy new, or much newer, cars than I have – and in a couple of years they are in worse shape than my 16 year old SUV.

“Sure,” you’re saying.  “You’re a car guy, Troy.  It’s easy for you.”  Keeping a vehicle running well and looking good is easy – and so is keeping a sales territory healthy.  In both, you have to do the little things before they can become big things.  You do a little bit of the right things every week, and the right things happen.  Let me explain.

My Caddy doesn’t get trashed in the interior because every time I gas it up or arrive home, I immediately clean any trash out of it (spoiler alert – I have been known to drink a bottled water or soda, empty it, and toss the empty into the back seat floor; I also have been known to eat in my car).  I wash it at least once a week (this prevents rust and other nastiness), I change the oil promptly when it’s time, and do any other maintenance as required.  This saves me time and money because I don’t have to do the “rollercoaster” cycle of vehicle maintenance.  Stick with me, I’m getting to the sales stuff.

By cleaning the interior and washing it, I don’t have to spend $150-200 to have it detailed.  The other maintenance works the same way.  Now, think about your own sales territory.

The common sales cycle for most salespeople looks like this:

  1. Do a bunch of prospecting to find people in the buying market.
  2. Sell your guts out to this group of people (riding the rollercoaster up).
  3. Make some sales and put up some numbers.
  4. Run out of prospects (down goes the rollercoaster).
  5. Return to step 1 and repeat.

This cycle frustrates management and costs salespeople money.  Properly maintaining your sales territory is about doing smaller amounts of the right things week in and week out, so that you never run out or prospects, nor out of time to work the ones you have.  I hear salespeople complain all the time about the “metrics management” approach to sales management – but it works.  That’s why those metrics exist (and why I always create them in my own sales audits that I conduct).

If you really want to be effective and efficient at the “territory maintenance” approach to your selling, do this.  Budget certain amounts of time each week for certain activities – and then block times to do them.  For instance, if two hours of telephone prospecting will get the job done, make an appointment with yourself on your calendar to prospect, and then keep it.  If you need to do 8 appointments per week, block time for that.  Etc.  Manage and maintain your territory, and you’ll never be that salesperson who is scratching for new business to try to make a goal or quota.

By the way, my plan is to drive my Escalade for two more years.  Why? Because I like it.  A lot.  And because it’s still as nice as it was three years ago – and probably thirteen years ago.  That’s because I maintain it.