Why Sales Cannot Afford to Ignore the Early Part of the Buying Cycle

By Jeff Kalter

Here’s a statistic you’ve probably heard before: “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier,” (CEB).

One Statistic Should Not Drive Your Sales Model

Marketing automation platforms, content marketers, and more cite this stat from CEB because it offers a strong rationale for using their marketing platforms and services. After all, marketing automation and content marketing both help in the early phase of the buying cycle (and beyond). They do the hard work of capturing leads, warming them up with email nurturing, and scoring leads. Once a contact accumulates a high lead score, it’s finally time for sales to take action.

But is that too late?

In some cases, it may be. By then, the decision maker is well entrenched in the buying cycle – maybe even with a preferred vendor in mind. As the research says, 57 percent of the purchase decision has been made.

This number that is behind many of today’s sales and marketing strategies, however, may not be everything it appears to be. Apparently, the study that delivered this factoid was not as all-encompassing as you might think. While the research was based on responses from 1,500 decision makers, these people represented only 22 large companies.

Your buyer may be entirely different from the average buyers working at this small sample of companies. In fact, according to Forrester, buying behavior varies substantially by industry. For example, their research shows that, in the early part of the buying cycle, the sales rep’s influence is much lower for “mobile devices, apps, platforms, and management software” than it is for “business intelligence and analytics.” For the former, sales is the fifth most influential channel. For the latter, the sales rep is the most influential. Channels include sales representatives, peers, technical Websites, technical analysts, vendor Websites, IT forums, technical publications, and more.

Also, the SiriusDecisions 2017 Buying Study of 868 buyers from 15 different industries provides an insight that puts into question today’s tendency to minimize sales efforts early in the buying cycle. They say, “In the first educational phase of the buying process, where people spend one-third of their time, we found that more than 60 percent of buyers received information from the sales representative of the winning provider.”  

Conclusion? The winning vendors meet with prospects when the starting gates open for the buying cycle!

Zig While Others Zag

What does that mean for you?

If your competition has adopted a strategy of waiting until late in the buying cycle for sales involvement, there may be an opportunity to differentiate your company by doing the opposite.

You’ve probably heard about first mover advantage in the marketplace, where the company that enters a market first is likely to win more market share than its competitors. The same first-mover advantage may apply in your sales cycle. The salesperson who starts working with a buying team first is more likely to succeed than those who wait for the request for proposal (RFP). In fact, a company may put out an RFP just to determine whether their preferred supplier (the one they met first) is offering a reasonable price. It’s just a final check before they move forward. If they are a little higher than you, so be it. As long as they are in the ballpark, they will likely win the business.

So you may be better off having your business development reps enter into the buying cycle early. When they do, they can help the buyer frame the problem and present a solution that highlights your product’s advantages.

However, they have to approach early entry the right way. Here are some tips:

  • Be Consultative: Your reps should not lead by peddling their wares with brochures and spec sheets. By taking on a more sophisticated role as a consultant – talking about the customer’s needs, goals, and potential solutions – they are more likely to be successful. They must bring insights and education.
  • Think Big: Also, salespeople should assess the big picture and present integrated solutions rather than sell individual products.

By approaching the sale this way, they help reduce the amount of time decision makers have to spend online figuring out how to solve the problem. They provide a service. In the process, they develop a relationship and become trusted. Meanwhile, they are softly selling the unique benefits of your solution.

Another advantage of early involvement is that reps have time to search out the lay of the land at an account. Who are the decision makers, the influencers, and the users? What are their hot buttons and what role do they play? How might internal politics affect the buying decision? All this intelligence gathering assists in making the final sale rather than relying on reducing the price to gain a foothold in an account.

How to Be the Early Bird Who Gets the Worm

It’s easy to say, “Don’t wait until it’s too late.” However, in the past, it was hard to implement that strategy. You could have gone after a lot of accounts that were not interested in buying.

Today, however, it’s easier. You can adopt an account-based marketing approach, where you decide the ideal accounts you want to add to your roster. Layer on top of that intent-based data that tells you who is in the market. Then go after them. Taking this approach, you’re not just the early bird; you also know where the worms are hiding.

So reconsider your sales-and-marketing model. Is it working for you? If not, make sure you understand your buyer’s journey and how sales consultations fit into it. Then, restructure your model so it works for them and it better achieves your company’s objectives.

Jeff Kalter is CEO of 3D2B, a global business-to-business telemarketing company that bridges the divide between marketing and sales. He leads customer acquisition programs for Fortune 500 companies and is passionate about building strong business relationships through professional phone conversations.

Four Inside Sales Rules That Beg to Be Broken

By Ed Shineman

Sometimes, hard-and-fast rules for inside sales teams can get in the way of doing what’s best for customers and sales results. Here are some traditional inside sales dogmas that are worth challenging based on real case examples from my personal experience.

Rule #1: Inside sales reps must not visit customers.

Winnie was responsible for teleselling customer education courses to installed base IT accounts. She discovered a fluke 90-day airfare promotion that let a Chicago customer fly course participants to Hawaii for $75, negotiated a rock-bottom corporate rate at a Waikiki Beach hotel, and positioned it as a combination training/reward event.

Her customer was so delighted they invited her to attend their national conference as a guest of honor.    

Winnie’s supervisor was aghast. “Her call metrics will go in the tank while she’s away. Plus, I don’t have a dime in the travel budget for her.”  

But he relented, and Winnie was the star of the event – singled out as a supplier who was willing to go the extra mile for her customers. Breaking the no-travel rule was good for business, and recognizing Winnie was an inspiration to her inside sales peers.

(I’ll address another good reason to break the inside sales no-travel rule later.)

Rule #2: Large deals always belong to the field sales team.

Fred was assigned to pursue small accounts and larger accounts the field sales team had worked over and determined were “poor potential.”  

However, Fred didn’t let this assessment prevent him from giving these lost causes his best efforts; and, what do you know, he surfaced a $270,000 opportunity, got the decision makers on board, and set to work developing a proposal…

At which point the field sales rep who had originally given up on the account cut in: “Thanks, Fred; I’ll take over now. Large deals are my responsibility and I can see you’re over your head. When the deal closes, I’ll see if I can get you a finder’s fee.”   

Fortunately, the sales VP intervened: “Fred has obviously developed a close rapport with this customer, and it would be foolish to change horses in midstream. Let’s all unite in providing Fred with the support he needs to develop the proposal and close the deal.”

There’s no telling where a sales conversation will go, and arbitrary turf constraints shouldn’t get in the way of serving customers.

Rule #3: Inside sales and field sales responsibilities should be kept separate.

Newly appointed to lead a troubled sales organization, I ambushed my inside sales team with a surprise operating review. “Any big deals in the pipeline?” One intrepid rep piped up: “I’ve just scored a big win against the competition.”

And who was the competition? His sales counterpart in the field!

Potential channel conflict is just one reason some sales leaders prefer to create a firewall between inside sales and field sales teams. Another fear is that blending the two groups will result in diluted accountability and – horror of horrors – double-counted revenue.

Unfortunately, this silo approach to sales deployment couldn’t be more wrong.

When two sales teams play independently in the same account sandbox – no matter how concretely roles have been defined – hard feelings and a lack of trust are bound to be the result.

The solution: Align your inside sales organization with your field sales organization and be sure your field team is invested in the success of their inside sales counterparts.

If your field team is organized by account or industry, mirror that with your inside sales team – even though it may seem more convenient to assign reps by time zones, area codes, or an alpha sort.  Reinforce collaboration by populating field account manager goal sheets with a corresponding inside sales line item. Consider adding overall account plan achievement as a line item in evaluating your inside reps.

Finally, while inside sales and field sales units will likely have their own report-in structure, be sure both groups ultimately report to the same leader.  

Inside sales is a lot more rewarding when reps have an ownership stake in accounts and work in tandem with a buddy in the field.

Rule #4: Inside sales units can’t perform traditional field sales jobs.  

Once upon a time, inside sales jobs were limited to low-ticket transactions that could be completed in one call.   

Today, thanks to Web conferencing, document sharing, and other virtual collaboration tools, almost no sales job is too demanding to be performed remotely. However, don’t assume the same skill set required to book service renewals or set appointments applies when inside sales units take on more complex sales responsibilities.  

Let’s examine a few traditional field sales jobs that might benefit from an inside sales approach and identify where the talent requirements differ.

  • New Business Development: There’s a bus-dev component to many inside sales units. But reps typically rely on a prequalified database or inquiry feed and present a standard solution. True hunter-level business development pros go off the grid to surface opportunities and custom tailor solutions. Social media prospecting platforms like LinkedIn make it easier to think about inside sales units performing a business development role. However, you’ll need to select individuals with highly developed networking and problem solving skills.
  • Channel Sales: When channel partners want help, they typically want it NOW! An inside channel sales unit enjoys the advantage of being 100 percent uptime and hot linked to dozens of tools and resources. What’s more, the product education that’s such a big responsibility of supporting the channel is easily launched via desktop Webinars. Just be sure any inside rep devoted to supporting channel partners has the presentation and collaboration chops that make VARs want to network them in on joint sales calls.
  • Account Management: Account managers must be adept at relationship building and orchestrating the assets and resources of their firm on behalf of customers. While these responsibilities may not require travel, the fact remains that traditional inside sales units are transaction oriented, not relationship oriented. The solution? Be sure any individuals you select to staff an inside account management unit are adept and agreeable to playing a farmer role.

So how do you find reps who can perform these hybrid inside sales jobs?

If you are planning on repurposing or pulling from the ranks of an established inside sales organization, consider a talent audit (an organization-wide sales talent assessment). A superior assessment will match incumbents against a range of sales roles and is an excellent foundation for succession planning.

Similarly, if you’re recruiting a hybrid team from scratch, look for an assessment that will score candidates against both inside sales and the nontraditional role you are seeking them to perform.

One last thing: Let’s not kid ourselves. Rarely can a traditional sales job can be performed in a 100 percent remote/virtual way. There will always be trade shows, product launches, and customer conferences where a physical sales presence is advisable. So go ahead and break Rule #1. There’s no reason an inside sales rep can’t travel to a customer site on special occasions.

Ed Shineman is co-founder and CMO of SalesGenomix, a psychometrics-based assessment service that is the product of a 30-year research effort to predict the success likelihood of sales candidates based on the role they are required to play.

Mindset Training: Crush It with Emotional Selling

By Jamie Crosbie

As they say, looks can be deceiving.

As it turns out, actions may be a little suspect, too – at least when it comes to buying and selling.

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you bought a doughnut on your way to work this morning. Why did you choose that particular doughnut shop?

It could be that you were in a hurry, hungry, and it was on your way. It could also be that you are a regular and have a habit of buying your breakfast items there. But why did you choose that place or that doughnut?

It may have more to do with emotions than you might think.

Good salespeople already know that most people make buying decisions based more on emotion than logic. Great salespeople bank on it – because even company CEOs who like to think of themselves as steely-eyed titans of industry may make large purchases based more on primal human emotions rather than sheer logic and reason. Of course, when people explain to others why they made a purchase (especially to corporate bean counters or people in positions of authority over them), they are probably going to seek to justify their purchase instead of admitting they had identified with the emotional message of the product.

Emotional Triggers Are Powerful Motivators

Nor are consumers likely to admit (even if they are aware of it) that they had made a decision because they identified with a product based on a perception of inherent prestige, power, security, or other social affiliation the buyer deems (however temporarily) emotionally fulfilling.

According to Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, people think they are much more motivated by facts and logic than they really are. In his book, Descartes’ Error, he presents the idea that emotions are, to some degree, probably involved in almost every decision we make.  

He states, “When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision.”

What Moves the Buyer?

Bottom line, when you are selling a product, look beneath the surface to find the hidden human emotional needs with which your product or service best aligns. Selling is, after all, a relationship. Good sales reps come alongside the client taking a genuine interest in helping the customer solve a problem.

In some instances, the client’s underlying need may be mainly emotional in the sense that they desire something that resonates with them on a basic human level. In others, the issue may be a combination of factors of which, emotion is only one.

Not only do salespeople sell more when they sell emotionally, they are often happier, feeling they’d helped someone achieve or obtain something that mattered to them. Customers, too, are happier, feeling they’d made a human connection through the interaction, as well as gaining something with their purchase.

By connecting with customers emotionally as well as logically, customers are also more likely to bring their concerns and issues to you in the future. This gives you the opportunity to create more win-wins. The client’s needs are met, you feel better about your job, and you sell more too.

Jamie Crosbie is an accomplished senior executive with a proven record of sales leadership success. Contact Jamie today and find out how to take your business to the next level. Call 214/720-9922 or email jcrosbie@proactivate.net

How Sellers Can Combine Storytelling and Data to Win

By Ben Taylor

Many businesses collect lots of data. The problem is that these volumes of information rarely add up to anything meaningful or useful. In fact, 75 percent of CFOs and CIOs say they have trouble using the data to make decisions.

Sales professionals have an opportunity (and an obligation) to leverage the value of data when selling to decision makers. What we’ve found is that data is necessary for legitimizing the solution, but a story is also necessary for promoting the solution.

First, Find Data That Resonates

Sales professionals need to understand the customer’s needs to determine which data is relevant and will most effectively convey the value of a solution. Doing so is important because sales professionals today need extra firepower to incite action from the buyer.

Overcoming the buyer’s inertia often means articulating the upside value of a solution. The reason: Customers aren’t always seeking to solve a problem – often, they’re reaching to capitalize on unrealized opportunities. Identifying the relevant data involves three steps:

  1. Develop a clear understanding of the customer’s circumstances
  2. Understand what data will best communicate unrealized gains
  3. Determine what data most effectively underpins the value of the solution

When sourcing data, sales professionals must remember to right-size the information. Too much data creates a burdensome cognitive load. “Analytic thinking requires more effort and puts greater demand on attention and memory,” explains research published by the American Psychological Association. The solution: Sift the meaning from the noise by considering the three factors that build persuasion:

  • Strong Evidence

Evidence persuades. Participants in one study were shown to dramatically change their preconceived opinions when presented with research-backed findings.

  • Predisposed Learning

Sometimes a customer is only half sold on a solution. In these cases, they’ve seen evidence to support the value of the product, but they’re not moving forward. Here, sales professionals need to provide a nudge; they must offer some additional (but concise) findings to move the customer over the line.

  • The Boomerang Effect

Statistics can backfire. If someone has an opinion, then sees questionable or incomplete statistics that support that same opinion, they may change course. The takeaway: Ensure the statistics represent sound science and come from reputable sources.

Second, Organize the Data

Sourcing the right data is only part of the process. Sales professionals must focus the customer’s attention on the salience of the findings. After all, the data is not the story – the data is a part of the story. Putting this idea into practice requires acknowledging the customer’s data tolerance.

Sales professionals can identify the data that will focus and compel customers by considering “iconic memory.” This is the stage of memory that’s ultra-short term. Here’s an example of how it works. Imagine standing in a field at night. Everything is dark. Then, a bolt of lightning illuminates everything for just one second. This fleeting image is our iconic memory.

Sales professionals must understand that the data they use is a lot like this flash of light. While it may have taken days to prepare, it’s just a glimpse to the customer. Therefore, it’s important to use visual cues to underscore the data and make the message and meaning clear.

Sales professionals can maintain this clarity with an understanding of cognitive load theory. This area of research explores how well we absorb and retain information. Three critical components of cognitive load theory are intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load. Adhering to these three concepts can, respectively, be summarized as:

  • Presenting material that accounts for the customer’s existing knowledge base
  • Avoiding nonessential information that complicates the solution
  • Segmenting information to make absorption easier

Third, Communicate the Data

As educators at Johns Hopkins University explain, “In simplest terms, a business plan must tell a compelling story.”

Good storytelling in sales follows a logical progression. While narratives differ across various genres, each adheres to the same core structure. What’s important is that each stage of the story leads to the next. This flow is important because the sales professional needs the solution to fit seamlessly into the story.

Story structure keeps listeners engaged because it moves. Therefore, sales professionals should not labor over one part. Rather, they should make their point, then move to the next piece. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet explains, the basic format of a story is:

  1. Once upon a time – (The business entered a new market.)
  2. And then one day – (They started to grow and take market share.)  
  3. And just when it was going so well – (Unforeseen technical challenges upended customer implementations.)
  4. When just at the last minute – (They partnered with a provider to rapidly fix the issues and scale.)
  5. And they all lived happily ever after – (They reached ROI performance goals and improved customer satisfaction.)

The simplicity of this five-part format is its greatest feature. Why? Because business challenges – and the solutions – are increasingly complex. Therefore, a simplified story structure helps keep the discussion focused.

Conclusion: Success Must Combine Data with Storytelling

Success in selling belongs to the sales professional who can balance the role of analyst with storyteller. Doing so requires the ability to source, organize, and communicate data in a way that connects the solution to the challenge. Like the progression of a good story, these three pieces fit together in a logical succession. Click here to learn more about why – when it comes to selling – data is the fuel and the story is the engine.

Ben Taylor is the content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for several brands, including Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

How Can Women in Sales Close the Gender Gap?

By Melissa Di Donato

Last month, International Women’s Day struck a chord around the globe and inspired countless conversations about women and their career paths. Millions of women worldwide participated in rallies and protests, including female workers in Spain who organized the country’s first national women’s strike, in support of equality in the workplace.

Take a moment to look up from your computer screen, glance around your office, and see who is sitting in the sales department. You will likely notice that women make up a small percentage of the sales team. According to LinkedIn, women account for only 39 percent of the overall sales workforce – but, at director level and above, that number drops (substantially) to 27 percent. This is a huge disparity when compared to finance, communications, and HR functions.

Despite these figures, women in sales are excelling in their careers, averaging an 11 percent higher win rate than men, according to a Gong study. Being a woman in technology – and, specifically, in sales tech for nearly 20 years – I know first-hand the incredible accomplishments women can make when given the opportunity. The responsibility is on employers to recognize this disparity and identify ways to foster inclusivity and diversity as well as provide women with the right tools to advance their careers.

Breaking Down Barriers to the Boys Club

A recent Accenture study found a strong correlation between having a role model and having leadership goals. One of the biggest issues I see in sales is the lack of female mentors present to encourage other women to view sales as a viable job option. It’s no surprise that women often gravitate toward marketing and HR – departments where there are more prominent female leaders. They can look at these women for inspiration and can rest assured that, if they put the work in, they could someday join the ranks of management.

I’ve worked with many women throughout my career and know they excel when they have a role model to look up to. That’s why I encourage all female (and male) leaders to be visible, welcoming, and accessible to their female peers – and empower them to achieve what can sometimes feel like the impossible. Implementing this type of culture within sales departments is crucial; the outcome will be more female representation in the field.

One way organizations can take a step in this direction is to hold monthly coffee meetings and/or networking luncheons for women. This is a great strategy to convene women across departments to discuss the various challenges and opportunities they face in a particular role. This type of gathering encourages relationship building and creates networks and support systems. It also serves as an opportunity for women in sales to share their first-hand experience on the job, with the goal of attracting more women to join the ranks.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Once women break into the sales field, there are always obstacles to overcome. As a first step, women in sales need to own their successes instead of undermining their accomplishments by attributing them to “luck” or being “in the right place at the right time,” which I’ve seen many women do in the past.

Female sales executives must remember they have achieved success because of the smart decisions they have made. It’s time for them to reclaim their confidence to drive change. This self-positivity and confidence, paired with strong role models, is the perfect equation for an unstoppable woman in sales. With this attitude and support system, women can have thriving sales careers without having to sacrifice other important parts of life such as family time and hobbies. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t require juggling, but I want women to know they can have their cake and eat it too – even if they can only take a few bites at a time.

Women have all the right qualities to enter – and thrive in – the sales field; it’s just a matter of tapping into that potential and being encouraged by colleagues and mentors along the way. Women have an entrepreneurial spirit of collaboration and consensus. They want to create wins as part of a team and are flexible and understanding of client needs.

Women in sales are starting to have more open and honest conversations about what they want and what they deserve – and that’s a great start. With the recent traction we’ve already seen in the field, I’m positive that, within the next 10 years, we’ll see an uptick in women entering sales roles and moving up to management-level positions.

Melissa Di Donato is chief revenue officer, SAP Cloud ERP.

Five Tips to Uncover Greatness in Your Sales Team

By Herman Dixon

Sales managers can’t “push” success onto people. Rather, the best sales managers understand how to “pull” forth the hidden traits or abilities that lie deep within their salespeople.

Here are five action-oriented management tips you can use to foster success among your sales team.

#1: Take every opportunity to motivate through celebration.

Many sales managers forget celebration can come in many different varieties and styles and still be effective as a motivator.

Consider the story of Karen, who had been a middle manager for about six years. She had always done a nice job with her results but never quite enough to gain that next level of achievement. After attending a presentation by a well-known author and trainer who specialized in employee rewards, Karen decided to make a few changes. Instead of always seeing work as simple “expectation,” she began to look at specifics of the work.

She would comment on neatness, time efficiency, or even something as simple as how a phone call was being answered or how an email was structured. When notes of appreciation arrived, she would reward the receiver with something simple – such as a cupcake or a note with a smiley face on it. When the team hit a big goal, she might celebrate with party hats and pizza.

People saw Karen’s sincerity and responded. Her efforts created quite a bit of attention within the company because her department’s results began to soar. When questioned by senior leadership, the members of her area pointed out that it was her recognition of the “small” things individually and “large” things as a unit that made them feel a real part of the process. That simple act of attention got Karen promoted – not once, not twice, but all the way to the executive floor of her company.

Celebrating success is meaningful. It does matter to people. As has been explained time and time again, “It matters not how much you know. What matters is how much others know you care.”

#2: Build teams by focusing on group achievement.  

Over the years I’ve seen sales managers proclaim that everyone works “as a team” to make things happen…only to set up rewards solely for individual achievement. The result is that people strive to reach individual goals rather than acting on behalf of the team.

The essence of a “team” environment means not everyone can be the quarterback. Everyone needs to find his or her proper place so the team can reach collective success.

Recently I saw Charlton Heston in the old movie classic, Ben Hur. If you have seen the movie, there is a scene where Ben Hur is doing his best to get his horses to properly pull the chariot, which will be part of the classic “big race.” The horses were beautiful and very spirited but were expressing single-mindedness as they pawed the ground and uttered sounds of defiance. Regardless of the number of times the whip cracked, the chariot barely moved.

Out of nowhere an experienced handler appeared and caught Ben Hur’s attention. He explained that the horses were working against each other – not together. Then, he went about making adjustments to the alignment of the horses. After completing his work, the handler jumped into the chariot, cracked his whip, and off went the horses pulling as a great team – speeding through the course in record time. When he returned, he handed the reins back to Ben Hur and explained that success comes in working the horses as a team. You have to know which position to place them in so the team flourishes.

In a team environment, every member is important. You can’t pit one member against the other – unfair competition can destroy the very teamwork structure you are attempting to build. Where groups might be good for growing participation, teams are vital for gaining lasting results. It is that unique personality and skill – when utilized in unison with others – that matters most. As the well-known proclamation conveys, “Together, everyone accomplishes more!”

#3: Make greatness an everyday expectation.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins points out, “Good is the enemy of great.” These words may sound trite, but they represent the reality we see too often. Few actions truly fall into the “greatness column.” “Good” becomes “good enough.”

So why does this occur? Why do most actions simply land in the “good” column? As Collins argues, sometimes your mind hits a level of satisfaction after you achieve a goal. At this point, you may stop thinking big; in turn, this means you’re putting limits on how great you could be. Good then becomes your standard.

One of my strongest memories of my mother comes from my first “real” outside job. I will never forget her saying, “Now, young man, if you can’t go all out to do your very best work every minute of every day, then pick up your lunch bag and come home. Don’t embarrass yourself or the family.” She truly had greatness of effort as an everyday expectation. It became a norm for me as I grew older – and, in turn, was responsible for others in their efforts. The difference between good and great is similar to boiling water: At 211 degrees, water will simmer but not boil. At 212 degrees, it boils. That one extra degree makes the difference. If you are that close, why not shoot for 212?

#4: Use experience as a model for successful pathways.

At times, it is difficult to accept, but experience is often our best teacher. It doesn’t just happen; you have to live it. You can’t rush experience.

Remember back to how you learned to drive a car. The first time, you were probably excited but nervous. There was most likely a solid two-hand “death” grip on the steering wheel. You may have caused the car to stall or perhaps weave in the driving lanes. However, after some time behind the wheel, you soon found yourself jumping in the vehicle, turning on the radio, adjusting the seats, and keeping time with the music as you drove one-handed and effortlessly down the highway. You gained that confidence and ability from the simple experience of driving day after day after day.

Physical effort outperforms any education you may get from a textbook. Though the textbook will give new ideas on how to perform the process until you actually do it, you can never achieve a true level of expertise. This is why doctors, dentists, surgeons, and other such professionals all practice their crafts before they launch their careers. Then they refine that skill as they continue to perform their craft day after day and year after year. Experience thus enables you to use what has worked for others and, through your own efforts, find a way that works better.

#5: Always remember: People’s real needs and aspirations matter most.

In my career path, I was known to say to those I led or influenced, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It is more important what you think.” I did this because it was vital for others to feel that their views and values had merit. Quite often, whether you agree or disagree with a particular stance or solution does not matter. If it satisfies people’s real needs and hopes or ambitions of achieving something and does not violate ethics or morals – and isn’t an outright departure from your business culture – then their opinion or thinking matters and should be examined and implemented if possible.

Phil was a sales manager for a major corporation. He was an impressive, insightful individual and focused on results. Those results were noticed and placed him in the “promotable” category.

The challenge was that, too often, those results came at the expense of the people he led. His sales reps often reported issues surrounding compensation shortfalls and difficulty in getting expenses reimbursed on time. There were issues with his expectations, which too often produced unnecessary overtime and travel – among other problems.

Not wanting to “rock the boat” of the corporate structure concerning these and other issues, Phil allowed his quest for results and possible promotion to sidestep his responsibility to those he led. Dissension crept into the process. Before he noticed the unrest he had created, it began to dismantle his results. It also caused those who viewed him highly to begin to doubt their earlier assessment.

Falling back to an old business school principle that states, “When things seem dire, stop, evaluate, ask, and refocus,” Phil decided it was time to make a change. He met with his sales reps and really listened to their calls for assistance. Though his credibility had slipped due to inactivity, he set about to prove his worth. Phil carried forth his reps’ concerns and was able to secure acceptable changes, which enabled his reps to better perform their duties.

Harmony ensued and results grew. Phil got his promotion and his influence enabled the corporation to better align their procedures to the need of the people. This, in turn, allowed the people to better serve customers – and the final result was unprecedented growth for the corporation. When the people’s real needs and aspirations are at the forefront of the process, success will come.

Greatness comes in many forms and from many different avenues. It comes from “pulling” out the best of those involved so their individual strengths are most effectively utilized. It comes from doing simple actions well so better approaches can be developed. Greatness comes from overcoming the reliance on good and thinking bigger possibilities. As poet, journalist, and novelist Anatole France said, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

Herman Dixon is president and CEO of Think BIG! Coaching and Training, Inc., a professional practice that helps CEOs, entrepreneurs, leadership teams, and sales professionals maximize their goals and opportunities. His blog, “Thoughts to Think Big,” and his “Weekly Business Tips” are viewed regularly on numerous social media outlets.

There Are No Stupid Questions in Selling. Actually, There Are Plenty.

By Sharon Gillenwater

From the time we’re quite young, we’re assured by the adults in our lives that there are no stupid questions.

That may be true when we’re kids – when we need to develop the confidence to ask about what we don’t know; however, the same does not apply to adults working in enterprise sales. Live by that philosophy and you are going to be like the old Maytag repairman – very lonely.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t ask ANY questions. We’re saying you should be aware of the ones that will reveal a lack of preparation. Ask “stupid” questions and you could lose credibility, trust, and, as a result, opportunities.

According to Tom Searcy’s book, How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett, America’s greatest dealmaker goes into meetings with “an encyclopedic” level of knowledge about the other party. He doesn’t ask about industry, market, competitors, or advantages because he already knows all about them. He does his pre-meeting homework religiously so he can cut right to a meaty business discussion.

Now consider how you and your team approach a meeting with a new prospect. There are just some questions that shouldn’t be asked – because they show you haven’t done the most basic legwork.

Forbidden questions include:

  • “What does your company do?”
  • “Who are your customers?“
  • “Who is your competition?”
  • “What is your company’s business strategy?”

All of these will be cringe-worthy to a C-Level executive. Why? Because their time is their most precious asset – and they don’t want to waste it talking about things you could have learned from reading a few articles and earnings call transcripts. You should already know all these things before you walk in the door.

Sales-i has designated, “What does your company do?” as among the laziest of questions. As they write, “Anyone can Google a company, look up a contact on LinkedIn and get a general gist of what a company does. It takes 5 minutes, if that. Not only does it allow you to qualify out some companies without even having to lift the receiver, but understanding a little bit about the company you’re about to call will only put you in good stead to divulge exactly where your offering can help.”

But that’s just baseline. Sales pros at the top of their game are not content with doing the bare minimum. Their goal is to demonstrate some knowledge about the company, its competition, its strategic focus and challenges, its current market environment, and how it plans to grow.

Another cringe-worthy question to ask executives is whether they are the decision maker. You should know that already, too. What you should ask instead is, “Who else is involved in the decision making process?” since C-level leaders typically ask for input from subject matter experts and other stakeholders.

Also verboten: Don’t ask if they are in the market for your product or service. What if they have a need they don’t even recognize yet? Your goal is to have a business discussion that helps them understand what’s possible and position yourself to be an expert partner, advisor, and – if all goes well – vendor.

Be careful of mixing budget talk with business talk. While this conversation has to happen eventually, pushing too hard to deliver a proposal could be a turnoff. You want an executive to see you as being a helpful problem solver; let them take the lead on driving toward proposal stage. By the time you reach that point, it should be clear to your customer that what you’re proposing is worth the cost. This approach also keeps your offer from being commoditized in the eyes of the customer – because you have already delivered so much value in the pre-sale phase.

Jeremy King of Element Three has a list of 15 dumb sales questions to avoid that include some of the ones above and some others you should consider:

  • “Is this a good time to chat?”
  • “What level of service are you willing to pay for?”
  • “What will it take to earn your business?”
  • “Who was the best salesperson who ever called on you?”
  • “What do you dislike about your current vendor?”

These questions, he says, invite dismissal. No one wants to talk to a salesperson who is so blatantly self-serving. Buh-bye.

Now let’s talk about smart questions – the ones that show a genuine interest in your customers and a desire to help them achieve their goals. Look back at that paragraph about Warren Buffett and strive to know everything he would insist on knowing. Search for articles about the company and its executives and read the most recent earnings call transcripts. Make a cheat sheet by jotting down the highlights and share it with anyone else from your company who will be in the meeting.

It can make for a deep dive, but the information you collect will help you connect the dots between your customer and how you might be able to help them. You can then use your meeting to explore your hypothesis by asking smart questions.

So, instead of asking who the competition is, you can instead ask about how a recent acquisition announcement by competitor A is impacting their priorities and strategy.

And, instead of asking what their technology investment priorities are, ask if they are concerned that their back office or supply chain technology may be inhibiting growth in specific areas that you know they’re focused on.

The more you know about a potential customer the better you can demonstrate how you can serve those needs. If you have “stupid” questions, get them out of your system by answering them through research before you go anywhere near the customer. Then you can refine your questions and turn them into jumping-off points to more meaningful conversations that lead to strong, long-term relationships and bigger deals.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

Mastering the Art (and Science) of Sales with Emerging Technology

By Todd Gracon

Sales, like any form of persuasion, is an art. A smooth sales cycle is like a beautiful painting, where individual elements are brought together with masterful finesse. If even one element is out of place or poorly executed – if the lighting is off or the perspective is sloppy – the entire painting suffers; so, too, in sales.

But sales is also a science that can be analyzed empirically. If it were an equation, it would look like this:

Average Deal Size × Likelihood of Close × Number of Deals ÷
How Much Time You Have to Move Them Forward

It’s important for sales professionals to have a solid grip on both the art and science of sales. Today, it’s much easier to do so thanks to emerging technology. In fact, according to a Salesforce survey, high-performing sales teams use about three times more technology than underperforming teams. Here are a few ways I’ve seen sales professionals leverage new tech to be more productive, waste less time, and sell smarter.

Make Time for Your Art with Automation

In sales, time is crucial, and nothing is more frustrating for a sales professional than wasting their time. Efficiency equals money – and being inefficient can determine the size of your commission check.

Yet, every day, salespeople waste valuable time doing repetitive tasks like looking up contacts, updating leads, and logging demos. Every second spent on administrative work is a second you don’t have to meaningfully move forward in the sales cycle. The more administrative work you do, the less time you have to practice your art.

You can use automation to cut down on the amount of administrative work you need to do throughout the day. For example, a friend of mine created an automated workflow that takes any new email in their inbox, looks that email up in Salesforce, and creates a contact if one doesn’t already exist. The workflow also logs the new contact in Evernote; my friend gets a summary of all new updates to Salesforce via Slack at the end of the day, so he can easily track which prospects he has yet to follow up with.

That’s a simple example of how automation can fit into your daily life as a salesperson, but it’s by no means all that technology is capable of. I’ve seen sales pros create automated workflows to alert them of new activity on VIP accounts, send contract approval requests to a designated Slack channel, and more.

Leveraging Technology to Time Travel

I’ve written before about why time traveling is the most important skill a sales professional can cultivate. The key here is to remember that sales, as a discipline, is like spinning plates rather than juggling balls. You need to get processes going as quickly as you can while simultaneously ensuring no process ever loses its momentum.

The artistic aspect of this process is found in how you qualify prospects; a lot of the time, there’s an element of instinct that guides the decision. Are you asking the tougher questions? Are you giving them the “why”? Are you making it easy for them to make a choice? Do you identify potential proof points, make good use of social engineering, and get existing customers to sell on your behalf?

The science of time traveling can be tricky to deconstruct; there are so many micro-processes to manage. How do you know whether a process is inefficient or not? How can you tell when it’s time to get started on another step in the process?

That’s where analytics come in. It’s crucial for every sales professional to know how they’re performing according to certain KPIs. CRMs do a good job making pipeline analytics available to sales reps, but these measurements are only as good as the information available. If you have poor demo-logging or lead-updating habits, it’ll be harder to get an accurate picture of your pipeline and processes.

Intelligent automation and integration not only make it easier to keep records up to date; they can also open up new ways to measure your efficacy – and efficiency – as a salesperson. You can create a 360° view of every customer by pulling information from different apps into your CRM. You can see which marketing campaigns they’ve been most responsive to, for example, or whether they have any customer support tickets open. These are key bits of information that can help you strike while the iron is hot, as well as allow you to better analyze which of your processes could work better.

Sales professionals are constantly looking for ways to make more money and have more success. The smarter and more innovative ones know that technology isn’t to be feared; instead, it’s a tool they can leverage to up their sales game and scale their franchise. Regardless of the process you want to optimize, chances are there’s new tech that can help you do it!

Todd Gracon is the VP of sales at Workato, the world’s first intelligent automation platform. As a sales executive with 20+ years of experience and an MBA from UC Berkeley, he has worked in roles ranging from selling and architecting to developing and consulting. Todd is passionate about disruptive and innovative approaches to problem solving; prior to Workato, he spent time at Accenture, BEA Systems, Oracle, and Tableau.

How to Sell a Service Mindset to Carnivore Salespeople

By Jim Cathcart

After years of your sales team seeing prospects as “fresh meat,” how do you cultivate a service-oriented mindset?

Well, it’s not as complex as it might seem. It is not like getting lions to become vegetarians. Instead, it’s about showing the value (e.g., payoffs) of doing things in new ways.

Setting the Right Vision

There’s a common saying in management: “What you measure is what you get more of.” In other words, what you inspect tells people what you expect. If someone wants to gain your approval or praise, they’ll do what you are measuring. If it’s sales calls, they will do what they can to increase the number of calls. If it’s new contracts, they’ll focus only on signed orders.

A utility company in California once implemented a new system to increase customer orientation and service quality in their call center. They told their people they would be rewarded based on the length of time they spent on phone calls with customers. The thinking was that longer calls would be perceived as better service.

But there were unintended consequences! Upon hearing of the new plan, the workers started placing people on hold so call times would be extended. Service didn’t improve – but call length did increase. Service quality, on the other hand, got worse.

Next, management said, “No more long calls. We will now measure you based on the number of calls you handle.” Workers immediately adapted. They started hanging up on customers so they’d call back and score two calls for each inquiry.

Finally, the leaders realized their errors and changed to a system of customer satisfaction measures that directly involved customer feedback.

Playing the Sales Game

In some fields, there is a long history of aggressive and manipulative sales practices. Customers have become numb to advertising that offers a wonderful new experience – only to be contradicted in practice by uncaring salespeople. They think, “Same rust, new paint.” Good words and slogans – promises of great treatment and respect for the customer – have just become “white noise” to many buyers. They expect to have to play the sales game, and they hate doing it.

The big question, then, is: How do you get salespeople to stop focusing just on closing techniques and profit margins, and start truly trying to help people? As with the utility company above, there is a bigger issue here than just what you measure. Measures communicate priorities, but mindset drives the culture. That is why we need to reorient the thinking toward seeing customers as assets instead of targets.

What’s the Purpose of Your Business?

Hint: it is not profit. All businesses must earn a profit in order to stay in business, but the purpose of each business is something different. Profit is a by-product of what you do – not the reason for doing it. Of course, profit is necessary and important, but your product or service has a greater value than just stimulating revenue.

The purpose of automobiles is to provide enjoyable and reliable transportation – not to generate profit margins. The purpose of banking services is to give people more control over (and security about) their money. The purpose of computers and smartphones is to give people more control over their day-to-day lives and the information flow in their work. The communication capabilities of your technology are the reason profit can be produced by selling them. But profit, again, is the by-product.

The more people see the value in what they do, the more commitment they make to doing it well. A salesperson who truly understands how their offer helps others – and makes the world a better place – will be far more persuasive in a sales dialogue than someone who simply knows 15 power closing techniques. All of this starts with how you talk about the job.

Salespeople are not paid for making sales. They are paid for helping people at a profit. If they make lots of sales and many of them “unwind” or result in high-cost customers, then profits will drop, work will be miserable, and the business will fail. It’s not the number of sales that counts; it is the number of happy customers who pay you on time and speak well of you.

Jim Cathcart is a long-time contributor to Selling Power and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. He is the original author of Relationship Selling plus 17 other books. Cathcart.com helps organizations increase sales engagement and self-motivation. Contact him at info@cathcart.com.

Compassion Fatigue: It’s Here, It’s Real, and It’s Hurting Your Sales Game

By Karyn Mullins

You’re constantly outsourcing your energy. Every customer and salesperson who needs compassion, you’re always there for them. But filling up their tanks is draining and that can quickly attack your team’s sales numbers.

Believe it or not, this feeling has a name. “Compassion fatigue” is defined as fatigue, emotional distress, or apathy resulting from the constant demands of caring for others or from constant appeals from charities.

Especially in sales management, the strain from being a mentor and sounding board leads to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, increased stress, and mental exhaustion. And this stress is an epidemic in today’s workplace.

According to a 2017 Udemy report, “Workplace Confidential: The Real Story Behind Stress, Skills, and Success in America,” millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers all admitted to having increased stress levels over the past year.

Compassion fatigue is real and it could be putting your sales career in danger. Take a look at how to determine if it’s a problem for you – and learn steps for dealing with it at work.

Why Compassion Fatigue Is a Problem in Sales

As sales managers, it’s your job to lend an empathetic ear to your customers and salespeople. All successful sales managers understand sales isn’t about selling, but rather about relationships. Building those relationships depends on your ability to care about every life aspect a customer is willing to share.

However, caring too much can hurt.

Becoming overly empathetic means you’re feeling customers’ or salespeople’s emotions, experiencing their fears, and relating to their dreams. Becoming overwhelmed with everyone else’s issues and concerns leaves little time to address your own. This distracts from other customers, your team, and, ultimately, your sales goals.

More importantly, it’s easy to lose your sense of self when compassion fatigue hits. You lose that spark, motivation, and goal-oriented attitude that made you a success from the start.

How to Recognize an Issue

Like I said before, sales management jobs require a certain degree of empathy. Without it, you’ll be unable to connect with customers and your team. However, being aware of the signs of compassion fatigue will help you recognize when that compassion has begun affecting you in a negative way.

A few signs are:

  • Decreased focus
  • Lowered cognitive abilities
  • Unusual drop in productivity
  • Emotional intensity especially surrounding work issues
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased overall well-being
  • Lack of interest

Remember, compassion fatigue isn’t something you wake up with one day. It happens over an extended period of time after offering too much empathy and energy to your customers and team. Simply being aware of the symptoms and taking note of how you’re feeling at the end of each day is a good way to keep yourself in check.

Overcoming without Offending

Sales jobs require you to focus on your own well-being from time to time. If you’re not up to par, it’ll be impossible to strategically plan your sales management goals, give customers the information they need, and, overall, be your sales-powered self.

However, stopping compassion fatigue from hurting your sales career means you’ll need to remove yourself a bit from the empathy role. Not approaching this carefully leads to hurt feelings and dented egos.

Overcoming compassion fatigue starts with self-care and self-management. Take time outside of work or even a few days off to do activities you enjoy. Go for a walk, eat at your favorite restaurant, or meet up with an old friend. No matter what you choose to do, try to disconnect from all work-related activities.

When you come back, practice self-management. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to empathizing with customers and team members. Strategically schedule your days so you’re not spending back-to-back calls with the emotionally needy.  

Regain your focus and put time and energy back into selling by creating a step-by-step action plan for helping your team hit your sales goals.

Karyn Mullins is the president at MedReps.com, a job board that gives members access to the most sought-after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Karyn on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.