5 Things Sales Leaders Should Never Say

Sir Richard Branson

by Lisa Gschwandtner 

If there’s one thing Sir Richard Branson understands, it’s the pressure of conveying a clear message (either in meetings, public statements, or speeches) without sounding negative. According to his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership, here are five words and phrases he tries to avoid in team meetings and speeches.

1) “That’s not a bad idea.”

If this is your response to an idea, your team won’t be clear on whether you love the idea or hate it. “Not bad” could mean you actually kind of like the idea. On the other hand, you didn’t specifically say you love the idea. Don’t leave your audience confused.

“Be definitive,” writes Branson. “If you approve or disapprove of something, be assertive and make your position absolutely clear, making sure you explain why.”

2) “You’re not going to like this, but …”

This phrase sets up your listeners to hear something negative. As a leader, it’s your job to inspire people and instill them with positive feelings – even if what you’re about to share might upset or frighten them. Branson suggests instead saying something like, “This may be a tough nut to crack, but I’m sure we’ll get it done.”

3) “We’ve had better years.”

Sales leaders are often asked to provide some kind of public commentary on results for the month, quarter, or year, but Branson views the above phrase as a cop out. “People want the truth, not some sugarcoated version of it,” he writes. Admit the reality of your situation and follow up with an honest assessment of how you plan to achieve better results in the future.

4) “That said…”

Branson considers this to be “possibly one of the most destructive phrases in the English language.” When people hear these words, you invalidate anything you said just a minute ago. This can create great resentment among your listeners. “As a verbal bridge from the pros to the cons, try using something like, ‘Of course, we shouldn’t overlook…’” writes Branson.

5) “No comment.”

Branson understands that sometimes leaders aren’t at liberty to discuss sensitive information, but he dislikes this classic approach to discretion. “A stark ‘no comment’ tends to come across like, ‘We’re guilty as hell and don’t want to talk about it until our lawyers have come up with a plausible alibi,’” writes Branson.

Instead, he suggests saying something like, ‘I’m really sorry, but until we gather all the facts, we are not in a position to issue a statement.’

What are some of the key phrases and words you’ve learned to avoid during speeches, meetings, and presentations? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

For more leadership insight from Richard Branson check out his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership.

selling power magazine

Lisa GschwandtnerLisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.

[Top image via Flickr / Jarle Naustvik]

Lessons in Determination: Remembering Muriel Siebert

This week we mark the anniversary of the death of financial-industry pioneer Muriel Siebert with this history of her perseverance in the face of rejection and adversity. — Selling Power Editors

Muriel Siebert Muriel Siebert established her legacy as a trailblazer when she became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange on December 28, 1967. At the time, her historic application caused an uproar. No woman had ever had a seat on the Exchange before. Facing ridicule and steep opposition, Siebert got rejections from nine men before she finally found someone to sponsor her.

Siebert faced many hurdles on the way to success. In 1954, she had arrived in New York City with just $500 to her name. She set her sights on a job in finance, but when prospective employers saw a female name, they trashed her resume.

After repeated rejections, Siebert sent out new resumes with just her initials. She got an interview and a job offer. The deal fell through, however, when she admitted she didn’t have a college degree (she had dropped out of Case Western Reserve University to care for her terminally ill father).

When, after so many unfair rejections, she got a second job offer, she lied and said she had a degree.

“They didn’t check,” said Siebert in an interview with Senior Women Web. “But when I applied for my seat on the Stock Exchange, I told them. It was a historic application and I didn’t want to lie.”

Her next hurdle was a new rule put forth by the Stock Exchange requiring a letter from a bank promising to lend Siebert $300,000 of the near-record $445,000 seat price. Unfortunately, banks would not lend her money until the Stock Exchange would admit her. With dogged determination, Siebert jumped through every hoop and found the funding she needed. In 1967, she became the first woman to hold a seat on the Exchange.

Siebert became widely known as a force to be reckoned with in the notoriously cutthroat and male-dominated world of finance. Siebert created her own firm, Siebert & Co., and continued to take bold and controversial risks. In 1975 when a new federal law abolished fixed brokerage commissions, she transformed her company into a discount brokerage house. Her longtime clearinghouse dropped her like a hot potato, and she was nearly expelled by the Securities and Exchange Commission. At the eleventh hour, she secured another clearinghouse, and the success of her company helped pave the way for the now-thriving discount brokerage market.

In 1977 Siebert took a leave of absence to serve as the first woman Superintendent of Banking. She had to ensure the safety and soundness of New York State’s 500 banks, which controlled $500 billion in assets and trust accounts. The economy made playing tough a necessity. Interest rates spiked during Siebert’s tenure, and banks all over the country went belly up.

Siebert facilitated mergers, supervised drastic restructurings and even convinced one bank president to cut his own salary by $100,000. Under her direction, not one New York bank failed.

After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Siebert returned to her company in 1982. In 1996, her firm merged with a private company. Siebert Financial Corporation currently pulls in more than $25 million in revenues a year.

In 2000, Siebert Financial founded Women’s Financial Network, the first online trading site geared specifically toward women. Siebert was encouraged to see more women taking control of their financial futures. “When you get more confidence,” she told Senior Women Web, “you’re willing to take a higher risk.” Spoken like a true trailblazer.

How Leaders Inspire Teams to Take Action

To get better results from your sales meetings, study how great speakers inspire others to take action.

Great leaders and great speakers all have carefully planned conclusions to speeches that inspire others to act. Think of President John F. Kennedy’s famous words during his Inaugural Address in 1961.

John Kennedy ask not what your country

If you want people to take action after the meeting, you need to plan and then present a convincing conclusion. Here is a step-by-step method to plan and present a convincing conclusion at your next sales meeting.

1) When you sit down to prepare your meeting, write the ending first. What should salespeople be able to do after the meeting? What will they need to do different in the future? What does your top salesperson do that your other salespeople don’t? When you write the ending first, it will be much easier to plan the introduction and body of your meeting.

2) Be very specific about what you want your salespeople to do. Avoid vague words like “understand” and “appreciate.” List no more than two or three actions, any more will be difficult to remember. Tell them what you want them to do and when. For instance:

  • Schedule five face-to-face appointments with new prospects for next week.
  • Ask each prospect what he likes best and least about his present method.
  • Ask each prospect to speculate on future time, money, and productivity costs if she doesn’t solve their problem now.

3) Make at least one of the actions something simple your salespeople can do immediately. As the saying goes, “well begun is half done.” If your salespeople leave with something simple to do they are more likely to do it. When they take action and achieve results they will be more likely to act on the other things you asked them to do.

4) Outline your conclusion. Summarize key points in two short, but memorable, sentences. Restate the main benefit and appeal to salespeople’s emotion as well as logic. Emotional appeals include financial freedom, health/vitality, safety, romance, piece of mind, and personal fulfillment.Tell your salespeople specifically what you want them to do.

5) Plan to conclude well before your time is up. How often have you run out of time at the end of a meeting and rushed to finish? You aren’t holding your salespeople’s attention if they’re looking at the clock. Anticipate that your meeting will take 30 percent longer than you think. If you normally have one-hour sales meetings, plan your agenda to conclude at the 40 minute mark.

6) Save your best “Ah ha!” points for last. Too many sales meetings flow like a bell curve, up at the beginning and down at the end. This brings your audience down just before the most important part-your conclusion. Pull out a pad of Post-It notes and write just one topic on each note. Arrange your topics to ensure that you build up to a conclusion and not down.

7) Follow up to measure the action taken. Great speakers know that their success is measured by the action that the audience takes as a result. Be specific in your follow-up. For instance, in the example cited earlier you might ask, “How many new face-to-face appointments did you set for last week? What questions did you ask? What were your results?”

What you say last is what your salespeople will remember most. A well planned and presented conclusion can inspire your team to action. When you follow these simple steps your meetings will be more effective. Plus, you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment when you see your ideas actually being implemented in the field.

How to Move Up in Your Organization: 4 Tips from Legendary Leaders

If you’re interested in moving up to a higher position in your organization, prove you can think strategically — beyond quota — toward the good of the company as a whole. Use these tips to get started.

Bill Walsh leadership Find effective strategies. Vision is great, but if you cannot find a way to connect to it from the current reality, it’s useless. One leader who has been able to bring the imaginary to the realm of reality is football legend Bill Walsh. The legendary coach led his teams to amazing NFC division championships and NFC titles and earned a spot in the NFL Football Hall of Fame. One of his many strengths was as an offensive coach, constantly reading the field and creating strategies that would maximize his players’ skills and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.

Tip 1: Strategy is something that’s refined every day, one battle at a time. Just as Walsh had to look at each season’s team and each week’s opponent anew, salespeople need to evaluate each customer and each competitor on an individual basis and create a plan to address each unique situation. What worked yesterday or last month may not work tomorrow.

Ronald Reagan leadership Be a great communicator. The key to communicating is connecting with the audience. Former President Ronald Reagan was so well known for his ability to reach the American people that he earned the nickname, “The Great Communicator.” He didn’t use fancy language or rhetoric to win people over; in fact, it was the very simplicity of his style, coupled with his humor, which made him so popular. A senior leader’s job is to communicate corporate goals to employees and motivate them to achieve those goals.

Tip 2: When you have something to say, say it in the simplest way possible. Save the fancy verbal footwork and piles of data for the engineering team, and stick to word pictures and vivid descriptions. Finally, remember Reagan’s advice: “Facts are stupid things.”

Meg Whitman leadership Listen. Sharing information is one skill; collecting information is another, equally valuable skill. And the queen of listening very well may be Meg Whitman, who is known for her humility and passion for listening to both her customers and employees.

“When you’re trained in an MBA program or in most businesses, you use the words, ‘Drive, push, go after,’ and it’s not that way here. Here, you have to use the community of users to chart the course of the company. You can’t direct them to do much of anything,” Whitman told CBS MarketWatch.

Tip 3: As a “trusted advisor,” it’s natural to want to share your expertise with your customers. But too much talking and not enough listening is a sure formula for alienating your clients. Take a tip from Whitman and commit to listening to what your customers are saying. Ask them what’s important, what they worry about, and what would make their life easier – even if it’s outside your typical scope. What better way to become a trusted partner than by solving problems your customer never even knew existed.

Jack Welch leadership Be inspirational. If there is one skill that can make up for a multitude of sins in other areas, it just might be the ability to inspire. People want to be a part of something great, something larger than themselves. Just ask business legend, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Known for his passion, commitment, and sense of fun, Welch led by example and took pride in his ability to develop his people. He regularly rewarded the highest performers (and cut the bottom feeders), thereby encouraging workers to make it to the top. “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act,” Welch has said.

Tip 4: Unless you inspire others to act, you are a team of one. The more you can inspire your team members to be the best they can be, the further your reach as a leader. Says Welch, “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.”

Any of these legendary leaders would be sure to tell you that it doesn’t matter where your box falls on the organizational chart: Leaders can be found anywhere in the organization.

Why Great Leaders Seem Crazy

All great leaders share a vision for success. Sometimes, that vision can be so new, radical, or unique that others call them crazy.

Steve Jobs famously made Apple’s slogan “Think Different,” in the late 1990s. As the television commercial said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Ask for a leadership success story from the dot-com craze, and Amazon is sure to come to mind. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of the ultimate in one-stop online shopping, is almost synonymous with the Internet. But the dream did not start out that big. In 1994, Bezos gave up his job as a VP of a New York investment firm, packed up a used car, and moved to Seattle with his new wife and a vision – to start an online business selling books.

Of course, the idea was wacky. Of course, everyone told him he was nuts. Of course, he faced many obstacles along the way – and of course, he overcame them all. What carried him through the tough times was his clarity of purpose, his vision of what Amazon.com could be. “I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that,” he’s quoted as saying. “But I knew the one thing I might regret was not trying.”

If you want to be a great leader, know what you are trying to accomplish with vivid clarity. The more real you can make your vision, the easier it is to share it with others and convince them to come along.

This is especially true if you are asking your clients to take a leap of faith toward an unknown solution that you know will pay off for them. Paint a detailed, accurate vision, and they won’t be able to resist.

What are some of your greatest leadership lessons? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Love and Leadership: Celebrating the Great Nelson Mandela

People around the world paused to commemorate the incredible life of Nelson Mandela, who died today at age 95. In this video clip from last year, Bill Clinton summed up what he learned from Mandela: “He made everybody else want to be bigger. You were always thinking, ‘Well if he can do all this, if he can endure all this and he could still have a smile on his face and a song in his heart, who am I to whine about whatever is going on in my life?’ He made everybody want to be bigger. I think it’s an uncommon gift that I somehow hope we’ll all find a way to keep alive forever.”

Here are some inspirational thoughts Mandela expressed during his extraordinary life.

Forgiveness
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Adversity
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

Education
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Leadership 
“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.”

Passion 
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Hope 
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

How to Retain and Motivate Sales Reps: Money versus Happiness

All sales leaders want to motivate reps to high levels of performance and retain their top earners. What’s the secret to success in these areas?

To find out, you might start by asking sales reps what they want in exchange for their hard work. And one of the first things they’re likely to say is higher commissions and bigger bonuses.

In some ways, this makes sense. Everyone wants a stable income and to be able to provide for themselves and their families. And because salespeople are competitive, they typically appreciate benchmarks to measure how they’re doing, and money is an easy indicator to look at. If they’re making $10k more this year than last year, they feel like a success. If they can finally afford to buy big-ticket items (cars, clothes, gadgets) they feel like everyone else knows they’re a success, too.

It is one thing to be motivated by money, but it’s another to use money as a means to happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. While sales reps don’t always talk about these things, these factors have a big influence on their decision to stay with your company or start looking around for the next opportunity.

Science suggests that, past a certain point, money does not make us any happier. This video from AsapSCIENCE points out that people generally adapt quickly to higher levels of income. Research has shown that, in North America, income beyond $75,000 has no impact on our levels of daily happiness.

If you believe that part of keeping reps motivated means keeping them happy, then maybe it’s time to stop relying so heavily on cash as an incentive.

Reps will always appreciate your help in getting to the next level financially. But if you help them learn to define success and happiness outside of money, that creates a valuable dynamic of trust and support. Those qualities can actually become your competitive advantage — companies that have deeper pockets to pay blowout commissions will be less of a threat to poaching your reps.

In fact, there is evidence to uphold the idea that money is not the greatest long-term strategy for keeping reps around. The fact that money can be fleeting might be something that older and wiser reps learn to understand on their own — Peak Sales Recruiting points out that, over the course of a sales rep’s career, research has shown that higher earners report lower levels of interest in more money.

Money comes and goes, but the value of strong relationships never fails. As a sales leader, what steps are you currently taking to motivate and retain your reps, beyond using money?

Why Love (Not Money) Makes Great Leaders: Insight from Dr. Herb Greenberg

According to Dr. Herb Greenberg, founder of Caliper Corporation, great leaders are not motivated by money.

This is just one of the conclusions Dr. Greenberg drew from his extensive research on the qualities and characteristics that make great leaders, which he published in his book, Succeed on Your Own Terms (which eventually became a New York Times bestseller).

Among the hundreds of leaders interviewed for the book, Dr. Greenberg says that each had his or her own unique definition of success. “Each person knew exactly what he or she needed to do in order to feel like a success, short term and long term,” says Dr. Greenberg. “None of these leaders used money as a definition of success.”

Dr. Greenberg (who lost his sight at age 10) launched his own long and successful career with a single great idea — he was convinced there was a market for assessment tools that could help companies assess qualified candidates for job openings, including sales. In 1961, he left his job as a college professor and founded Caliper. He and his business partner began knocking on doors to spread the word about the value of a comprehensive personality test to assess job candidates in management, sales, and customer service. At the end of four months, they had nothing to show for their efforts but a string of rejections. “Many times, I woke up thinking to myself what have I done?” Greenberg told Inc.com in this video interview. In a blog post, he summed up his recollection of that time by saying, “The number of rejections, including being laughed at, cannot be counted — I can only say that we needed face masks to protect us from the doors slammed in our faces.”

Finally, Gail Smith, VP of Merchandising for General Motors, decided to take a chance on them. Just three years later, Caliper was performing assessments for 900 job candidates a month for dozens of clients. Dr. Greenberg told Inc.com that persistence was key to their success. “Fight through the failures, take the rejections … and we say this to anybody who’s looking for a job or a client. People are going to tell you ‘No.’ If you’re ahead of the curve, you’re going to hear ‘No, no, no.’ You need the ego strength to take that beating … and push forward.”

Today, Caliper employs more than 250 professionals in 12 offices around the world and is a recognized leader in using personality tests and assessments to predict success in management, sales, customer service, and even sports. In this video interview, Dr. Greenberg shares a story with Selling Power founder and CEO Gerhard Gschwandtner about a successful basketball player they interviewed.

“Everyone said he had all this talent in the world … but would never be Shaquille O’Neal or a Tim Duncan, or any of the great ones,” Greenberg says. “I said, “What’s holding you back? Why aren’t you as good as you could be?’ He said, ‘I hate this game.’ I said, ‘So why are you playing it?’ He said, ‘They pay me $6 million a year!’ But that’s what stopped him from being a great leader. Not loving his work.”

Watch the interview below between Dr. Herb Greenberg and Gerhard Gschwandtner and discover the top qualities that all great leaders share.

Sales Leaders, Ditch Your Outdated Ideas about Hiring

Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.netA lot of sales leaders let old myths about hiring get in the way of finding superstar candidates.

The myths I’m talking about are based on the idea that certain characteristics or qualities can magically help you identify your next top performer among a pool of potential hires. For example, how many times have you heard people endorse job candidates by saying things like:

“He’s a hunter.”
“She’s a great networker.”
“He’s an ‘activity’ guy.”
“She’s a road warrior.”
“She used to be an athlete.”
“He’s a cold calling animal.”

These things are all well and good, but something about the language reminds me of the book Moneyball, in which baseball scouts would make decisions about players based on assessments like, “He passes the eye candy test. He’s got the looks, he’s great at playing the part.” Again, I’m not saying these things are negative. But can you really tell how good a player someone will be from the fact that he somehow looks the part?

As a sales leader, do you really want to make a hiring decision based on the fact that someone has been described as an “activity guy” or has a background in sports? It’s awesome if a candidate used to be an athlete (I used to be one, myself). He or she is probably very competitive and has thick skin. These are two traits that help a lot in sales – but those aren’t the only traits you need to be successful in a sales position, and they’re no guarantee that a former athlete will succeed in your particular selling environment.

Sales managers tend to get hung up on these myths because they have no real idea about what makes their top performers tick. As Moneyball showed, however, a methodology can help you assess new hires more accurately and change the game. In my organization, for example, we identified the Top Performer personality traits of our most successful reps as:

  • Listens well, but can also engage in two-way dialogue.
  • Offers a unique perspective and is intellectually curious.
  • Is comfortable discussing money and can push the customer.
  • Understands the customer’s business and can identify economic drivers.

I put this to the test by giving the Top Performer personality survey to my entire organization. No surprise that our top reps matched the personality traits of the Top Performer. Now I have a real way to identify and measure top reps – and I can hire an army of them.

As a sales leader, you have to watch out for descriptions of potential hires that are just empty words. Hunter. Networker. What do these words really mean? Dig a little deeper so you can identify whether or not a candidate has the specific traits that track to success in your organization. When you use methodology instead of myth, you’ll be able to spot the true gems.

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson is Vice President of Sales at ON24, a cloud-based Virtual Communication software provider. He has more than 15 years of sales and business development experience in the SaaS, Cloud Software industry, with a focus on Enterprise as well as Channel. He was recently a featured expert during a Webinar on sales enablement strategies.

Sales Leadership Advice for Aligning Marketing & Sales

I’m publishing a series of Q&A excerpts from my interviews with Sales 2.0 leaders, which will appear in my next book. This is an excerpt from my interview with Mark Burton, former VP of sales at MySQL (acquired by Sun Microsystems), where he was responsible for growing and managing MySQL AB’s entire international corporate sales force, indirect channels and partnership alliancesHe has been involved in enterprise-level sales leadership for 30 years. 

Anneke: What were your “failures,” or things that didn’t go as well as they could have? What would you tell another executive about what not to do, or what to learn from your past experiences?

Mark: Failures: We’ve had lots of them. Processes and systems are so important. It took us a long time to work with a team to figure out everything we really needed to manage this environment. Marketing tends to be more positioning- and messaging-oriented, and more about just putting it out there. That whole idea of what a qualified lead is, and having something that ends up in the hands of sales that they want to deal with — it’s a big chasm between those two functions.

Get a very objective and measurable set of definitions, processes and systems to do some system-oriented scoring, and then have a very clear and written description for what becomes a sales lead. Get the marketing organization on board with forecasting and measurement of conversion rates, and make sure this is an activity that is worked monthly to continually pursue conversion rates that drive the company to profitability. This is a big change for most marketing and sales organizations. I wouldn’t call it a failure, but I will say it takes a long time to make sure everyone understands this end-to-end process, and what is involved in managing and measuring it. That was hard work with a lot of iterations and false starts.

Anneke: I see that changing rapidly, though, in many Sales 2.0 companies, where success depends on marketing and sales being aligned and collaborating. Do you see that working? How are companies bringing sales and marketing closer together?

Mark: It’s still a challenge for many companies. One of the first thoughts is, “Great, we’ll just give sales and marketing to the same person.” It’s unusual to have any one person who really understands sales and marketing well enough to add value across both functions through the Demand-to-Close process. There also aren’t many CEOs who really understand it. I would say this is still developing. My suggestion is to get advice from others who have successfully implemented the new model. This can be accomplished through a combination of outside consulting and benchmarking with companies that have successfully implemented such models.

Read the full interview with Mark Burton.

Anneke Seley
Anneke Seley is CEO and Founder of Phone Works and author of Sales 2.0This post appeared originally on her blog.