Top Ten Ways Sales Die!

In my observations over the past year I have seen many reasons why salespeople (and thus the companies for which they work) LOSE sales. Here are the TEN biggest reasons why:

  1. They’re focused on what they sell rather than what the customer needs.

The typical salesperson comes into almost every sales interaction with the same intent: To tell the prospect as much as they can about the product or service that they offer and then get them to buy it.  It’s no wonder that customers hide behind voicemail and screen us out!  Who wants to be put through that?  Sales professionals need to understand that customers are only talking to you because they have needs that they wish to have met.  Instead of throwing up on the customer, the salesperson needs to find out what those needs are and how the customer wants them to be met.  How can this be done?  SHUT UP AND SELL!  Ask questions and listen! (Diagnosis before prescription!)

  1. They have little or no pre-call planning.

We wouldn’t expect our attorneys to go into court on the 1st day of a trial winging it, would we?  We don’t expect our doctors to go into the operating room without a plan.  We assume that the sports teams that we watch have a game plan that they execute for every opponent, don’t we?  If we wouldn’t expect any of these professionals to “fly by the seat of their pants” when it comes time to earn their pay, why in the world do we allow our salespeople to do it?

The most valuable asset that our customers have today is their time.  And salespeople are getting less of it–especially salespeople that are coming into the sales call unprepared and without a clear strategy and plan to execute.  In what areas can your people be more prepared?  Here’s a great question to ask: What is the purpose of the call?  Without a clear purpose for the sales call, the salesperson will invariably waste their time and the time of their prospect, customer, or client.

  1. They act and sound just like everyone else.

Too many salespeople knock at the same doors and say the same things as all of their competitors. They show up and throw up and do “information dumps” on the customer, expecting that the customer knows how to “pick a winner.”  Here’s the reality:  80% or more of sellers sound the same!  Let your approach be your main differentiator this year.  Don’t dance the same dance and sing the same song as the rest.

  1. They do not LISTEN to the customer.

The customer has all of the answers as to why they want to buy.  One major problem, however, is that most people (prospects and customers included) do not volunteer information all of the time.  Therefore, it is naturally incumbent upon our salespeople to ask solid questions to pull information (answers that we seek) from our prospects and customers.  Throughout this “dialogue” process, (when the customer is talking) I have witnessed salespeople merely going through the motions of listening.  They sit still, nod, and look introspective as the customer speaks.  (They aren’t listening…they are just waiting to talk!)

Many sales are created, many accounts are opened, and many careers are built upon one small piece of information that may come up at one precise moment in a sometimes lengthy sales cycle. So, PAY ATTENTION!  The customer may just explain your business to you.

  1. They try to sell to someone who cannot buy!

Trying to get a decision, an order, a contract, or P.O. from someone that does not have the authority to buy is one of the biggest reasons why salespeople fail.  Ask the right questions early in the sales process to understand the customer’s decision-making process including WHO and WHAT’s involved.  Just because the guy on the loading dock will listen to you doesn’t mean he can make a decision.

  1. They bring NOTHING of value to the table.

Salespeople today need to understand that simply being there to take the order is no longer enough.  Anybody can do that!  A true sales professional in today’s marketplace needs to become a valuable asset to the customer by adding value at every opportunity. A salesperson needs to be “in the know.”  They need to offer guidance, wisdom, and ideas to the customer.  They need to know the customer’s marketplace as well or better than they do.

Whether it is through suggesting the occasional article, referring a piece of business, assisting in the training of customer employees, or simply grinding out a late night next to the customer, the sales professional must understand that the value that they add must create the perception of difference in the mind of the customer. It is the difference between being a vendor and being a partner.

  1. They are unaware of who (or what) they are up against.

The competition for a prospect or customer’s time, attention, and money is greater now than it ever has been.  We not only are up against competing companies and vendors in the marketplace, we are also up against things like internal competition, the current vendor, internal pressure to fund something else (another project), and indifference (no action).  When we are up against others, we need to be aware of who they are, how they sell, what they say, what they offer, and what it costs.  Getting blindsided by any competition is a direct result of lack of preparation (you need to know what your going to run into) and a failure to listen to the things both said and un-said by our prospects and customers.

  1. They lead with price and cry when price resistance comes up.

This is a big one.  I have hundreds of salespeople every year complain about customers getting more price sensitive and cheap.  Too many times, it is the salesperson that actually brings up price very early in the conversation.  They say things like, “Mr. Customer, we want to make sure that we get you the very best price that we can” or “I promise that we will definitely figure out the best way to save you money on this purchase” or “We have the best price in the industry.”  These are the same people who get mad when the prospect or customer brings up the fact that they need a lower price!  Well who do you think planted that seed??  We must be prepared for price concerns, but we cannot lead with our wallets!   The more you focus on the benefits of ownership, the more they will.

  1. They don’t have enough opportunity in the pipeline.

It has been said that the best sales strategy is a full pipeline of business.  What does this mean?  When salespeople have a lot of prospects that are in their pipeline of business, they intuitively make moves that position themselves and their companies in more of a positive, confident light.  They do not waver or buckle to terms or pricing demands of customers.  They have a greater tendency towards action.  In contrast, a salesperson that has very little in his or her pipeline tends to come across desperate.  These salespeople tend to bow to the pressure and buckle to the demands of prospective customers.  Instead of working from a position of strength, these salespeople work from weakness and hope! 

  1. They are simply not the right person for the job!

Salespeople today need to have well developed skills that were not as necessary in years past.  Today’s economy demands a higher level of thought, strategy, and preparation.  It demands an acute level of awareness of the buyer’s environment. Many of yesterday’s thoroughbreds are today’s donkeys.  Some of them were adequate when the economy was healthy and robust but are severely lacking the skills necessary to consistently perform today.  The marketplace of today (and the customer’s that you seek from it) demand and deserve a professional with BOTH the skill and the will to do what’s necessary.  Do you have what it takes?  If not, they/you need to move on!

Take a look at the performance of your sales team over the past year.  How many of your salespeople are going to reach their goal this year?  How many of them are heading out into this competitive market half-cocked? How many are “winging it” every day in hopes of divine intervention?  How much value do they add?  How well do they differentiate themselves and thus your company from the competition?  How often do they run up against the “wall” of price resistance?

Un-education is EXPENSIVE!

Consider for a moment the cost to your organization that an untrained (or undertrained) sales force can create.  Right now, as you read this, there are thousands of salespeople calling on prospects, customer, and clients with little-to-no idea as to what they can (and need to) do to identify opportunity, qualify buyers, manage common objections, identify buyer’s motivations, position themselves and the company as value add resources, or ask the right questions to earn the business.  Instead, they have been taught how to pitch, present, and price!

I have the opportunity to work with numerous salespeople in a coaching capacity each year.  One particular day, I was working with a salesperson in the industrial power battery industry.  A customer had set up a meeting with him to come in and explore options on the replacement of batteries on approximately 30 of their 50 fork-lifts.  This was the first visit by the salesman and the meeting was a result of dozens of cold-calls each day to set such an appointment.  The gentleman that we were meeting with was the operations manager and he had expressed a desire to get a quote.  After the obligatory “passing of the cards” and brief introduction of my salesman and his company, the “march towards commoditization” began.

The salesman that I was working with then proceeded to ask to see the equipment.  After a brief tour of the warehouse, we came upon a fleet of fork-lifts.  There were several makes and models as well as many varying sizes.  From a tactical standpoint, the salesperson asked which ones in particular would be in need of new batteries.  Once a thorough inventory (and subsequent notes) had been taken of existing equipment, the salesman proceeded to thank the operations manager for his time and said that he would get back to him with comprehensive quote within the next 48 hours.  At that point, the ops manager replied (pay attention here) with, “No hurry.”   This statement certainly struck me as important but seemed to make no impact on the salesman.

When we got back into the car, I turned to the salesman and proceeded (as I am known to do) with a series of questions that seemed to temper the “price quote” enthusiasm of the salesman.  I am sure that you have thought of some of these as my story unfolded above:

-Qualification of the “buyer”

  • How long have you been in this role of operations manager?
  • Do you make all of the equipment purchasing decisions for this operation?
  • Do you make these decisions for any other company operations?
  • When it comes down to deciding who to award the business to, in addition to yourself, who else might be involved in that process?
  • I see that you currently use ___________ batteries, why are you entertaining a change?
  • In addition to a competitive price, what other elements of value do you consider when purchasing new batteries for your equipment?

-Qualification of the opportunity

  • How many of these fork-lifts have you played a role in acquiring?
  • Why do you have so many different makes and models?
  • Will you be replacing/upgrading any of these in the near future?
  • How often do you typically replace these batteries?
  • What are your expectations of battery life for these units?
  • How are the forklifts currently used?
  • What is your current recharge protocol for your forklifts?
  • How are the forklifts currently maintained?  Who does that?
  • What is the timeframe that you desire to get these batteries replaced?
  • If I were to get you a quote today, when would we need to make sure that we have these batteries in stock for you?
  • Would you be open to look into a quote not only on the batteries themselves, but on a comprehensive maintenance program designed to extend battery life by up to 30%?

(By the way, here is a valuable exercise for you and your sales team.  Take each of the questions above and see if you can come up valuable reasons why I would ask each question.  If you or your people cannot come up with real-world valid reasons why I would ask these questions—regardless of YOUR industry—you need to pay more attention!)

I can think of dozens more questions depending on how some of the above are answered.  The problem here, however, is that NONE of these questions were asked.

Instead, feeling as if he were doing his job, the salesman simply went about gathering basic information about the “supposed order” and then proceeded to move on to the “proposal of price stage.”  The unfortunate part is that this type of thing is happening every day in every industry.  Our salespeople have been severely undertrained when it comes to uncovering and discovering where, why, who, how, and WHEN!  It seems that they are simply focused on the WHAT!

What do you want to buy and what it will cost you!

In the story above, the operations manager stated that there was “no hurry” to get him a proposal or quote.  At the very least, don’t you think that this should raise a question in the mind of the salesman?  It certainly raised a few for me?

  • How was this appointment set and who set it?
  • Could urgency and timelines have been established before the proposal stage?
  • Did the salesman help to create any additional urgency in the customer?
  • Is the operations manager the final decision maker?
  • Does he need the quote or is he acquiring it for someone else?
  • Is the salesman being measured on quotes or sales?
  • Did the salesman provoke thoughts in the ops manager that he was not aware of?

It seems to me that there are an overwhelming amount of salespeople out there that don’t have a strategic bone in their body.  The only thought that seems to enter their mind is based upon making a sale.  Although that is the obvious goal for most situations, the approach that most salespeople take works counterintuitive to that goal!  AND that is costing companies sales, revenues, profits, and relationships every day!

Think about our example story above; The salesperson, left to his own, would have gone back to his office and spent several hours researching and preparing a proposal for an opportunity that was not urgent or pending and quite possibly may have not even been real!  The hours spent on this activity costs you money!   Now, let’s take into account that while he is back at the office working on this quote (that most likely will not produce any near-term revenue) he is not generating new opportunities for the company. I don’t necessarily blame him.  In his mind, he IS pursuing a real sale of 30 new batteries.  He has not been trained to qualify or quantify opportunity!  This kind of thing is costing the company money every day but management typically does not see it.  What they see is a quote opportunity instead of a mishandled opportunity and a potential client that will most likely not be earned!

This example only illustrates the need for more training in the areas of opportunity identification and qualification.  Although I center most of that training on questions that need to be asked, it is also based upon knowledge of what each answer could mean in the strategic approach to the sale.  Taking just that one area (discovery) in the sales process, imagine how many times per day, per week, per month, per salesperson that this type of thing occurs (or does not occur.)  The costs to your business could be much more staggering that you might imagine.

Now, think about how many other areas of sales dysfunction exist in your sales team’s day-to-day efforts.  What’s going on in their prospecting efforts, their presentation approach, their objection management efforts, their negotiation steps, and in their attempts to close?  In addition, what are they doing at those trade shows?  What does their pre-call preparation process look like?  How do their follow-up efforts stack up?  How much training has gone into any of these areas for your people?

It is abundantly clear that an uneducated or under-trained sales force is considerably expensive to your organization.  In this economy where many companies are seeing fewer sales opportunities and much greater hesitance and fear in the marketplace into which they sell, any mediocrity in the sales force becomes extremely costly!

In this example, the worst part was that the salesman just didn’t know any better. Why?  Nobody taught him how to do his job as a professional.  Instead they simply said to get out and sell something!  At this point, he is left to learn on his own how to do a better job and uncover true opportunity.

The investment you make in training your people will bare substantial returns if it is consistent, strategic, up-to-date, and actionable!  On the other hand, the cost of not consistently training your salespeople can be invisible but nonetheless, extreme!

What Your Customers Really Want!

During the sales cycle, it is the goal (the desired outcome) of the sales professional and the company for which he/she works to close the sale and complete the transaction.  When this occurs, there is typically a transfer of funds that occurs which generates revenue resulting, hopefully, in a profit for the company.

Here is the interesting (painful) part:  The customer is not focused on nor do they care about this transaction.  They do not want the SALE!  They do not care about your profits!  What the customer wants are the things that occur for them based upon what the product or service does!  They want the benefits of ownership—not the ownership!

Here are 5 easy steps to discover what the customer wants:

1-Do your homework (pre-call planning)

2-Ask the right questions (relevance is key)

3-LISTEN with the intent to understand and add value

4-Restate what you heard to gain clarity and agreement

5-Provide a solution and speak to ONLY the solution


Let’s look at each step a little closer:

1-Do your homework

Invest your valuable time into the appropriate pre-call strategizing.  Do your best to not only research the company and the person on whom you will be calling, but to also “get in the prospect’s head.”  Ask yourself the following 3 questions:

A-What do we know? (about the person, the company, the decision-making process, etc.)

B-What do we need to know? (to move the sale forward)

C-What do we want to “get out on the table?” (what motivations will drive the sale?)

2-Ask the right questions

If you have done the right things in your pre-call preparation, you will have a clear purpose to your call as well as some relevant questions prepared.  Thinking through all of this in advance will help you ask (with confidence) the right questions which will make the prospect think in a different way about their situation. These questions will also position you as more of an expert and thus, will get better information from the customer.

3-LISTEN with the intent to understand and add value

The answers that come from your customer to the questions that you ask are the keys to your successful sale.  You see, as I said before, the customer does not want to own your product or service!  They don’t even want what it does!  They simply want the benefit of what it does for them.  If you are listening for what it is that they want, the secret to making the sale will come out.  Understand your customer’s motivations and you will understand their motives to take action.  Only then, can you add value and thus, make the sale!

4-Restate what you heard to gain clarity and agreement

The fact that you listened and thought that you understood the customer and their needs is not as important as the fact that the customers knew you were listening and understand them and their needs.  In order to make sure that they understand you were listening, use “re-cap sentence starters” as you feed back what you heard them say before you begin to offer a solution.  Example:  “OK Ms. Customer, let me make sure I understand your main areas of concern.  You…….  or  “OK Paul, let me make sure I’ve got this straight.  You…..  or  “Mary, let me make sure I heard you correctly. You…..”

Prove that you listened—show that you care!  Clarity creates consensus.  Consensus creates trust!

5-Provide a solution and speak only to the solution!

Many times, I see salespeople go through the discovery process (asking questions and listening) where the highest value needs (HVNs) of the customer become evident.  Rather than speak only to those needs, the salesperson breaks into the “presentation” part of the sales call and proceeds to puke all of the FAB (Feature, Advantage, Benefit) points about his product or service.  The Smart Selling suggestions above are designed to discover what your offer should be and what it should NOT be.  In other words, if you do a good job on the 4 points listed above, the customer will tell you which benefit to discuss.  Do that—nothing more!! Leave the other FABs out for now.

The Secret of Smart Selling

“If I put in front of the customer what they want more than anything else, they will, in turn, move heaven and Earth to get it AND pay a premium.”

Stop selling WHAT you want to sell, HOW you want to sell it, WHEN you want to sell it, and WHY you want to sell it!  They are most likely not the reasons your customers want to buy.  After all, aren’t they the boss?

Get Fit to SELL!

Today’s selling marketplace is not the same as it was 10 years ago.  There are more demands on our time.  There are more demands on us.  Customer’s expectations have increased along with their price sensitivity.  We are connected 24/7 via email, voicemail, cell phones, and IM.  We have to move faster, more efficiently, and more often to meet the needs of those with whom we wish to do business.  Our managers expect us to stop what we are doing and jump on a plane, make a sales call, fix a problem, take a client to a ballgame, have a late-night dinner, and do a variety of things to make sure that we don’t lose an opportunity or a client.

What is the answer as to how to compete—how to keep up?  Well, I have chosen to address part of the answer in this article.  GET FIT for the challenges that you face daily.  Oxygen has become an amazing additive to my daily/weekly diet through exercise.  Now, before you sign off in disgust at another exercise convert, I challenge you to read on….but only if you are interested in an EASY way to gain some additional edge over your competition.

Oh….do I have your attention?

The brain apparently is an organ that gives back in accordance to what it is given.  I have, for years touted the importance of feeding the brain by reading, listening to tapes and CDs in the areas in which you wish to improve, attending workshops & seminars, and reading industry magazines (yours and your customer’s).  It has long been my opinion that the more you feed your brain in the areas of expertise you need, the better your “shot” at becoming what you seek.  Although that has not changed, I now firmly believe in the feeding of something else to the brain—OXYGEN!

By setting up and following a simple regimen of exercise, you may very well increase your sales ability dramatically.  Let me see if I can give you a real-world example:

As a speaker, it is absolutely imperative that I am ON when I am on the speaking platform.  There is no excuse for a lackluster performance.  A client has engaged me to deliver a well-prepared message-to deliver content-and to do so in a way that will spark changes in behavior and thus, changes in results.  I need to be on my game.  I need to be well prepared and set to handle whatever may be thrown my way by the audience.  (Almost sounds like a sales call, doesn’t it?)

A while back, I was in Canada delivering two separate sessions to two different groups of CEOs regarding the development of a World Class Sales Organization.  I was to deliver two separate 4-hour sessions that would cover a variety of subjects including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, retraining, and retaining of sales talent.  Because of the audiences that I would be addressing, (CEOs) I had to be prepared to adjust my content to the desires of those in attendance and be prepared for group questions, challenges, and other interaction.  Although I have delivered over 500 of these sessions over the years, every group is different and something new may come up at any time—I must be on my game!

The night that I arrived, I made sure that I got into my hotel and got prepared to deliver for the next morning.  My plane arrived late and I got to the hotel about 10:00pm.  I immediately unpacked for the next morning (my 1st session was to start at 8:00am).  After falling asleep around midnight, I arose at 5:00am to get in a workout in the hotel gym.  I have to say, I was not particularly motivated when I got up, but 10 minutes into a 2-mile run, I was looking forward to the weight room.  90 minutes later, I was set for the day.

My session that morning to my first group of CEOs was fantastic.  I had a very engaged group of people that questioned and challenged me throughout.  The session was delivered with high energy and it came sooooo easy.  It seemed that I had just begun speaking when I was given the sign that the session was over.  The grades that I received were unanimously perfect.  Not only was the session an effortless BLAST for me.  Apparently, the group thought it was content rich and value packed as well.

The balance of that day went to a coaching session with a client of mine that flew in from Winnipeg followed by dinner and a couple of bottles of wine.  Needless to say, the evening was late and the next morning held no exercise activity before I was going LIVE again at 8:00am.  Although the session was very similar and the audience was equally engaged, I had to put in much greater effort to get similar results.  I had to think more and try harder.  Why?  In my opinion, my brain did not get that release of oxygen in the morning before the session.  Although the end result was pretty much the same (great reviews), the effort I had to put in to get there was almost twice as much!

Have you ever noticed some sales seem to be effortless works of art where you gain an immediate connection with the prospect?  The questions that you asked seem to move the prospect towards your offer.  The answers that the customer seeks are right on the tip of your tongue and they come out so smooth.  The rapport and trust that you built was done so with very little effort and you walk away with a sale that you didn’t even have to ask for.  I’m here to tell you that the majority of your sales can go like that if you get in shape for selling.

Here’s all you have to do:

First, you gotta want it.  If you don’t do it for your health, do it for the additional commissions!

Second, you need to design a plan.  Use the 3 C’s:  Clarity-Commitment-Consistency

(Be CLEAR on what it is that you will do each day—Stay COMMITTED to your plan—and stay CONSISTENT with your efforts to feed your brain every day.)

Third, Take immediate ACTION to get started.

Whether you choose to walk, run, swim, or hit the gym and stretch or push some iron around, I challenge you to take that first step to your health and selling success by setting in ACTION a plan to “Get Fit for Selling”.

Please Take My Call…

For many people in the profession of sales today, the job of prospecting to set up a meeting is about as exciting as a trip to the dentist.  (And more painful too!)  Although the art of prospecting into accounts is imperative to the success of so many salespeople, it is the number three skill that most say that they need help with right behind closing and time management!  As salespeople, we face a myriad of screens and gatekeepers that make our jobs much more difficult than we would like.

In fact, because of all of the non-professionals out there trying to make a living doing a horrible job on the phone, the prospective buyers of their service need to be hiding.  There are few of us who work the phones for sales or for appointments regularly that have ever received appropriate training in these areas.  The companies that hire us work by the philosophy of “Hire ‘em in masses-and kick ‘em in the asses!” We deserve what we get when our prospects hide behind voice mail, e-mail, and other gatekeepers.

As a matter of fact, as consumers, we have become so accustomed to the phone selling (or appointment setting) process being a bad one, we do the very things to those who call us after work that we loathe about those to whom we call during work.  Think about it!  A telemarketer calls you on a Saturday morning and starts to immediately go into a canned pitch for their product or service.  How long before you cut them off to tell them you are not interested?  How many of these calls do you take before you start simply hanging up on them mid-sentence or avoiding the interactions altogether by letting them go to voice mail?  And why do you do this?  The number one reason:  You’re afraid that they are going to waste your time.

Even though the caller on the other end of the line may have had a very valuable offering for you, it was the approach of several others before them that sabotaged their chances.  Do you ever feel this way when you are calling on your prospective customers?  Although you may have an incredible offer for them and their company, one that could save them time, make them money, put peace of mind to their fears, and/or make their lives easier, you don’t get a chance to talk about it because they won’t take your call!  Why?  Because they are afraid they you are going to waste their time!

When you are calling on prospective buyers of your products and services, be aware that they have become conditioned to the same fears that you have.  Knowing this, make sure that you either address these fears in your opening words or the voice mail that you leave.  State clearly the purpose for your call and keep concise the information about YOU and YOUR COMPANY.  Instead focus on them and their issues.

When leaving a voice mail, imagine that the person that you are calling will receive thirty or more calls from a salesperson like yourself today.  However, she will only return ONE of those calls?  Why should it be yours?  Keep the focus to only these three areas:

1-The Main Benefit of owning your product/service

2-How Your Product/Service will cure their pain, put peace of mind to their fear

help them reach a desired goal.

3-How easy it will be to accomplish all of this.

These things need to be communicated in a way that it grabs the attention of the prospect quickly and communicates that you will not waste their time, either on the phone or in a meeting.  It is very important that you are armed with examples stating that you have done these things for and with others (assuming that you have) but equally important that you do not go into exactly how you have done these things.  You need to leave some of the mystery on for the meeting itself and not allow the prospective buyer to make decisions based upon partial information form a phone conversation.

How do I say this in a simple manner?  The purpose of a sales prospecting call is to make a sale.  However, that sale is often that of getting an appointment and nothing else.  In order to get that appointment, (or whatever the next step might be) you need to speak primarily to the main motivators of the prospective customer.

They are only tuned into one radio station and that is WII-FM-What’s In It For Me?  It’s about Return on Investment. (ROI) Speak to them about what RETURN they will receive from the INVESTMENT in time that they make in listening to you on the phone and seeing you in person.  Focus on them and not on you and you will have a better shot of getting through.

Manager Vs. Coach – A HUGE Difference!!

Stop Managing and Start Coaching

The word “coaching” is starting to be used so often these days that it is truly losing its meaning and effectiveness. Too many mangers/leaders are using the word in an attempt to separate themselves. Words and phrases, however, do nothing to separate those who can and do from everyone else. ACTION is the thing that does that! Below are several actions that you as a business leader can do to stop talking it and to start walking it—Become a coach to your people and they will be your people for a long, long time:

Always Look for and Draft Top Talent

As a coach, you want to give your team the right staff of players so that they can consistently win in the marketplace. The best coaches realize that they must always be looking for and recruiting new stars to their teams. New players keep the team fresh and on their toes. New players to the team may replace existing non-productive players or may help to drive those existing players to new levels of productivity.

A coach never grows his team just for the sake of growing it. It doesn’t always take more players to win, but it always takes the right players. A coach is always looking for the key players to add to his team to help bring it to the next level.

Set Expectations Up Front

The coach brings every member onto his team with open eyes. He works very hard to set mutual expectations up front with his new players. He makes sure that his players know that he will expect big things from them-that they will work harder on his team than they ever have anywhere else in the past-that they will be measured and held accountable to always be improving and bettering themselves-that they will be held to the highest standards of professionalism-that they are the most important people in the company and should regard what it is they do as such-that FUN is not a four letter word-and that Attitude + Skills + Activity will be the formula that they will grow by on this team.

The coach also sets the expectations that his players have of him and the company right up front as well. He allows the players to “hold his feet to the fire” on issues such as attitude, communication, measurement, training, field coaching, etc. All new players know very clearly what their plans are and what they can expect upon completion of all assigned tasks. The team knows that the coach will be held accountable to help them reach their goals. The coach will not let down any of his players when it comes to making sure that they do the things necessary to reach their own individual goals

Have a Clear Plan for Every Player

The best coaches always make sure that every player on their team has a very clear and defined game plan to success. They realize that if they can keep their players focused on their key roles in the outcome for the team, that each player would have a much better chance of winning. The teams that consistently win do so because they have a very clear plan that is broken into individual responsibilities.

A coach will make sure that his players know what to do from the time that they come into the office in the morning until the time they leave at night. A good coach goes the extra mile in explaining each individual game plan to his players. A good coach leaves nothing to chance. A good coach works with his people individually on their game plans so that he can improve his players’ skills as well as their need for personal expertise. A good coach realizes that a player without a plan has no way to mark his/her successes as they come.

Always Training, Teaching, Guiding, Coaching

A coach is a teacher, a mentor, a leader. The best coaches are the ones who are on the field with their players every day working with them on their skills. The best coaches schedule time every day for training of their people. The skills necessary for success must be taught and practiced regularly. People do not learn these things intuitively. Coaches realize that most players, given the choice, would rather not practice their skills. This is not to say that they do not want to succeed. They merely will take the past of least resistance most times. (It is human nature.)

It is important for salespeople to do what it is that their coach wants them to do-but even more important that his people WANT to do what he wants them to do. Therefore, it is equally important that, as coaches, we work hard on showing those on our teams that it is part of the entire culture to train, practice and perform every day. The best teams in history did not stop practicing because they started winning.  They did not stop practicing because they got some good players. Solid coaching requires a discipline towards constant improvement.

Constantly Build and Strengthen Relationships

Even the best players do not respond if there is no trust. A good coach realizes that it may take months-even years to build a solid foundation of trust but only moments to destroy it. Coaching sometimes requires tough choices. Good coaches always make sure that the choices they make do not compromise the trust that they have built. Good coaches realize that it isn’t always about being the nice guy-but is about being fair and honest with the entire team.

Solid relationships are built on communication. If there is not a solid culture based upon communication, it is very difficult to even recognize the challenges, and thus, almost impossible to cure the problem.

Taking the time to forge solid relationships with his people is one of the things that a great coach does best. People will walk through fire for a leader they believe in. People tend to trust and believe in those who trust and believe in them. This goes beyond words.

Are You ASKING For It?

ask for the sale

Here is an interesting question:  Why is it that we, as salespeople spend so long, invest so much time, energy, preparation, and effort on the phone with the prospective and existing customer during the sales cycle only to let the sale fade away or go to the competition?  Why is it that we place so much emphasis and commitment on the process of moving the ball down the field but yet design so very few plays to actually take the ball into the end zone?

We need to realize that whenever we do not actually attempt to create some closure–ask for the business–we literally destroy (or at least taint) all that we have worked for throughout the sales process.  We give up the connection and trust that we have built, the relationships that we have developed, the enthusiasm we have created, and the momentum of the process.  We simply let the sale wither away and die or get taken over by another more assertive, focused salesperson that was prepared (AND took the leap of faith) to ASK for the business!

Do you feel that you offer such irrefutable evidence of value throughout your sales presentations that the customer will simply give in?  Do you feel that your features, advantages, and benefits (FAB points) are so compelling that prospects don’t need to be asked to buy them?  Do you feel that you will offend your prospect or customer if you were to actually ask them to buy from you?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need to GET OVER IT! (and possibly consider another career!) Here are a few very key RULES when it comes to closing the sale:

Rule #1—You MUST ask for the business!

Rule #2—You MUST earn the right to ask for the business!

Rule #3—The customer knows why you’re there!

Rule #4—Sometimes the answer is NO! Deal with it!

Rule #5—If you cannot, will not, or do not ask for the business, someone else will!

Ok, so why does it happen?  Why do many salespeople have a hesitance to ask for the business?

It is my belief that most salespeople do not ask for the YES

because they are afraid to hear the NO! 

Here are some other reasons

Little to no belief in their value proposition, their product, or their service.

  •     A lack of confidence or self-worth.
  •     No connection with the customer, thus no trust.
  •     The customer is in control-asking all of the questions.
  •     The salesperson doesn’t feel like they have earned the right yet.
  •     The salesperson has not discovered any motivators to create urgency.
  •     No time-lines have been discussed throughout the process.
  •     There is no defined sales process that the salesperson can follow.
  •     And many others

The good news is that ALL of these are within the control of the salesperson—the right salesperson.

FACT: is that it is not the responsibility of the customers to close themselves.  It is the job of the salesperson to get that done!  You are not paid to be a professional educator, a professional presenter, a hesitant visitor, or a walking-talking brochure-website.  You are paid to move the ball down the field and to score.  That’s it!!

The web site, the brochures, the advertising, and other marketing pieces often have very little to do with the Call to Action…but you do!  Your territory, products, prices, and your competition are what they are and they do not control your success…you do!  The prospective customer knows that you are there for a reason and that reason is to make the sale. Often, the only thing that stands in the way is you!  Are you willing to make the changes necessary to stay in the game?  If so, take a look at a few suggestions:

Learn how to ask better (more focused) questions to pull out true motivations (Pains-Fears-Desires) from the prospect.  Get to the WHY behind their answers!  Ask questions to gauge the prospects level of interest, understanding, and continued engagement in the process such as “So far, so good?”  “Up to this point, what questions do you have?” “Does that make sense?”

Have a clear purpose for each and every call that you make on the prospect.  If you don’t understand what needs to be discovered /uncovered and agreed upon in the sales process, how will the customer?  Going on a call without a clearly defined purpose and a clearly prepared Call to Action wastes both your time and the prospect’s.

Learn to “set the pace” of the sales cycle from the beginning.  Be in control by constantly and relentlessly moving the deal forward by calling the shots.  Get in the habit of thinking—and asking—“So what’s our next step?”

Be Your BEST!

picture of happy business team celebrating victory in office

In today’s competitive market, none of us have time for mediocrity or half heated efforts from our sales and service teams.  We need to be fighting for every inch of ground.  We need our people to be their absolute BEST with no excuses.

Why?  Most companies are facing fewer opportunities to land new business from both new and existing customers this year.  To use a baseball analogy, we are all getting less “at bats” this year.  Here is the brutal fact that we all need to face:  If you do not improve your skills while “in the batter’s box,” you will score far less this year.  That leads to less commission dollars for salespeople and less sales and profits for the companies that employ them.  Now, throw in the desperation that may creep into the entire organization to make sales and you will see that margins start to get compromised as prices are dropped and all sorts of justifications are made to do so.  The company culture starts to get challenged due to inevitable cut-backs and staff reductions.  What a mess!

Here is just one way to begin to right the ship.  Make sure that you raise the bar in all that you so!  Make it impossible for your prospects, customers, and clients to even think about doing business with anyone else.  You need to be (and expect from all around you) only the BEST!  No excuses…no blame.  Just the BEST!

In giving thought to this article, I thought I would offer my thoughts based upon an acronym of that word; BEST!  Read on and relate the following ideas to you and your organization.


It is very common for those in your organization to begin to have thoughts that challenge their basic belief in the company, the products, the pricing, their colleagues, the leadership, the marketplace, the customers and more during tougher economic times.  Yet, it is this belief that drives your organizations success now more than ever.  Belief is the cornerstone of confidence.  Your entire team needs to feel that they are in the right place, at the right time, with the right company, the right products/services and the right prices, selling into the right marketplace to the right people.  When that confidence isn’t BEAMING at every “touch point” in your organization, difficult times are not far behind.

So…eyes open…ears open!  Pay attention or pay the price!  Negativity and pessimism in your sales and service departments today are exponentially more dangerous than ever.

You need 100% buy-in and 100% belief!  Raise the bar on your communication and your visibility.  Engage your team in twice daily huddles.  Spend 15 minutes every morning reinforcing the importance of their efforts for the day ahead of them and 15 minutes every evening validating and recognizing the warriors for the battles they fought today!  Your involvement as a leader will drive out those who are lost and drive IN those who are destined to carry you and your organization to greatness!

Attitude is one of the key fundamentals to all success. And belief drives attitude!  Remember the old adage that states, “Whether you think you can or your think you can’t…you’re right!”  Everywhere a sales professional looks today, he/she is bombarded with the doomsday predictions of the press, the pundits, and (unfortunately) even those closest to him such as colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors.  In that sea of negativity there needs to be a lighthouse that marks their bearings; a beacon of hope that they are on the right track.  Key in on the BELIEF of your people.  Before you do, however, check into your own belief level….it might need a tune-up as well!

E—Everything Matters

Several books have been written over the past few years in the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” collection.  With all due respect to those words of wisdom, you need to understand that those books were written when the sun was shining and the economy was stronger than today!  So, find a spot on the shelf (or in the “round file”) file those books and understand that everything matters today.

We are doing business in a world today where access to information (and your competition) is as easy as firing up a laptop.  Customers are barraged daily with options as to who to do business with.  Our competitors are doing desperate things, chasing all that moves, dropping price, and challenging our customers’ belief in us!  We simply cannot stand by and sing let that happen.  This is war and everything matters!  Every penny of our margins need to be justified today!  Every ounce of customer loyalty needs to be earned at every possible level.  When it comes down to a choice between US or THEM, we need to have not one or two, but 10-20 examples of differentiation and value!  And as small as some of them may seem, all of them add up to more wins and less losses.  So…here are a few examples for your sales efforts today:


Voicemail–Outbound-Only the sharpest, most focused voicemails are to be left.  Remember the main reason that we leave voicemails is to get a call back.  Be clear, be concise, and be prepared to compel them into the action you desire—a return call!

Voicemail-Inbound-Pick up your telephone (cell phone and desk phone) and change that voicemail NOW!  I’ll bet it has not been changed in ages.  You can stand out with freshness in your message.  Just think, your prospect, customer, or client is on the phone

with an opportunity for you.  What do you wish to convey?  Mediocrity, same-ol-same-ol, indifference OR energy, passion, creativity, and excitement.  Your choice!

Email-For those of you who thought email was a fad, bad news!  Email has become a communication tool that has, arguably revolutionized the way that companies (salespeople) and customers do business.  It has, in my opinion, become one of the biggest communication crutches for salespeople today.  While I believe that there is extreme value in e-communication as a tool today, it all too often is overused, misused, and abused by marketers and salespeople.  Pay close attention to the emails that are being sent out to your customers.  Don’t rely on an email to express your emotions, your passion and your value.  Don’t simply “put something out there” via email to judge your customer’s reaction.  It is simply too easy (on both ends) to hide emotions, misconstrue agendas, and convey false genuineness via email today.  Tighten up your email (spelling and grammar) and, whenever possible pick up the phone or get off your butt and CONNECT!!

Process-Are the ways that you go about your sales process today as effective as they need to be for your prospects, customers, and clients in today’s world?  Too often, when I am wearing my coach/consultant hat, I see companies that approaching the marketplace today the same way that they have for the past several years.  Here is another newsflash:  Your prospects and customers today are buying differently and looking for more, for different, and (this hurts) they care less and less about you and your company!  Everyone is in survival mode.  Are you still following the same process as you have for years?  Are you still relying on your presentation or your PowerPoint?  Are the tactics you employ even relevant today?  It’s worthy of an overhaul wouldn’t you think?  Take your process apart and tighten it up NOW because your customer demands it and your competition might beat you to it.  Here is a tip:  Figure out what your buyers today need more than anything (not lower prices) and help them see how you deliver it better than anyone.  Stop selling and HELP THEM BUY!  Remember this; Safe trumps cheap!  Make your offer compelling and safe because your focus is on THEM and not you!

S—Step Up

Now is the time for everyone in your company to truly understand their role in the acquisition and retention of customers.  It is now time to work our butts off and to FIGHT!  That leaves no room for halfhearted effort and losers.  Sound too tough?  Too bad, it’s time to rise to the occasion.  If not now, when?

I was recently in the United Red Carpet Club in Chicago on a layover on a flight and saw an interview of Nick Saban, Head Coach of the Alabama college football team.  Although I was across the room and could not hear the message, it was being close captioned across the screen.  He was talking to the media about the expectations of the upcoming season.  He was discussing work ethic and what it would take to win a national title this year.  During this rant (and, although I could not hear him, it certainly looked like a passionate dissertation by an enthusiastic leader) Saban stated that the hard work and determination needs to “dominate the competition” in this league was extreme and (this was the part that I loved) what the players perception of hard work meant prior to coming to camp this year was irrelevant and non-consequential!  We need to raise it to an entire new level to compete and dominate in this division—and to win a national title.  Wow!

It’s time for all of us to step up.  Very few companies are escaping the grasp of this economic turmoil.  One thing that we all have in common is that we need to be more focused and more disciplined today to do the right things over and over and over today.  Self discipline has been defined as “doing the things that you need to do, when you need to do them, whether you want to or not!”  At what point in the past 10 years has this statement been more relevant than today.


Tenacity is defined as holding firmly, persistent, or stubborn.  When I think of a tenacious salesperson, I often get a picture in my mind of a dog firmly latched onto the cuff of the pants of someone, never letting go.  In this day and age, the attitude and ability of your people simply to not give up when the going gets difficult is so important.

Several years ago, I read study by the Harvard Business Review that identified the two main characteristics that stood out in top sales professionals.  Out of all of the possible variables in skill sets these two areas were the most common:  Empathy and Persistence!

In other words, top sellers as a whole had a variety of skills and many different activities that helped them achieve success but it was the willingness and ability to understand and relate to the customer and their needs coupled with their dogged determination (their TENACITY) to see to it that they helped the customer make the purchase that separated them from the pack.

So, when you set your targets, your goals this year, did you do them in pencil?  Did you decide that you would ebb and flow your sales and profits based upon what the marketplace would bare or did you make a DECISION as to what you would accomplish?  Do the salespeople on your team see a sale all the way through or do they tend to lose faith when the going gets tough?  Do they strategize and execute or wring their hands and wait?  If you or your salespeople manage accounts and the ongoing sales in those accounts, do you approach the success of your clientele with tenacity, not letting them give up on themselves (and eventually you) or do you simply wait for the inevitable “apology call” Pay attention!  Everyone that you lose during these times is more potentially devastating—don’t give up…don’t let go…failure is not an option.

Your company, your employees, your customers, your family and you all deserve one thing today.  And that is your BEST!  So, take a moment and ask yourself a question right now.  For every move that you have made today, have you offered your best?  Anything short of that simply will not do!

Pop Quiz!


Are you on track to hit your end-of-year sales goal?

True or False:  Sales goals are typically set by the company and should be raised each year according to the previous year’s results.  FalseQuotas are set by the company and tend to be somewhat “detached” from the individual goals of the salesperson.  Too often, company leaders and sales managers feel that the salespeople on their teams do not buy into the goal that they have been given.  Why?  Because it is not their goal!  Instead, the sales number (the goal) is one that has been decided without the input of the salesperson and thus, lack of buy-in is inevitable.  In order to really accomplish GREAT things in the goal setting process in your organization, first, find out what it is that your salespeople truly would like to accomplish.  This may be a financial goal or a personal goal such as a home, car, or vacation that can be accomplished with increased commissions.  Now, together, figure out what needs to change in their daily efforts (and thus, results) in order to hit the commission goal. This takes time and effort on both the part of the manager and the salesperson (just like figuring out your customer’s goals).  But when both the salesperson and the sales manager are clear on the WHAT is the goal, together they are bought-in  and can “put up with” almost any of the HOW it is to be accomplished.  It is the difference between pushing someone towards YOUR goal (quota) or pulling them towards THEIR goals (rewards).  One is a lesson in futility (hard work) and the other is good business practice.

True or False:  Goals are something that are to be set to gauge your success every year.  False.  Your goals are a “track on which to run” your race-be it a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual, or lifetime race!  Your goals are you life plan.  Your goals are personal to you and your success-not a gauge as to whether or not you are.  Year after year, studies have discovered that the most successful business people of our time have a few things in common.  The most common characteristic or trait is that each of them has clearly defined, written goals by which they lead their lives.  It has been said that you miss 100% of the targets that you do not aim at.  Setting goals allows you to set individual targets for your success in many areas of your life.  If, at the end of the year, you find that your sales goals have not been reached, an appropriate inventory of what happened and what did not happen is in order.  However, if you wait until the end of the year, you will find that, more often than not, you will have fallen short.  Goals need to be “checked-in-on” regularly (at least monthly) to make sure that you are on track.  If you are not, adjustments need to be made to the way that you are running the race.  Those adjustments can come in the form of attitude, skills, activity, and even moving the finish line.  Set goals with your people and make those goals a living, breathing, real-time plan that you will visit regularly and constantly strive to achieve throughout the year.

True or False:  Goals should be broken down into quarterly and even monthly.  True!  An amazing thing happens whenever there is a deadline!  Most companies radically increase sales production in the final quarter or every year.  Some companies greatly increase their sales results in the final weeks of every quarter each year.  And some companies greatly increase their numbers of closed sales during the final few days of every month.  Why is this? Customers don’t buy differently at the end of the month, quarter, or year do they?  Results increase because there is a deadline–a measurement of success specific to each of these companies and their sales cycles that is determined by not only the results themselves, but also by when the results are accomplished.  In American football, every team can run a series of plays called “the Two-Minute Drill” in which a team can go the entire length of the field inside the Two-Minute time frame.  It is a thing of beauty to see a team operate this drill in harmony and accomplish things in a matter of less than two minutes that they had been working hard all game to accomplish in much longer timeframes.  What is it that both sales teams and sports teams GET when there is a deadline?  A sense of urgency!  By making sure that your team’s sales goals are set up in such a way that deadlines are looming on a regular basis, you build an inherent sense of urgency into the attitudes and daily activities of each person on your team.  Because of this sense of urgency, complacency will become non-existent.  Because of this sense of urgency, salespeople ask better questions, run better plays, anticipate the moves the defense (customer) will make, and in turn, will score more frequently.  The result, a much greater chance of answering the first question asked above (Are you on track for your year-end sales goals?) with a YES!

Sharpen Your (Sales Manager) Axe!


A major part of my training focuses on the salesperson asking better questions in the interest of “opening” the prospective buyer.  It is my belief that better questions get better answers and that those answers assist the salesperson in “building the case” for their products or services.  This article, however, is not about the salesperson, but rather the sales manager.

A sales manager’s job is NOT to grow sales!  It is the job of the sales manager to grow salespeople.  The attitude and skills sets that they build and develop in their salespeople are the things that will grow the sales for any company.  One of the areas that I find that sales managers can truly move into that COACH role is by preparing and asking solid questions of their salespeople.  Here are a few points to consider:

1-The Pre-Call Huddle

Prior to going on the sales call, every sales manager should engage in a pre-call huddle with their salespeople.  The pre-call huddle should occur well in advance of the sales call.  Depending upon the complexity and size of the potential sale, the pre-call huddle could happen several days or several hours before the actual call.  The purpose of the pre-call huddle (and the questions that are asked in it) is to gauge the preparation and mindset of the salesperson.  The pre-call huddle should include any and all people that could play a role in the acquisition and retention of the customer.  Most efforts are won by teams and it is a major responsibility of the sales manager to create the best team possible for each of the company’s opportunities.

2-The “Coaching” Field Call

Too many managers try to lead from behind a desk.  They gauge the success or failure of their salespeople by the amount of calls they make or the amount of closed business at the end of the day.  Activity management and results management are two weak areas in which a sales manager can find himself/herself making bad decisions.  We need to get off the sidelines and get into the game with our people.  Attending sales calls with our salespeople (whether riding “shotgun” on the telephone or in person) will help identify the areas in which we can make the most impact for our people.  It is on these calls that we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the various approaches that our people take to identify highest value needs (HVNs) our customers and communicate our value to the market.

3-The Post-Call De-brief

We tend to learn from both our wins as well as our losses.  In fact, I would bet that you would offer that you learn more from your losses!  Sales managers need to make a habit to de-brief with their salespeople on a regular basis.  We need to not only get the information of what occurred on the sales call.  We need to understand what happened and why!  Although the information (did it close or not) is important, it is limiting to our growth for the future.  We need to identify what our people learned on the “wins” so that we can ensure we win again.  We also need to discover what our people learned from the “losses” to ensure we do not repeat it in the future.  Understanding what our people know and do not know will help us to design the appropriate strategies by which to assist in their growth on our teams.

Questions are a big part of this.  Here at Sales Coach International, we have recently found ourselves creating many “Question Guides” for our clients.  The process of doing so is more a matter of getting “buy-in” to the importance of using questions in the sales process to open the customer and get the information and understanding that we need to properly navigate the sales process.  Once everyone is on the same page, we identify several areas in which we ask questions and task everyone on the team to send us their top questions in these areas.  After several “takes” and “re-takes” we end up with a solid compilation of questions from those in the field of battle every day.  The list itself serves as a great “cheat sheet” for those salespeople to use on a day to day basis.

The challenge we find is that the sales managers of these teams need to continue to gauge the pre-call mindset and the pre-call preparation of the salesperson in order for the right sales approach to be taken.  Because of this, we subsequently packaged recent versions of the Question Guides to include questions that we want the salespeople to continually ask of themselves before making any call:

1-What’s the Purpose of this Call?

2-What do we Know?

3-What do we Need to Know?

4-What do we Need to “Get Out on the Table?”

These four questions, along with several more industry specific questions are included in the first few pages of the Question Guide.  The interesting result was that what we actually came up with was a “cheat sheet” by which sales managers could continually coach and develop the pre-call mindset and prep work of their salespeople.  The Question Guide becomes a vital part of the Pre-Call Huddle, The Coaching Field Call, and the Post Call De-Brief.

I suggest that you give this a try.  Build a series of relevant questions with your salespeople that they can reference prior to sales calls.  Package that Question Guide with a few of the questions above that will be great reminders for both the salesperson AND the manager as to the things that they need to have prepared for every call.  We like to believe that salespeople constantly need “sharpening of the axes” to keep ahead of the competition.