Lies We’re Told About Selling

The topic of ‘lies, lying and liars’ is in the news a lot these days, so I want to discuss some of the lies that we’re told about sales. In all my 25 years of sales and sales management, I’ve rarely ever seen a salesperson consciously lie to a customer. I think some customers may THINK that they are being consistently lied to, but I personally just haven’t seen that happening. Unfortunately, most of the lying that I’ve seen is when salespeople are lying to themselves and when their sales management believes lies that they have been told and conditioned with in their management careers.

The successful salesperson doesn’t prejudge or assume…they don’t close their minds to possibilities. The successful salesperson doesn’t believe the lies.

Assuming the Customer Won’t Buy

This is a lie that many salespeople tell themselves. They believe that just because a customer didn’t buy a particular product in the past, that there is no way they would consider a similar new offering. This is a cancerous attitude because it can infect the entire way you manage your business and, for that fact, your career. The best salespeople put previous setbacks with customers behind them and view each new product offering as a new opportunity. They don’t assume anything…they carefully prepare for the customer meeting and start fresh. If you had a good understanding from your customer as to why they didn’t purchase last time, you can use that knowledge as the basis for the new proposal. As I’ve mentioned before, objections and ‘not making the sale’ can be of enormous benefit in making the next RFP and closing the sale next time. It’s important to turn your frustration into action and always go into a meeting with an optimistic attitude.

“Just Make the Sale, We’ll Figure Out the Details Later”

This is something that I’ve heard before from certain of my own managers and also witnessed other peer sales managers tell their teams. This type of attitude is a direct result of too much focus on the short-term (the current quarter) without taking into consideration the long-term relationship with your customer. And it’s a lie, too.

When a sales team is directed to sell this way, they will actually significantly harm their customer relationships because the customer will not view them as a partner, looking out for the customer’s interests, but as a vendor who is only in it for themselves. Even if you, as a reputable salesperson, try to avoid selling this way, you can oftentimes destroy your marketplace credibility if you are tainted with this kind of sales approach. If your company is currently selling with this type of approach, it is a huge red flag and you should view this as your ‘early warning system’ to begin to look for another job. Your reputation within your own industry and with your customers is pure gold and while it takes years to establish, it can be destroyed in an instant.

“Hard-ass Managing is the way to Run a Sales Team”

Just about every salesperson I’ve ever known has had one of these types of managers…one who assumes the worst about their sales team and treats them as such. There is a deep level of intimidation in many of these types of sales managers and they believe that their ‘hard-ass’ approach is the way to motivate the team, by fear, to achieve their revenue goals. This is also a lie.

The best sales managers that I’ve worked with are unfailingly optimistic, and they believe in their sales teams. Motivating a sales team is part art, part science. My experience has shown me that a supportive management team will not only be better motivators but will bring in more business with less team turnover. Turnover is important because each new salesperson takes at least three months, in my experience, before they are fully up to speed. People, not only salespeople, want to work for someone they trust and believe has their best interests in mind. The role of the sales manager is to deliver against the company revenue goals but to also help to promote and develop their team members. The sales manager’s goal should also be to leave their team in better shape than they found it.

The best salespeople I’ve known are realists about where they are with their business and with their careers. These sales superstars don’t lie to themselves and they treat their customers as they would want to be treated themselves.

So, Who is a Great Salesperson? The One Who Sells

“OK, Tim, what does this headline mean?”

I was watching a documentary about one of my favorite authors, David McCullough, where he talked about writing. He said that the only way one could improve as a writer was to write. You can’t read a book to learn how to write, you have to sit down, take the time, and do the work yourself. I actually borrowed my headline from a quote from Allan Lokos, “So what is a good meditator? The one who meditates.”

Sales is very much like writing and meditating…or learning to play music, for that matter. There are countless books about sales and, while many can be very illuminating and helpful, they can’t take the place of being in front of a customer and actually selling. For you, as a salesperson, to grow, improve, and be a great salesperson, you need be on sales calls.

Objections are Your Friend

Many new salespeople are afraid of hearing objections. They shouldn’t be afraid of objections but should welcome, end even solicit, objections. Customer objections are like GPS trackers helping you to arrive at your destination of making the sale. Each objection more fully exposes what you, as the salesperson, need to address with your customer. Objections actually make your job easier because as you answer each objection to your customer’s satisfaction, you’re advancing down the path of closing the deal. I can tell when we aren’t connecting with the customer in a meeting if we’re not hearing any questions or objections. If you’re giving a presentation, and you’re facing ‘stony stares’, you might want to throw out a comment that is somewhat controversial or irreverent to just shake things up and solicit comments.

The only way you are going to learn how to better handle objections is to be in customer meetings and address their objections.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practicing selling is a natural by-product of being in meetings with your customers. Basically, you’ve created a presentation for your meeting and are looking forward to presenting it. Some salespeople like to practice giving the presentation to their manager, or to another salesperson in their office. I think that is great to do but sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to do that, so in some cases you’re actually presenting the deck for the first time in front of your customer. I believe that is OK as long as you are knowledgeable about the products you’re presenting. It’s tough giving a presentation for the first time, though, if you aren’t buttoned up on the topic. You should be very fluent in discussing your company’s ‘elevator pitch.’ This only means that when someone asks you, in business or personal, about what your company does, you should be abler to flawlessly answer the question in 30 seconds or so. This is definitely something that you SHOULD practice and be able to intelligently talk about with people.

Listening, Not Talking

Listening to your customer is critical…you need to fully understand your customer’s needs and goals before you are able to suggest solutions. How would you like to visit your doctor and, before you’ve said why you’re there, the doctor writes you a prescription? I’d be ready to walk out the door and find another doctor!

It’s the same with sales…you have to understand the problem before you can suggest a solution. Asking questions is the best way to do this. I’d ask as many questions about your customers’ business needs as they would be willing to answer. Every bit of information you receive will enable you to put together a better sales proposal with solutions. You customer will also respect you for doing your due diligence and not just trying to “sell” them something but to help them solve their problems. It’s easy to practice your listening skills as you have opportunities to do so every day whether at work or with friends. Focus on listening carefully to what the other person is saying and resist the temptation to already begin to form your next statement. I try (not always successfully) to take a breath before responding in a conversation. It’s important to remember that you’re in a conversation and you can learn a lot about the other person just by practicing ‘active listening.’

Sales is not a passive activity. In some respects, it’s like golf, surfing, or any other activity. There are books about golf, surfing, and sales…but you can’t learn any of these skills by just reading about them. You have to be actively involved and DOING to be proficient in these types of activities. To be better in sales, you need to SELL.

Practicing Mindfulness Equals Sales Success

Webster’s dictionary defines mindfulness as:

“the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; alsosuch a state of awareness.”

If there is a better definition of what is needed to be successful in sales and sales management, I’d like to see it.

Mindfulness in sales will help you be a better partner with your customers because you are more ‘aware’ of their needs and their goals and aspirations. It’s not about YOU, it’s about THEM.

Being mindful with your own team will make you a better teammate…again, it’s not about YOU, it’s about your TEAM.

Being ‘Aware’ with Customers

One of the biggest learning opportunities for new salespeople presenting is their focus on the presentation and their perceived need to get through ALL the information in the deck, at all costs. What these new salespeople need to learn is that it is a two-way street…it’s not just delivering the info to the customer but also ensuring that the customer is RECEIVING the information in the presentation. This is a great example of the need for the salesperson to be mindful and self-aware in the present, while in a customer meeting. It is easy, while presenting, to be too focused on going through all the bullet points on a slide in the rush to get to the next slide. If, however, you are in the present, you’ll be aware of the reactions from your customers. By being aware and in the present, you’ll truly RECOGNIZE both verbal and non-verbal feedback form you’re your customers. As we’ve discussed before, the old adage about “two ears vs. one mouth” in regard to listening is critical to be a successful salesperson and being mindful is aligned with being a good listener.

I’ve been meditating twenty minutes, twice a day, for almost 2 ½ years and I’ve found that a meditation practice really helps me to stay in-the-moment and to keep focused. If you haven’t tried meditating, you may want to give it a shot…there are many different types and you can find out all about them online. I have friends in sales who also find running and exercise to be very helpful in practicing mindfulness.

It’s important to honestly evaluate your own strengths and areas of improvement. Most of us are very comfortable thinking about our strengths but it can be sobering to honestly look at where we need to improve. I find practicing mindfulness as an aid to being more open with myself…and honestly looking at what changes I need to make to improve myself.

Practicing Mindfulness in Your Office

Being mindful in your own office is the practice of being a good listener and being ‘in the moment’ for your teammates. This is particularly important if you’re in a sales management role. As a sales manager, you’re being pulled in multiple directions from your own team from your senior management. The most successful salespeople I know fully realize that it ‘takes a team’ to achieve their sales goals. While an individual salesperson may receive the most recognition, that salesperson knows, and should acknowledge, the importance of the entire team. Going back to the definition above, I believe being nonjudgmental with your teammates will lead to a smoother and more efficient sales team. Salespeople need to not ASSUME things about a situation, or an individual.

Being mindful in your office also means having a positive attitude. You, as a salesperson or sales manager, can make a huge impact with your team by being upbeat. This doesn’t mean ignoring challenges, but it does mean rationally addressing those challenges in a positive way. One individual with a good attitude can spread that positive attitude throughout a team. Even the most jaded, cynical salesperson can become more positive if ‘positivity’ is the culture. If you currently work in a dysfunctional sales organization, I strongly encourage you to make a real effort to change that culture, beginning with yourself. You still may end up leaving your company, but I know from personal experience that one person can make a difference.

“Is this all there is?” Finding Fulfillment in Sales (and elsewhere)

Since I started writing this blog about a year ago, I’ve talked with over 100 different salespeople and sales managers about their perceptions of sales and their own sales careers. There is a wide variety of attitudes about sales and also about what keeps them motivated. Clearly, money and financial security is a strong motivator, but it is not the only motivator for most of the people I’ve spoken with. In fact, a number of people, myself included, have had times in their careers where they ask themselves, “Is this all there is?” Or, how fulfilled am I in this sales or sales management role?

This column will focus on ways that help me to be motivated and also find fulfillment in our often-challenging careers in sales and sales management.

Giving Back Within Your Industry

Giving back can mean many different things…it could be volunteering within your industry to help at an industry trade organization. Being in advertising sales, I’ve volunteered for well over 20 years to our local organization, ThinkLA, as well as its predecessor, the Advertising Club of Southern California. Helping a trade organization within your industry is a great way to help your industry grow and provide value to those people who are in your industry. I’ve worked on committees to plan educational, networking and social events for the benefit of the Southern California advertising community. Trade groups are always looking for people to help out and it is a great way to get to know others in your local industry. It’s also good for your own business. I’ve worked many times on committees not only with other salespeople but with customers. This is an important ‘side-benefit’ because you are getting to know your customers in an environment other than ‘across the table’ as a vendor. You and your customer are working together to create and execute a successful event. I guarantee you it will change the way that each of you views the other…and in a positive way that will be good for your career.

Another important way that you can ‘give back’ within your industry is mentoring. Whatever level of experience that you have in sales, or sales management, you have more experience and knowledge than someone else…and you could be enormously helpful in growing someone’s career. There is a definite need for mentoring in the sales world because of the complexity and stress that can negatively impact a less experienced salesperson. The sales cycle is real, and every salesperson will go through ‘ups and downs’…and having someone to talk to is invaluable. At ThinkLA, we started a mentorship program to match experienced advertising people with less experienced people and it has been very successful, with over 50 different mentor-mentee pairings. More companies should create their own internal mentorship programs as this would help in building company knowledge and also company morale. If you have an opportunity to be involved with a mentorship program, do it.

Giving Back Overall

There are a lot of people that need help in this country. Whatever side of the political aisle you stand, we all know of and see people every day that are not as fortunate as we are…and they need our help.

I’ve always set aside a certain percentage of income for charitable contributions and it is something that is easy to do and can help make a difference. I like the idea of a ‘percentage’ because your giving can grow as become more successful in your career. Even just starting out, consider donating to the organization or charity of your choice.

While my donations are important, I also find that donating my time to help people is also fulfilling and makes a difference. One activity that I’ve done is work on meal preparation and serving meals at a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. Whatever sized city you may live in, you probably have people who may be homeless or low-income, in need of help. Many shelters are always in need of volunteers to help and I’d encourage you to research those in your local area where you can make an impact. You’re not only helping others, but you will help yourself by contributing your time to those in need.

All of our sales and sales management are important in that we are the people who keep our companies growing with our efforts. It is always satisfying to close a big deal and it’s obviously important for your own personal growth and success to work hard and recognize the importance of what you do. I’ve found that those of my friends who are MOST successful in sales and sales management also have an active volunteer life outside of their direct jobs. I believe that you can me MORE effective in your sales role by volunteering your time to help others.

Adversity: How You Respond is How You’ll Succeed

When I think about sales and business, I often relate it to sports analogies…and today we’ll talk about the best ways to handle adversity. Think about two very successful coaches in NCAA Men’s Basketball history, Bobby Knight and John Wooden. Both won multiple National Championships…3 for Knight at Indiana and 10 for Wooden at UCLA. But there are significant differences in style and, I’d suggest, the amount of success they had and their lasting legacy. Knight was a screamer, a chair-thrower, and a very abrasive personality. Wooden was the epitome of class, incredibly poised and calm during the game, and his legacy was a coaching and life philosophy that continues to be influential today. Knight was eventually fired from his job and Wooden retired after winning his last championship game.

When I think of both of these types of temperaments, I ask myself, “Which coach would I want to have played for?” For me, these two examples of coaching personalities directly apply to how to respond to adverse situations both as a salesperson and a sales manager.

Responding to Adversity as a Seller

Your $400,000 sale which was confirmed with an IO was just cancelled. You had received public plaudits from both your manager and senior management and you now feel like you want to scream. What do you do?

A natural reaction might be to go back to your customer and grill them as to what happened…or, even go above them to their supervisor to further question why this decision was made. You may even get loud in your office and assign blame to everyone else for your predicament. I actually behaved this way once when I was a new, inexperienced salesperson. That was huge mistake on my part and definitely hindered my career growth.

I’ve learned that the proper response to losing a sale, or any outside factor negatively impacting your business, is keep your cool and go back to basics. Also, don’t be so quick in blaming others before looking inside yourself and determining if there’s anything you could have done differently.

The best salespeople know that relationships with their customers are long-term and that any lost sale should be put into the context of the bigger relationship. Salespeople should never appear ‘desperate’ with their customers for business…the smart thing to do is look at the bigger picture.

Responding to Adversity as a Sales Manager

Sales managers face adversity both externally and internally. When sales are not pacing to goal, senior sales managers understandably want to know how the sales managers on their teams are working to solve this challenge. Conversations between senior sales managers and their sales management teams can often be more candid than those with the salespeople themselves. Sales managers are going to get an earful from their managers when sales are bad. That comes with the territory and should be expected by sales managers. I believe, however, that the best sales managers view themselves as a ‘filter’ between their own senior management and their sales teams. Salespeople are remarkably attuned to changes in the ‘tone’ of their sales leadership. When their immediate managers keep calm and methodically handle adversity without ‘losing it’, my experience is that sales teams will have a greater opportunity for success. Sales managers will hear the pressure from above and they should calmly explain the situation to their teams without causing any additional distractions from their teams’ sales efforts.

The best sales managers work very hard to keep the extraneous distractions from their salespeople so that their teams can concentrate on selling. From internal politics to unnecessary meetings, sales managers know that all of these can cause their teams to lose focus and create ‘water cooler’ conversations. Sales teams need to be able to trust their managers and know that the manager is looking out for them.

The ‘tone’ surrounding your sales team is incredibly important. Teams are more effective when they believe that their managers “get it” and understand the challenges that the salespeople face. It is important for sales managers to get out of their offices and join their teams at appropriate customer meetings. Both salespeople and sales managers have greater business and personal success when they prioritize the team’s needs before their own.

Managing Up, Part 2: Good News, Bad News, and Truth-Telling

The relationship between you and your manager can not only determine your job satisfaction, it can also ‘make or break’ your career with your company. A healthy, positive relationship will ensure you have someone who will support you with your customers and also internally with more senior management. When there are job openings within your company, unless you have your manager’s support, you won’t be considered for the role. Finally, when you have a good relationship with your manager, you won’t be dreading coming into the office.

There are two important topics that are important to building a strong relationship with your manager: Managing expectations and how much candid conversation your manager wants to hear.

Managing Expectations

New salespeople are understandably excited when they make a big sale…and they should be. In fact, their entire sales team should be very happy for them. Where the new salesperson often runs into trouble is by being enthusiastic, and overly optimistic, when describing that big sale to their manager. Or worse, when describing that big sale to their manager’s manager. Senior sales management always seems to have the unique auditory skill of ALWAYS remembering the high-end estimate of whatever sale you just made. For example, if you made a sale and it’s pretty likely to be about $500,000…but it has a possible chance of being $750,000, your senior sales management will only remember that you sold a $750,000 deal…and that it’s a done deal. It doesn’t matter if you’re still finishing the final negotiations or working out the deal details, because every time you speak with that senior sales manager, they are going to ask you about your $750,000 deal.

The point to remember is to be conservative when reporting a big sale until the IO is signed and the deal is done. You will create continuous ‘landmines’ for yourself if you are always over-estimating your sales. There is no valid reason to do so and no manager is ever going to be upset if a sale comes in larger than you thought.

These conservative estimates are not the same as ‘sandbagging.’ Sandbagging is when you know for a fact that a sale is $500,000 and you consciously under-report the sales as $300,000. Sales management needs accurate sales estimates to report to their managers and continuous sandbagging give them, and you, a bad reputation.

Does Your Manager Want to Hear Your Candid Comments?

One of my pet peeves is when I have a salesperson only telling me things that they THINK I want to hear. Our team’s business won’t be successful unless we all know the reality of the marketplace, both positive and negative. If customers aren’t responding to certain of our products or, more importantly, there is something seriously negative about our product or company being heard amongst our customer, I want to know that as soon as possible. Salespeople on our teams know that they have the freedom, and obligation, to be honest with me about anything. If you’re a new salesperson on a team, you need to find out quickly if your manager wants to hear your perception of reality or if they only want to hear “good news.” I’ve made the mistake in the past of not answering this question early and, as a result, I gave my perception of reality to a manager who only wanted to hear good news…or THEIR perception of reality. It took me some time to repair the initial damage to my relationship with my new manager.

“Telling the truth’ means giving an honest estimate of whatever question you’ve been asked by your manager. The best managers I’ve ever worked with have wanted to hear their team members honest and candid thoughts. I’d recommend having these types of conversations as 1:1 meetings with your manager. If the team isn’t hitting their revenue goals, public conversations should remain positive and upbeat. You will have a far better opportunity for a genuine dialog when it is just your manager and you. These conversations should not be gripe sessions or consist of you complaining about certain things. No manager, myself included, is interested in having a chronic complainer on the team. But, honest feedback and thoughtful comments should always be considered.

Make sure and determine what type of manager you have before considering the “truthful” approach.

Managing Up, Part 1: Making Sense of Managing

One of the most discussed topics amongst sales teams is their sales management. All of us in sales have had both really good and really bad sales managers. I’ve been fortunate in that the only truly bad managers I’ve had were early in my sales career. I’ve had very strong and effective managers for the last 20 years of my own sales and sales management career. In thinking about the reason for that difference, I believe a big part of that is becoming more aware of what managers need from their teams. In essence, the more understanding you have of what makes your manager ‘tick’, the better you will be able to ‘manage up’ and make both of your lives, and responsibilities, that much easier and more effective. The bottom line is that it is YOUR responsibility to do your best to successfully ‘manage up.’

What Matters to Managers?

Everyone in sales is a manager. Some of us manage people and some of us manage our customers and our business. In both instances, we want to grow our business, and have it run smoothly without negative surprises. Sales managers really don’t like surprises and that is one reason why it is critical to have a clear and consistent dialog with your manager about the state of your customers and business. Many salespeople feel that their managers are always in meetings and too busy to have ongoing business and customer conversations. They might believe that they are doing well if they DON’T hear from their manager. That is a big mistake on the part of the salesperson. It is everyone’s responsibility in sales, whether an individual contributor or regional sales manager, to reach out to their manager and set up meetings to brief them on the business.

The best managers I’ve worked with aren’t irritated by bad news…bad news happens all the time in sales. What does bother these managers is not hearing bad news immediately and not hearing potential solutions to the bad news. If a big sale collapses, the right thing to do is let your manager know as soon as you can…and deliver that news with your ideas that could mitigate the news with solutions. Managers want to know what’s going on with their teams because they are constantly being asked by their OWN management, “How’s your business?” Sales teams need to arm their own managers with enough information so that they can answer those questions from senior management without missing a beat.

How much communication should you have with your management? Enough so that your manager says to you, “OK, I’ve got it…I understand how your business is doing.” Let your manager be the one to ask to reduce communication.

Meeting your Customers with your Manager

I’ve mentioned that managers are often busy with a multitude of internal meetings and conference calls. While it is good to be included in important meetings to help determine leadership and direction in your company, the best managers are, at heart, really good salespeople. They understand the need for the internal meetings but dearly miss spending time with customers and getting out of the office. It’s important to invite your management to join you in both sales meetings and customer entertaining. But there are a ground rules to discuss before meeting with your customers.

The first rule is to properly brief your manager on the customer status and the situation with their particular piece of business. If there have been problems with your customer, make sure your manager understands the situation and is aware, in detail, of any topics to avoid in the customer meeting. Conversely, all managers like to be the ‘white knight on the horse’, so if something has been amiss, let your manager be the one to come in to solve the problem. This all needs to be carefully discussed before the meeting and the roles for each of you need to be assigned. When I’m with a salesperson on our team, I want them to run the meeting. It is THEIR customer and I’m the guest. I’ll add value where I can and when appropriate, but the salesperson should be the star. Managers also need to be aware of not speaking too much in the customer meeting. As previously mentioned, most managers have been very good salespeople and love to present and SELL. But, managers need to let the salesperson do that and be more focused on how the meeting is going and opportunities for the salesperson’s growth to discuss in the meeting post-mortem. I strongly suggest spending time to review the sales meeting with both manager and salesperson. Ideally, this done right after the meeting when everything is fresh in everyone’s minds.

Next week we’ll continue to look at how to successfully ‘manage up.’