4 MORE Habits for Greater Sales Success

Good feedback from last week’s article so I’m going to continue the theme this week with 4 more habits that I’ve found will lead to greater sales success. It’s important to remember that it takes a combination of good habits to ensure a successful sales career, not just one or two. And, like sports competition, the best salespeople are very disciplined about practicing and applying these habits every day.

Make “Follow-Up” Your Mantra

The definition of a ‘mantra’ is:  a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.

The word that successful salespeople should be repeating is “follow-up.” EVERY interaction with a customer requires follow-up. Phone calls, meetings, lunches and entertaining all have some form of follow-up that is required by the salesperson. I recommend following up all of these events with emails, at the very least.

These follow-up emails are important because you are putting in writing what was discussed, what was agreed to (or not), and what are the next steps. If you’re like me, with many meetings and calls, having these written emails are a lifesaver. In fact, I always bcc myself so that I have record of the customer follow-up directly appearing in my inbox…which I can highlight based on the next actions I need to take.

Set Up a New Meeting Every Day

Sales don’t just occur in a vacuum. It’s incredibly rare when a customer calls out of the blue and asks if they can buy something from you today. Success in sales depends upon having potential sales in the pipeline. And, the most effective way to have potential sales in the pipeline is to have customer meetings scheduled. The number of customer meetings that you need to have per week really depends on what industry you are working. For me, living and driving in Southern California and working in media sales, I try to have a minimum of one customer meeting per day. Some days I’ll have 2-4, other days I’m shut out…but on average, I work to hit that one per day minimum.

Making this works requires a daily effort to set up and schedule meetings. Chances are, you will have to send 3-5 meeting requests per day to get one meeting scheduled. And you’ll probably have to resend the request 2-3 times before you get a response. All of that is fine and expected.

Entertain a Customer at least Once a Week

One criticism that I’ve heard from many customers over the years about certain salespeople is, “They’re always on…always too salesy.” I get it…we’re all in sales and our jobs are to sell things. But I believe that it is important to try to get to know your customers in a situation different from sitting across the desk. I love music and sports, so a lot of my customer entertainment revolves around those two areas. But, you really won’t get to know what your customers are interested in until you get them out to a lunch, breakfast or dinner.

Some customers will tell you that they are so busy that they can’t take the time for lunches, etc. The answer to that might be grabbing a coffee or even taking a brief power walk together. The point is not what you end up doing but to get the time to know someone on a non-vendor/buyer situation.

Say “Thanks” to your Teammates!

The sales superstars know that their success is not just because of their efforts…but the result of a coordinated group effort. If you’re in a team sport, like sales, you know that the entire team gets the result, not just one person. So, in that spirit, it is really important to say “Thanks” to all of your teammates who help you to be a successful salesperson. This thank-you can take many forms, but I think that lunches or drinks can be a great way to show appreciation to your team. Find out what your teammates want to do and then set it up. Salespeople are the best compensated (or should be) in any sales organization. When you get a bonus or commission, take some of that money to do some entertaining of your own team.

Remember, all of these habits will help a good salesperson become a great salesperson. Start each day with a plan and purpose and you will get the results.

4 Habits to be More Successful in Sales

This time of year, is always very busy in the sales world. We’re in the middle of Q2 and getting ready not only to close out the quarter but, shortly, to close out the first half of the year. Hopefully, you are all on target to exceed your quarterly goals and also have a successful first half.

It’s also a great time to review the basic habits that all salespeople, and their managers, should be doing on a daily basis. No matter how long you’ve been working in sales or sales management, it’s good to make sure you and your team members are doing these basic sales behaviors.

Make Sure the Sale is REALLY Sold

Every salesperson gets excited when they make a big sale…and many times they can’t wait to tell everyone about it. But, my experience has shown me that it’s better to wait a bit until “the ink has dried” and you’re absolutely sure before spreading the word about the big sale. I’ve seen overly enthusiastic salespeople tell senior management about a deal, quoting big dollars, only to see the big sale disappear like a mirage in Joshua Tree.

You should definitely get excited when you close a deal but just make sure it’s really closed before you shout it out to the entire organization. It will definitely save you from getting headaches if you wait until it’s really closed.

Make Appointments with Yourself

Think about all the things you should be doing every day: reading the news about your particular industry, responding to emails, creating and building presentations, etc. When you have a meeting with a client, you obviously add the meeting to your calendar…you might, in fact, also add the travel time to get to the meeting. When you have an internal meeting, you are often invited through your calendar.

Rather than always being in ‘reactive’ mode, go ahead and book time on your calendar to take care of these daily tasks. Put 30 minutes on the books to read the daily news about your industry. Block out an hour to build your presentation deck well in advance of your meeting rather than in the car driving to the meeting. Your presentation will be better and more effective if you’ve taken the time to thoughtfully create it as opposed to a last-minute effort.

Better to be 30 minutes Early than 5 minutes Late

Current and former teammates of mine will certainly recognize this…I’m a big believer in punctuality. I believe that if your customer is willing to take the time to meet with you in their very busy day, you absolutely owe it to them to be on time. It’s really not that tough to be punctual. I live in Southern California and I’m well aware of the traffic on our freeways but that just means to me that you have to allow the extra time for travelling to your meeting. Yes, there are times when a massive accident takes place and you may indeed be late to the occasional meeting. But most of the time, when it is regular traffic, as a professional, you need to be on time to meet with your customer. And that includes allowing for any tech set-up time, too.

If you’ve arrived 30 minutes early you also have the luxury of gathering your thoughts, or talking with teammates, one last time before the customer meeting in a relaxed way…this will enable you to be calm when the meeting begins.

Finish Your Day with Tomorrow’s To-Do List

It’s been a long day…back-to-back meetings and you’ve still got emails to return. Not to mention getting on the freeway for the commute home. BUT…before you pack it in and start thinking about a cabernet, put your activities down in writing for tomorrow. Ideally, you have a to-do list every day that you work through. Review what you accomplished today and remove them from your list. Anything that still needs work, you can leave on the list, or move up in priority if needed. New things also need to be added and once you have your list for tomorrow, you can quickly prioritize the list so that you’ll know exactly what you need to do in the morning.

Those of us in sales know better than most that your time is the most valuable currency you own…treat it carefully and with respect.

Tomorrow will most likely be as busy as today was so your updated to-do list will complement your morning coffee and give you a head start for the day.

We’ll have some more effective sales habits next week.

Ideas to Create Stronger “Benefits-Selling”

One of the first things the new salesperson learns is to “sell the benefits of a product, not just the features.” Selling just the features of the product is the equivalent of just reading a product manual aloud to a customer. While it is possible that they could be interested in certain product features, they will be far more interested in understanding how those many features benefit the customer, themselves.

But are selling just the immediate customer benefits of buying a certain product enough? Or, does it make sense to be creative in also selling the “greater good” of the benefits to the customer?

Immediate Customer Benefits

Let’s take a look at selling the immediate customer benefits in a few different industries. My career has been in the world of advertising and media sales, in both sales and sales management. We would have various advertising opportunities in different types of media…primarily print or digital. In these types of media, the salesperson would have different products to sell with various technical specs that the customer would provide their ads units to use. But we weren’t selling the creative ad unit but how that particular ad unit would effectively reach the customer’s target audience. Ad performance and effectiveness as measured by the customer’s ‘key performance indicators’ (KPI’s) was the benefit we were selling.

Let’s look at another industry and how the great salesperson would sell the benefits as opposed to the features. Everyone loves the car buying process, right? OK, maybe not so much. But the best car salespeople can make the process smoother for the buyer by highlighting the benefits of the new car, not the features. For example, rather than just highlighting the technical features of a particular backup camera, the salesperson should highlight the safety of any children or poets that could be protected by having a backup camera. Backup cameras are now mandatory for all new cars sold but could be a real benefit for the customer buying a pre-owned vehicle. The best salespeople creatively tell a story about how the features of the product directly result in a benefit for the customer. The more personalized the benefits described, the more likely that the customer can visualize those benefits directly helping them.

“Greater Good” of Product Benefits for Salespeople

Let me explain what I mean by “greater good” in regard to the benefits of a product. Sometimes, salespeople need more inspiration than just exceeding their revenue and commission goals. I believe that many people in sales, myself included, need to think that what they are doing is of real value to people. When I worked at Kelley Blue Book (KBB), our team sold advertising programs to auto manufacturers on an endemic auto website. Our goals were obviously revenue based and our customers were the manufacturers and their advertising agencies. But I genuinely believed that were making a difference in being able to generate sales to help support the editorial team at KBB in their efforts to produce the best content online to aid consumers in their automotive shopping process. I communicated to our team that I thought that our efforts were making the car shopping process easier for consumers and a much better and informed experience than it had been before there were car shopping websites.

In my view, salespeople need to view their activities and careers as contributing to the betterment of society as a whole. Another way to view selling, from a salesperson’s perspective, is to consider how many jobs they are supporting by their sales success at their own companies. Salespeople and their selling is the lifeblood of any organization…they are the people that ‘keep the lights on’ and keep the revenue coming in to support their non-sales teammates and their families. The more experienced salespeople continue to inspire themselves more by looking at their careers as something more than just ‘hitting the number.’ Don’t get me wrong…people go into sales careers for monetary reasons and for the joy of working with people in an entrepreneurial environment. But I believe that the most successful salespeople and sales managers create for themselves other, more altruistic and unselfish reasons to be in sales. Take a look at what products you are selling…create and understand the benefits for your customers. And, consider thinking about how what you sell contributes to the ‘greater good’…you might discover that this thinking can lead to very powerful inspiration for you to grow your career.

‘Swim Lanes’ and Straight Talk

The term ‘swim lanes’ has a number of meanings…it can refer to the columns in a process flow chart, the actual lanes in a pool for swimming, and the way that I’m using it, which is conducting one’s own job responsibilities. In sales, it is important to understand one’s own responsibilities and to make sure those are fulfilled. Where salespeople, and their managers, run into problems is when individual salespeople overstep their own responsibilities and step on their colleagues’ toes. This can easily occur in split account situations or where there is a lack of transparent communication, or “Straight Talk.”

When these situations occur, what are the best ways to get them resolved with the least amount of ‘churn’ in the organization? Let’s take a look at a few approaches.

Peer-to-Peer Conversation

In a perfect world, I would always suggest having a conversation directly with a peer when there is a situation when that peer is ‘swimming out of their lane.’ This situation could be when another salesperson is taking credit for a sale that you made or taking partial credit for a sale when they were not involved at all in the sales process. These types of situations occur often when there are split accounts involved. I mentioned in a previous article that I believe that split accounts should always be 50/50 because there is no way that a sales manager has the time, or inclination, to do the research necessary to determine an exact split. My experience has shown me that a 50/50 split policy works best.

When you’re talking with a peer about a contentious situation, the first thing you need to do is put yourself in the mind of the other person. You need to understand what is motivating the other salesperson to behave in an unprofessional manner. Is the other person a “lone wolf?” Is the other person basically an honest person with integrity? Or, are they really just a jerk? When you determine what is motivating the other person to act unprofessionally, then you can better understand how to have the conversation with them.

So, you’ve had the conversation with the other salesperson in an attempt to clear up and resolve the situation and, unfortunately, you’ve reached an impasse without a solution. At this point, you need to loop in your manager and provide them with an overview of the situation.

Manager-to-Manager Conversation

Your manager needs to get involved when your efforts to directly work with your peer are unsuccessful. If the other salesperson refuses to change an egregious situation, you need to have your manager speak directly with your peer’s manager. I’ve been in situations where I needed to talk to my fellow VP about someone on their team. These types of conversations are much more productive when both VP’s (or other management levels) have already established a trusting relationship and are both focused on the success of the overall organization as opposed to their own individual team success. While salespeople are oftentimes only focused on themselves, the manager’s role is to look at the bigger picture and health of the entire team.

Sales organizations have management offsites which can be particularly helpful in building trusting relationships among managers and also making sure that the management team is focused on the overall growth and success of the sales team. One of the biggest challenges for the new manager, recently promoted from a sales role, is to change their outlook from “ME” to “WE.” I’ve seen some new managers really struggle with this change in thinking and they will inhibit their career success unless they learn to embrace a total team approach.

The best managers will get a ‘swim lane’ violation resolved as soon as possible. These outstanding managers are not shy about having a tough conversation with a salesperson on their team, if that is what it takes to resolve a conflict. It’s important for managers to make the tough decisions and not to drag out a contentious situation.

I believe it is always better to try and resolve a challenging situation with a peer yourself as opposed to escalating it. Put yourself in their shoes and work to understand where they are coming from. Ask yourself, is this issue important enough to escalate to your manager? As a manager, I always let the salesperson know that I’m there to help but that they should try to resolve the conflict themselves.

Building Your Business and Personal (Sales) Credibility

Last week’s article about “Managing Your (Sales) Reputation” generated some great feedback and suggestions for future posts. The collective feedback really focused into two areas: “Business Credibility” and “Personal Credibility.” Both areas of credibility are obviously linked to each other, but it will clearer to address each area separately. Some of my comments may seem to be “no-brainers” and common sense but I want to address them because, unfortunately, some of these “credibility-killers” are still being practiced by salespeople. If, collectively, we can improve the behavior of the offending salespeople, then we will improve and increase the perception of people with careers in sales.

Business Credibility

One description that I hear from customers repeatedly about salespeople is that they are “too salesy.” At first glance, a sales manager might perceive that to be a compliment about one of the people on their team. But, obviously, these customers are not using the term in a positive fashion.

Salespeople have to be like acrobats in that it is a balancing act between “selling”, which is the job, and not being “too salesy.” The best salespeople I know are masters at walking this fine line. I think a big part of the customer description of “too salesy” is the context of when, and where, the salesperson is actually “selling.” The best place to do your selling is in a business meeting with your customer. Everyone understands the reason for the meeting and all the attendees have aligned expectations. In the meeting invitation, the salesperson should clearly state the reason for the meeting and what the benefits are for the customer to agree to the meeting. There should be no awkward surprises in a customer meeting because the best salespeople have already managed customer expectations.

Where salespeople get into trouble is being to “salesy” at inappropriate times and in inappropriate situations. For example, I’ve actually seen salespeople corner a customer at an industry social event and use their tablet to walk through a deck at the bar. Do you think that salesperson could be characterized as “too salesy?”

As far as client entertaining goes, my policy is to not bring up work-related talk until the customer brings it up…which they invariably do. When in a golf course, sporting event, or a concert, the purpose is to get to know your customer and establish a relationship. The customers know, though, that the correct thing to do is to bring up some business talk with the salesperson…that’s part of the deal.

Personal Credibility

This is a challenging topic as there are some behaviors, which to me, are ‘no-brainers’ and common sense but apparently are still happening according to my customer friends. Here’s a direct quote from a friend of mine:

“…could you address “personality issues” that a salesperson cannot or will not accept that also impacts their reputation? (And because they don’t accept it, they refuse to change it?) I’ve seen a range as minor as “close talkers”, and bad breath (in person), or being formulaic, disrespectful, sexist, racist or bullying (both online and in person). Or refusing to be a team player.”

Well, obviously there are still salespeople out there that haven’t yet realized it is 2018. Clearly, anyone who is in any way sexist, racist or a bully, needs to change their behavior and really closely examine their own lack of personal values. There is no excuse or rationale for those behaviors, period. The “close talker” issue is one that I’ve heard occasionally encountered myself. I think that many people, myself included, like to have a little personal space and not be crowded by someone…and certainly not a salesperson. If, as a salesperson, you notice that people keep backing away from you then you’re clearly too close to them and need to allow for their personal space comfort. We’ve talked before about how important it is for salespeople to be team players and to put their teammates first…if you want a successful sales or sales management career, then you need to think of others before yourself.

One other point about internal credibility and reputation I’d like to address is the “tall poppy syndrome” …courtesy of my friend, Tony Uphoff. The definition is: “The tall poppy syndrome describes aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers.” Tony correctly stated that career management is a delicate balance of standing out and fitting in. I believe that those most successful in dealing with “tall poppy” are those who are humble about their success and recognize that whatever success they’ve achieved has been the result of the help of many people, not just themselves. To use a sports analogy, the wide receiver that just scored the touchdown casually flips the ball to the referee rather than dancing all around the end zone. Successful salespeople behave like they expected to make the big sale and that they’ve done it before. “Tall poppy” issues can be reduced not by changing others’ behavior but by changing one’s own behavior.

Business and personal credibility are interrelated and often interchangeable. They complement each other and I believe you can’t have one without the other and be truly successful.

Managing Your (Sales) Reputation

I had a very interesting conversation with a sales friend of mine this week. He was bemoaning that he was not highly regarded, or well thought of, by his teammates and leaders at his sales organization. He told me that he perceived that co-workers were making malicious comments about his skills and his character. Obviously, not a great situation or work environment.

I know this individual fairly well and was somewhat surprised to hear all of this. I gave some positive comments and made myself available to listen whenever he needed to talk to someone.

But our conversation got me thinking…how does one repair and restore one’s reputation in the sales world?

The first question I would ask someone who perceives that their reputation is damaged is, “Are these thoughts just in your head or are they real?” Sales can be very stressful and we all get into funks and have times of ‘burnout.’ Sometimes it feels like all the stars are aligned against you…revenue goals, business conditions, challenging customers, or even just physical fatigue. If you’re feeling that your reputation is in bad shape because of any of these factors, then it’s most likely just a ‘speed bump’ and it’s not the reality of the situation.

However, if you’re actually hearing comments or trusted friends are telling you what they’ve heard, then you’ve got a massive problem to deal with.

Your own reputation is a main factor in determining if will be successful or not in sales. In fact, the more targeted your industry is, the more critical your reputation will be in achieving your revenue goals. My sales and sales management career has been focused on the advertising and media sales industry in Southern California. This is a very tight-knit community and, as the saying goes, everybody knows everybody. If you’re selling in a small industry like this, your sales style will be known by all of your customers.

Your Internal Reputation

You can be the greatest salesperson in the world but if you can’t collaborate and effectively work with your internal teammates, then the likelihood of a successful follow-up and completion of your sale is non-existent. Your teammates who manage your accounts (customers), help with marketing research, assist with marketing and collateral, and execute the sale all have intimate knowledge about your work habits and how you treat “support” teams. All of these teams know who the great salespeople are and who are the salespeople who are difficult to work with.

It is absolutely critical to treat your teammates as your “internal customers” and behave with them as you would with your “external customers.” First off, it is just basic common courtesy to treat others with respect…it’s the “golden rule.” It’s also good for your business.

Your External Reputation

Think about how your customers perceive you…or how they would describe you to one of their co-workers. Would they describe you as someone who they look forward to meeting with? As someone that provides them with information that is valuable and useful to them at work? If you’re going to be successful in sales, then your customers need to view you as an asset to their business. I’ve hired a lot of salespeople and one of the first things I do is talk to customers that both the candidate and I know well. I’ll ask these customers to tell me about the person that I’m potentially hiring. A red flag for me is when a customer describes the candidate as “too salesy.” Now, some of you might wonder what is wrong with being “too salesy.” After all, we’re all in sales and our job is to sell and exceed our revenue targets.

Remember one key element in sales: Customers don’t want to be sold to…but customers love to buy something. Think about how you personally shop at a store…you may have a product in mind and are ready to buy it. But aren’t you more likely to buy it if the salesperson in the store provides information useful in your buying decision rather than appear they are only it in for their commission? The same is true in any kind of sales.

Your reputation, both internal and external, is critical to your financial and career success. Think about how your co-workers and customers perceive you. Think about how they would describe you to others. If you have any doubts about their perceptions, then you need to work on improving your (sales) reputation…which we’ll talk about next week.

Leading is Like Eating: 3 Rules

I know it may appear that the title of my article this week is a little strange. I admit that some weeks, the articles are more difficult to write. But stick with me on this one because I’ve been thinking that leadership is so critical to the success of any sales organization, that it is important to view being a leader from many different viewpoints…including an analogy to food.

Thoroughly Chew and Then Digest

As a leader, you’re going to have many challenges and problems brought to you by your team and also YOUR own management. It is your job and responsibility to make decisions. As the desk sign said on the White House desk of President Harry Truman, “The Buck Stops Here.” But, I have found that making the right decision can often take careful thought on a leader’s part. Considering carefully an important decision, or “chewing it over”, can be critical to the leader in making the right decision. Sometimes, it might seem that there is not time to carefully consider an important decision but make sure and take enough time and weigh your options and digest the facts. Make the best decisions you can based on the information available to you at the time.

Portion Control

You’re going to have a lot on your plate (food reference) as a leader in a sales organization. Your supervisor relies on you to have a ‘line of sight’ on your business at all times. You will be asked constantly about how your team is doing relative to the achievement of their sales goals…it’s part of your job to know where you stand. Your team is also going to come to you with questions, requests, and demands. To me, “Portion Control” means not trying to ‘multi-task’ everything at once. In fact, the entire concept of ‘multi-tasking’ is questionable because my experience shows me that by doing too much at the same time, you really achieve less of your goals. Work your daily ‘to-do’ list sequentially, if you can, because I’ve found that I can accomplish more by taking things in smaller bites (yet another food reference).

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Every article about health speaks to the importance of drinking enough water during the day. It looks like everyone I see is carrying around a water bottle, so the importance of hydration seems to be understood. How does this relate to leadership?

I view the need for hydrating as akin to the need for the leader to continually interacting with the sales team and, importantly, with clients. It’s very easy for leaders to get caught up in internal meetings and also being anchored in their office. Sometimes those actions are unavoidable, but I suggest that they be limited as much as possible. Leaders need to be with their teams. I can’t overstate how important morale and culture is to a sales team. The best leaders always have understood the pulse of the team and know when there are warning signs of discontent. These strong leaders know when to step in and prevent rumblings from becoming team member departures.

Being out on client meetings with the sales team is also incredibly important. It’s important that your clients see that sales leadership is interested enough in their business to come to meetings. Customers want to be appreciated and senior sales management attending client meetings can demonstrate the appreciation of their business.

Effective leaders know that they are role models for their teams…whether they want to be or not. The team watches carefully how the leader responds to both good news and bad. The best leaders I’ve worked for keep an even temperament in all situations. They are the ‘drivers of the team bus,’ and they need to be conscious of road (sales) conditions at all times and respond decisively, and smoothly, to any hazards in the road. Sales teams are most effective when they are confident and steady leadership helps build and maintain that confidence.