The power of positive thinking in sales

In aviation, the word “attitude” is a term that refers to the angle that the plane meets the wind, if the wings are level with the horizon and whether the aircraft is climbing or descending. The pilot who fails to take responsibility for the attitude of his or her aircraft is in serious trouble. And likewise, any leader who fails to control his or her thoughts and take responsibility for their attitude runs a similar risk.

As a sales manager, you not only set the pace for your sales team, but you’re responsible for setting the tone as well. For better or worse, the leader’s attitude is contagious and permeates throughout their organization. Positive, upbeat companies are always led by positive, upbeat managers. While we’re not always able to control our circumstances, we can and must control how we respond to life’s difficulties, setbacks and challenges. We have a choice about how our day is going to be.

What do you say?

How often do you talk to yourself and what do you say?

Research in the field of psychology indicates that the average person maintains an ongoing mental dialog, or “self-talk,” of between 150 – 300 words per minute. Unfortunately, not all of these thoughts are positive. In fact, it has been estimated that of the thousands of thoughts we have each day, approximately 40% of them tend to be negative and self-critical in nature. Most of us are generally unaware of this negative background chatter, let alone its sabotaging effect on our emotional state, performance and well-being.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Choose your words, for they become actions. Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they will become your character. Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny.” – Anonymous

Earl Nightingale, co-founder of the Nightingale-Conant Corp., concluded that life’s “strangest secret” is that you become what you think about all day long. If you want to know where your predominant thoughts lie and what you believe, look at what you’re experiencing in your life. Your thoughts are creative by nature and express themselves through your emotions, which in turn, drive your actions. Everything you say both positive and negative is in fact an affirmation and reflects your belief.

Whatever you think, feel or say about your life today is the scaffolding that builds the events you will experience in the future.

Affirmation and positive self-talk

William Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The first step in the process of changing your belief system is to monitor your thoughts and the next step is to control them through the power of choice. Once you become conscious of the critical aspects of your internal dialogue, you can choose to reframe your negative thoughts by substituting affirmative statements.

World-class athletes understand the value of affirmation and recognise the impact of their mental preparation on their physical performance. They use the power of positive affirmation to reduce anxiety and increase their expectation of achievement.

To be of maximum benefit, an affirmation must be simple, encouraging and stated in the present tense. By repeating an affirmation over and over again it becomes embedded in the subconscious mind.

Do affirmations really work and can they propel a person to greatness? As a teenager beginning his boxing career in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay would frequently affirm, “I am the greatest of all time!” While many considered him boastful and few took this 89 nine pound, 12-year-old seriously, Mohammad Ali used the power of affirmation to become the greatest boxer of all time and arguably the most recognisable sports figure in the world.

Henry Ford was right when he said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” Your belief system, like your computer, doesn’t judge what you input; it simply accepts it as the truth. The key to cultivating and maintaining a positive mental attitude is to use your power of choice and take control of your thinking. It’s a challenging task to develop a calm, focused mind, but well worth the effort.

Action plan

Here are some suggestions to help you have a good day every day.

Establish the habit of getting up early.

Upon rising, read or listen to something positive and inspirational. Clinical studies indicate that our mind is most receptive to suggestion during the first 15-minutes upon awakening. Here are some books that will help you start your day off on the right foot.

How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Sellingby Frank Bettger

The Magic Of Believingby Claude M Bristol

You’ll See It When You Believe Itby Dr Wayne W Dyer

The Power Of Positive Thinkingby Dr Norman Vincent Peale

Think and Grow Richby Dr Napoleon Hill

Psycho-Cyberneticsby Dr Maxwell Maltz

Take a few moments to consider the upcoming activities of your day. Visualise events flowing. See people accept your ideas and your day unfolding in a harmonious and productive way. This is a good time to verbalise your affirmations.

Take time for some physical exercise.

At noon, take a 10-minute mental break to relax and replenish your energy

Keep calm and sell more

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.

Personally, I think that this was a brilliant move during times of distress and great fear and I wish that the slogan would be applied more often, especially during times of stress.

Sometimes, I feel that sales is viewed as a practice where practitioners are expected to hassle and scramble rather than taking a step back, taking a deep breath and carrying on with the plan. Especially, in a consultative sales environment panic appears when sales don’t happen because the sales cycle is typically longer.

What happens if sales don’t happen?

Usually, panic. And panic leads to more panic. When sales don’t happen, very often the CEO thinks s/he needs to step in. Then you have situations in which CEOs are doing the sales training, or CEOs being on first sales calls and getting involved in everything and anything that has to do with sales. They fear for their company’s survival and that’s understandable.

And what about the sales managers in these situations? Well, as there is no success to show they often panic as well. In these cases they often just give in and let their CEOs take over instead of putting their feet down and demanding to stay on track. They tend to go along with their CEOs rather than providing clear measures, guidelines and leading developments in the sales process.

This can have a snowball effect on the sales team. The sales people might fear that they could lose their job or that they won’t be making any money.

The sales managers do both. They panic and fear, both for their team, for their compensation and for their reputation.

Why don’t the sales managers keep their CEO in check?

I have always wondered in situations like that why sales manager wouldn’t stick to their guns? Is it because they are afraid of repercussions or is it that they are not confident enough to make a case for a structured and meaningful sales process?

Or is it because CEOs are used to being powerful leaders and end up steamrolling their team? Or could it be that CEOs are not always good at allowing other opinions?

It’s probably a combination of all of the above but in all fairness, it really shouldn’t be the job of a CEO to establish or drive the sales process. When they take control it’s usually stems from lack of results and trying to be helpful.

Sales managers need to manage their CEOs

Sales managers are tasked with building and managing an effective and successful sales team. To be most successful, though, they will need to build an effective and successful relationship with their CEO. That includes open and full communication, documentation and also managing your CEO’s expectations. Embracing the CEO’s vision but also making sure that your CEO understands and embraces the sales process you put in place. Provide reports on progress, share success stories but also reasons why sales might stall. This will help you as a sales manager or sales person to support your credibility and it will help your CEO understand why things might take a bit longer.

What is the solution?

Stay calm and on-track. If you have a plan, success will follow. It might just take a bit longer. It’s better to wait a month or two as oppose to changing everything and getting derailed completely. When CEOs feel that things are structured and on track, they will go back to doing what they do best, rather than dictating the sales process. Sales people and managers need to manage up.

CEOs often don’t have a background in sales management, so help them understand the process, manage expectations, stay positive and Keep Calm and you will Sell More!

Sales rehab: how to make targets and rest easy

A lot of B2B companies are using the truculent economy as a scapegoat for many of the ills that plague them. At the end of the day, they’re not making as much money as they used to or perhaps they’re even running at a loss. The fact is, though, that an economy resembling a wounded sloth only serves to highlight and magnify the problems that already existed.

And every company has problems.

It’s no secret that, in times of plenty, companies are protected by the fat but when times are lean, there’s little lard buffering the harsh realities of retrenchments versus the unbounded joy of swelling coffers.

It’s also no secret that it’s then that sales managers begin to bald prematurely, wake up in the dark of night in a cold sweat, and quaff one consecutive coffee after another while chain-smoking like a legionnaire.

Needn’t be the case

The reason for their accelerated ageing is that they don’t know what to do to remedy the situation. But that needn’t be the case.

The causes for lacklustre revenues range from misalignment of sales people with sales management to few sales people meeting their targets, poor forecasting, underused vendor relationships, poor closing ratios, non-existent or ill-defined sales methodologies, and no or poor differentiation, or a poor sales strategy.

What sales and business unit managers in complex sales environments must do is gain visibility into their sales processes because it is then that they can start to take appropriate, relevant and effective actions to do something positive for sales.

They will know, for example, which leads offer immediate potential – if any at all – based upon factual metrics derived from accurate sales data, and distinguish them from those that will not be closed in the immediate future.

Where to focus sales effort

That will tell them where to focus their sales effort to get the maximum returns. They will gain the ability to differentiate their service or product.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Sales environments become increasingly complex as organisations grow in size. The larger the business, the more territories in which it operates or offices it maintains, the more sales people it employs, the more divisions it spans, the more products or services it offers, the greater the complexity. It can be an epic task to drill down into the data and learn what’s really happening.

And when managers do try to look into the reasons for poor performance, they are often stymied by the poor forecasting that runs riot through most businesses. Forecasts are typically based on past performance; they’re based on supposition, they’re an enigmatic brew of science and art, thumb sucks, bum covering, and the whole gamut of corporate ethics, mixed as they are.

The plan

So how is a sales manager or business unit manager (BUM) supposed to come up with a plan? And while they’re at it, how do they come up with a plan they’re pretty sure will succeed?

First, they need to know what’s going on. Without a sales methodology, process and proper tools in place, they cannot even begin. Those three components give them a common language and qualification that leads to qualitative selling. But not without coaching that will allow sales managers and BUMs to put the three components to proper use.

Take those steps and sales people ultimately end up with clear differentiators and compelling reasons why clients should choose them, which means they don’t have to resort to the unsustainable business practice of discount selling. Sales managers and BUMs gain visibility into where to maximise impact through focused, appropriate, and effective actions. Sales people cannot fudge forecasts and activities.

Sales people become more productive and more effective – or they leave. It’s the ugly side of sales performance management but right-sizing can cost companies an inordinate sum unless the situation can be reversed.

Clear and factual metrics

Clear and factual metrics will identify under-performers and top performers without prejudice, and under-performers without the will to change typically leave of their own accord once it becomes clear.

Those that do wish to remedy the situation, however, will know precisely where to make an effort and how to do so and sales managers will be able to support them as they become more productive for the business. It’s the most attractive option for everyone because, ultimately, companies exist to make money and any working person, particularly a sales person, is no different.

Six simple test cases to help increase online sales

Test everything, assume nothing! This is one of the core values that I live by, especially when it comes to generating online sales. The reason being is that I have learnt that after all these years on the internet, you just never know what strategy or angle is going to work best for you until you test it. This applies even to your star-performing strategies, because there’s always room for improvement.

The bottom line is, testing is the only way to discover what works and what doesn’t on your website, and it’s the best way to start increasing your sales exponentially. And if you take the plunge and use just one of the following tests, you’ll learn just how true this is, especially when you start seeing a dramatic improvement to your bottom line.

Test #1: Rethink your headline. Adding in different benefits of your product / service in your headline has a huge impact on your sales ad it’s often the first thing visitors to your site will see so it must grab their attention and compel them to read on.

A successful headline should highlight a problem your target audience faces and stress the main benefit of your product or service in solving this problem. Let’s look at an example that illustrates how a headline can be changed for maximum impact: “PuzzBox – The Amazing Toy Storage Box For Puzzles.” The problem with this headline is that it tells you what the product is, but not what it does for you. It doesn’t give a visitor any good reason to continue reading the rest of the page.

Contrast that one with this: “Finally! Discover the Secret That’s Got More Than a million Puzzle-Crazy Kids Worldwide Actually LOVING Clean-Up Time!” This headline presents a major benefit of the product and a solution to a problem – in this case, how to get kids to clean up after themselves and actually enjoy it.

Relating to your audience

Test #2: Establish a problem and solution. In the first few paragraphs on your home page, you need to go into more detail about the problem you highlighted in your headline – showing your audience that you relate to them. (Only when your audience feels you understand their problem will they feel confident that you can solve it.)

Once the problem is established, you can then begin introducing your product or service as the solution to this problem. By emphasising exactly how your product or service will solve your reader’s problem, you’re guaranteed to see quite an interest in your product or service and this will lead to a boost in sales.

Test #3: Adding credibility to your copy. This will enhance your visitors’ trust in you. It’s through this process that your visitors come to trust you and feel comfortable enough to buy from you. There are several ways you can do this effectively and we’ll talk about two of the quickest and easiest ones here.

One of the best ways to establish your credibility is to include customer testimonials in your sales letter. These should be excerpts from genuine emails or letters from customers expressing how your product or service helped solve the particular problem they faced.

Please note that a customer testimonial that states how your product benefited them is much more effective than one that just says something like, “Your product is great!” or “I love your product.”

Secondly, also enhance your credibility by adding a section to your copy that outlines your credentials, experience and any background information that makes you qualified to solve your target audience’s problem. Your aim should be to effectively convince readers that you are the best person to offer them a solution to their problem.

Creating a sense of urgency

Test #4: Instill urgency in your copy. Achieving this will convince readers they need to buy now. The best place to do this is towards the end of your sales letter, near your call to action (where you ask for the sale). Here are a few of the most effective ways to create a sense of urgency:

Offer additional bonuses for free if visitors buy within a certain time frame, eg: a free service for a month or a free eBook containing tips and advice.

Offer only a limited quantity of your products or services.

Offer a limited quantity bonus.

Offer a limited-time price discount where visitors must buy before a certain date in order to qualify for the discount.

Test #5: Reposition your opt-in offer. Your opt-in offer is your tool for gathering your customers’ email addresses and building your email list, which allows you to regularly keep in touch with your subscribers, build relationships of trust and loyalty, become a credible source and sell them your products or services.

But did you know that where your opt-in offer appears on your site can have a huge impact on how many subscribers you attract? Yes, it’s true; you can boost your opt-ins and build a bigger list of loyal subscribers.

Test by placing your opt-in offer in as prominent a position as possible on your home page. According to usability studies, the top left of a page is where visitors’ eyes are often drawn first. At the very least, test placing your opt-in in the “top fold” of your home page – the area of screen first visible to a visitor before they scroll down the page.

You should also test placing your opt-in offer on every page of your site so it’s always in front of your visitors. Remember, the more sign-up opportunities you provide, the more subscribers you’re likely to get.

Less products, more detail

Test #6: Minimise your product or service offerings. Try offering just one product or service on your home page and if you sell a number of products or services on your website then I’d strongly recommend you test whether or not this is the best strategy for you. I’ve found that offering fewer products in one place with more copy describing those products always translates into higher sales.

Instead of trying to please everyone who visits your site by offering a large range of products with minimal detail about each one, offer just one product, or one set of related products or one key set of benefits and answer all the possible questions and doubts your visitors might have about that product. You don’t have to stop selling your other products as you can always offer them to your customers from your other web pages or by using follow-up offers.

Of course, the only way to find out for sure if this will work with your target audience is to test it! Write a sales letter for your lead product, and put it on your home page. Then run the test for a week or two and watch the numbers.

Client said I was Priced too High, how do I Save the Deal?

What do you do when your client tells you that your proposal is twice the price of your nearest competitor?  My client just called me and told me that my quote was 2X more expensive than the highest bid received from other companies.  What do I do next?

First, don’t panic.

At least your client is talking to you.  They could have just as easily thrown your proposal in the trash and never contacted you.

This could just be a ploy by your client to get you to lower your price or it could be a legitimate question about why your price is so high.  Either way, your next move is to contact the client as soon as possible.

Your client is theoretically trying to make the best decision possible for their business and that is how you should approach this problem as well.  Be a resource to truly help them figure out the best course of action.

If your price is 2X your nearest competitor, either:

A.  You misunderstood the requirements.

B.  Everyone misunderstood the requirements except you.

C.  You are offering something of additional value that your competitors are not offering.

D.  You are priced too high for your market.

If you have a great relationship with your client, I would ask to meet with them and help them compare the competitors proposal to your own to make sure it is a fair comparison.

I would do the following:

1.  Review the specific issues that the client said was important to have addressed in the proposal.  If you can get the client to rank the issues in order of importance, that would be even better. (See point #8.)

Doing this exercise should tell you if you and your client are in agreement on what all of their issues are that should be addressed in the proposal and help you identify if the problem with your client is A, B or C above.

2.  If you have a unique service or offering that would be of value to your client that your competitor is not capable of matching, you can try to get that service included on the “important issues to address” list, though you should have done this the first time around.  I would just say make sure you keep your clients best interests in mind when making this decision.

3.  Once you are certain you and your client are in agreement on what issues need to be addressed in the proposal, ask to review the quotes.

4.  Compare your quote and the competitors quote to the ranked list of issues and point out the specific spots where the proposals differ from each other or the list.

5. If you have addressed issues in your proposal not on the list or that the client does not want it is up to you to offer to remove the item or convince the client that they need it and to pay the additional cost associated with it.

6. If your proposal has addressed everything on the list, but your competitors proposal has not, ask the client if the item the competitor left off is important.  If it is important, the competitor needs to add it, if it is not truly important, take that item off your proposal and adjust the price accordingly.

7.  If your competitor has offered a very low price to get the business that you do not think they can honor, explain your concern to the customer and offer a fixed price or a guarantee to meet the price you quoted to eliminate the advantage such a tactic might give your competitor.

8.  If the client did rank their issues in order of importance and price seems to be their ultimate concern, you might offer to remove the lowest ranking issues from the proposal and reduce your price accordingly.

9.  OPTION: Offer up a discount/rebate or refund if you are wrong.  You could offer to charge a lower rate if your actual costs are lower than what you are predicting in your proposal.

Good luck!


What is your prospect thinking?

Selling has become more difficult and challenging in recent years. However, if you think it’s tough to sell, try being a corporate decision maker.

Anyone who is responsible for making buying decisions experiences stress when they are faced with these decisions. Even if they like your product or service they will have questions and concerns about making a decision.

The problem is that many of these questions will NEVER be verbally expressed.

Here are just a few of the possible concerns and questions that occupy their mind space during your sales conversation.

1. How can this sales person or his company help me?

2. What’s in it for me? How will I personally benefit?

3. What happens if the company fails to execute or deliver what this sales person says they will do?

4. Are the claims about this product accurate?

5. How will this decision affect me and my position?

6. I’ve heard other sales people say that before, why should I believe this person?

7. What will happen if I do nothing?

8. How hard am I going to have to fight to get approval for this? Is it worth the fight?

9. Who is going to challenge me and oppose this decision?

10. How will this decision affect my boss’s perception of me?

11. What will my boss think about this decision?

12. We tried something like this before and it didn’t work; why should I consider it again?

13. How difficult is it going to be to implement this solution?

14. Is it worth the headache and hassle to make the change or is it simpler just to deal with the status quo?

15. Is the problem really big enough?

16. How much is this going to cost in terms of soft costs such as people, time, meetings, etc.?

17. What hasn’t the sales person told me?

18. What hidden costs haven’t been factored into this solution?

Not every decision maker is going to have ALL of these questions running through their head but I guarantee that ALL of your prospects will have several questions or concerns at the very least.

That means it is critical that you find out what questions your prospect has on their mind.

Unless you uncover AND deal with these questions and concerns, it is unlikely that your prospect will actually make an affirmative buying decision.

The next time you’re talking to a prospect about your offering think about the questions running through their head and figure out how you will deal with those concerns.


Are you winging it?

1 The other day I was reading an excellent blog post about the effectiveness of Steve Jobs’ presentations. The writer accurately suggested that part of Jobs’ success was the visual component because he knew exactly how to create a compelling presentation on Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint).

A reader of the blog commented with the following statement…

“I have a presentation tomorrow morning to a group of new employees at our company. I have given it once before, about 3-4 months ago. I worked for a while on it them, and it went well. So I was going to wing it this time. But after reading this, I spent a few minutes reviewing it to ensure I bring the enthusiasm to it that our new employees deserve.”


Just because you delivered a presentation ONCE, several months ago doesn’t mean you should wing it. I don’t believe you should EVER deliver any type of presentation without first rehearsing it. And spending a few minutes reviewing does not count as rehearsal!

When a company hires me to deliver a keynote speech at a conference or sales meeting, I run through my presentation up to ten times prior to the actual day of the conference. I don’t memorize every word but I do make sure that all of the points flow properly together and that I remember the key points and examples I want to make.

Sales presentations deserve the same attention

Rehearsal helps to ensure that your presentation flows logically from one point to the next. You can ensure that the key points are properly addressed.

As you practice you can think of potential objections and address them directly in your presentation. You can also time your presentation to make sure that you finish ahead of schedule

Rehearsal also gives you the opportunity to run through your slide deck and update any slides that are outdated or no longer relevant.

Recipe for disaster

Winging a sales presentation is a recipe for disaster, regardless of how experienced you are.

I have conducted countless sales meetings and still make sure that I run through my presentation a few times beforehand to ensure that I am prepared.

But…I learned this the hard way…

Last year I was invited to conduct a sales presentation for several days of sales training. Because I knew the company and the people and had worked with them before, I didn’t rehearse my presentation. I figured I could wing it.

BIG mistake!

Shortly after I began I noticed a typo on one of the slides. Then, someone asked me a question I hadn’t anticipated (although I should have) and I faltered in my response. When I left their office I couldn’t help but shake my head at my poor performance.

Don’t wing it

The next time you catch yourself thinking, “I’ve done that presentation before so I can wing it” remember that your prospects deserve more. Plus, you also give a competitor who doesn’t wing it a better chance to capture that sales opportunity.


How to Succeed at Cold calling

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post called, “How to Waste Your Time When Cold Calling.” It sparked some conversation and several people asked me what they CAN do to improve their cold calling efforts.

So, here are 9 things you can do that will help you achieve better results when making cold calls. Please note that this is for B2B sales situation and not mass calls in a business-to-consumer setting.

1. Target your cold calls

The first and most important way to succeed at cold calling is to use a targeted list. Flipping through the telephone book or picking up the telephone to dial for dollars is not an effective way to prospect via telephone.

People who achieve the best results use a carefully targeted list of companies who have used or need their product, service or solution. Ask any cold calling expert and they will tell you that the quality of your list with have a direct impact on your results.

2. Research before you cold call

Once you have a good list of companies to contact, you need to do a bit of research. This research will help you determine the best approach to take and how to capture your contact’s attention.

For example, as a sales trainer, if I learned that a company recently downsized their sales team, I would use this information to craft my opening.

3. Refine your cold call opening

Your opening needs to be short, concise and to the point while also demonstrating how your prospect might benefit from your offering.

If we use my example from the previous point, my opening might sound something like, “Mr. Jones, Kelley Robertson from Fearless Selling calling. I read in the national paper that you just laid-off one-third of your sales force. Our research has shown that companies often experience an immediate decline in morale when this happens and their sales suffer as a result. What’s your experience been so far?”

The key is to open quickly and keep your opening as short as possible…ideally no longer than 20-25 seconds at a slightly-slower-than-normal pace.

4. Avoid the pitch

If you noticed, I didn’t immediately launch into a pitch about my services or what I do. Instead, I gave my opening and followed it by a question.

Now, the chances are my prospect will ask, “What do you do?” or “Who are you?” or something similar before answering my question.

Don’t get tricked into talking about yourself yet!

Instead, give a brief reply and ask your question again.

“I specialize in helping companies keep their sales team motivated and up-to-date with the latest selling strategies. When I saw that you had downsized I thought it would be appropriate to contact you. How has your team’s morale been since the lay-offs?”

5. Speak slower during your cold call

Most of the sales people who call my office tend to speak to quickly and they also change their tone while calling.

When you slow down your pace you come across more natural and your tone will become more conversational. Plus, it makes it much easier for your prospect to understand you.

6. Engage them

One of the keys to cold calling is to engage people in a conversation and the most effective way to achieve that is to ask questions.

However, you need to lead into your questions and start with softer questions. You can’t open a conversation by asking, “So, what are the three biggest challenges you face right now?”

You need to demonstrate to your prospect that having a conversation with you will be worth their time.

7. “Send me information”

Many prospects will say, “Send me information” in an effort to end the call. However, before you agree to this, you need to ask at least one more question.

Sending generic information will not close a deal for you so I suggest that you say, “I’d be more than happy to send you information. What exactly do you need to see?”

8. Use a referral

It is much more effective to connect with a prospect if you both know someone in common. Whenever possible, use your existing network to connect with new prospects.

It’s all about the numbers

Regardless of how you slice or dice it, cold calling is a numbers game. Recognize that the majority of calls you make will NOT result in a sale.

9. Start cold calling immediately

Very few sales people enjoy cold calling so they procrastinate and work on other tasks.

However, it is much more effective to get started first thing in the morning because it creates momentum and gets the unpleasant task out of the way.

Set a goal of making a certain number of calls or booking a specific number of appointments and don’t quit until you achieve that goal. If you’re new at this, set small, attainable goals and gradually work your way towards larger, more challenging targets.


Cold calling is still an effective way to generate new sales leads and revenues. Use the ideas in this post to improve your results and stop wasting your time.


The End of Relationship Selling

I am not going to sugarcoat this, and I am not going to be polite.

All of this talk about the end of relationship selling is pure, unadulterated hogwash. While those that declare relationship selling to be dead shout louder, ignore their words. They couldn’t be more wrong.

You will hurt yourself and your sales by believing and acting on this horrid and horrible idea. Relationships are an essential part of winning an opportunity. They are also the biggest part of retaining your clients.

Where the Critics Are Right (and Wrong)

There are two reasons that the critics bash relationship selling.

The first reason critics bash relationship selling is that too many sales people believe that a warm, friendly relationship is enough to win and sustain client relationships. The critics are correct; it isn’t enough. Your relationship must be built on the firm foundation of your ability to continually create value for your client.

The critics mistakenly suggest that relationships and value creation are mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that the stronger your relationship, the greater the likelihood that you will be trusted to sell the ideas that create value, especially the big ideas that lead your client.

The second reason the critics are crooked on relationships is because so many salespeople avoid the necessary conflict that accompanies selling. These salespeople are conflict averse. And again the critics are correct.

But the critics of relationship selling make the mistake of believing that a warm relationship and an ability to deal effectively with conflict are mutually exclusive, that they can’t exist in the same body at the same time. But relationships and conflict aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, a strong relationship improves the odds of a conflict being successfully resolved. Wouldn’t you want a strong relationship going into a conflict? Wouldn’t you want to have a relationship that could withstand a nasty issue?

What Is and What Isn’t a Relationship

A personal friendship is a surely a relationship, but it doesn’t rise to the level of an effective sales relationship. Your warm, friendly, personal relationship must be coupled with an equal or greater amount of value creation.

If your personal relationship means that you can’t effectively manage the conflicts that accompany selling, then you don’t have an effective sales relationship. One who can’t deal with conflict in sales is an order-taker.

An effective selling relationship is personal, professional, value creating, and built on trust. If you would be a trusted advisor, you are going to have to deal with conflict, and you are going to have to have the relationships to withstand those conflicts. If you are going to be a Level Four Value Creator, you are going to need the relationships that allow you to act as part of your client’s management team, and your clients don’t want people on their team with whom they don’t have great relationships.

You can make a lot of mistakes and still win in sales. Believing that you can go without relationships isn’t one of them. In a time when so many people are behaving like sales is transactional, swim against the current and build the deep relationships that success is built on.

All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still probably win.


Are your relationships important to selling effectively?

Can you have a personal, warm, friendly relationship with your client and still sell effectively? Can you have that relationship and still create value?

Do your relationships enable you to effectively deal with conflict, or do they cause you to avoid conflict?

At the time of your dream client’s decision, would you rather have a strong personal and professional relationship, or would you rather just try to sell the value you create?

Have you ever lost a deal that you should have won because your competitor had the relationship? Have you ever won a deal that you should have lost because your competitor had a strong relationship?


If Winning Isn’t Everything, Then What Is?

Topping the leaderboard. Being first to complete a mission. Earning the most points. Much of the current talk around enterprise gamification understandably focuses on competition and status as the primary human drivers of an effective gamified experience inside corporations.

But new data suggests it may be time to start challenging that notion.

Yes, it’s true that a desire for mastery and tangible rewards are key human motivators. These drivers grab the brain’s attention, focus its energies and inspire repeat performance. And this effect absolutely can be amplified when employees are able to compare their performance to others and compete within the same experience.

The question is: are these the most important behavioral drivers? Not so much, according to new research by The Maritz Institute:

In a recent U.S.-based employee study, we found that the most engaged employees work for companies they perceive to value “self-expression” in the form of self-direction, stimulation, and universalism. Yet, this constituted only 21% of the organizations. The least engaged employees work for companies they perceive to value “self-enhancement” in the form of achievement, power, and conformity. This constituted 60% of the organizations.

These insights are reinforced by the findings of the World Values Survey. It shows that as more workers are lifted out of poverty and the world becomes an increasingly connected place, values globally are shifting away from material gain and toward self-expression. Business that want to succeed in the new normal should be paying close attention to this trend.

So, what does this mean for your employee engagement strategy? One guide might be The Maritz Institute’s re-imagining of Maslow’s well accepted, but (IMHO) slightly tired, Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. In their revised model, the desire for self-expression sits on high, trumping the desires for material success and basic security. This says to me that while generalized competition and rewards can be part of effective engagement design, an exceptional gamified experience will focus even more on the top of the pyramid, where personal meaning, collaboration and trust-building within the organization are the most critical drivers.

This can show up in your engagement design in three key ways:

Personalized Missions – One-size-fits all really means challenges that fit no one. Recognize that you have noobs and experts, thinkers and doers, and that your sales people and your IT team have different needs and values. Creating missions that are personally meaningful to them and their work will have a far greater impact than asking everyone to do the same thing.

Group Challenges – Collective action is a significant part of the global shift toward self-expression. Be sure you can create challenges that require the effort of every member of a team to complete, or which encourage different parts of the company to form spontaneous teams working together in order to level up. And if you still want competition in the mix, encourage competition between teams while your encouraging collaboration within them.

Choice – The human brain uses iterative processing cycles and feedback loops to explore options and make choices that match personal values. This means we attach more strongly to that which we choose, vs. that which is dictated to us. You’ll see more engagement when you offer employees a variety of challenges, mission types and rewards to select from, letting them be masters of their own destiny inside of a structured gamified experience.

Gamification is a proven tool for driving higher levels of engagement, but it’s a tool that will be most effective when applied with an understanding of the differing and shifting values of your employees. Simply put, figure out what winning really means to them and engagement will follow. Just don’t assume it always means topping the leaderboard