Being Likeable..

The article I read on LinkedIn stated that salespeople who relied on rapport, said another way, “being liked” do not fare as well as salespeople who have a greater level of expertise. One example that they cited was familiar to me. The author suggested that you would choose a neurosurgeon that was highly skilled over a likable one with lesser skills and knowledge. Having once been forced to choose a neurosurgeon for a brain surgery, I can’t argue with that math.

That said, there are two problems here. First, the problem of generalizing. Second, the problem of mutual exclusivity.

Large, complex, expensive, and riskier deals require greater insights, greater business acumen, and situational knowledge. Smaller, simple, relatively inexpensive and relatively low-risk deals don’t necessarily require greater skills or greater knowledge.

All generalization, as useful as they are, are lies (even this generalizing sentence). Selling is a complex, dynamic, human interaction, and succeeding in sales is about choices. In some cases, your smarts will serve you well. In others, your fast rapport skills will produce the same or better results.

Mutual exclusivity is a terrible trap. When you are offered a choice of “being smart” or “being liked,” you are presented with the idea that you can only have one, and that selecting one means giving up the other. This is a false choice. You can actually be smart and be liked. You can have insights and also have rapport skills at the same time.

  • High Insights and Low Rapport: You can be smart, have poor rapport skills, and still win business. You will likely win business from people who are more concerned about the outcomes they need and who want to eliminate risk.
  • Low Insights and High Rapport: You can know little and be so amiable that some people buy from you, usually people who don’t want to be challenged or forced to deal with conflict. Some people will work with you because you have a smart team behind you.
  • Low Insights and Low Rapport: You are going to have a very tough selling anything that isn’t a straight transaction, eliminating any need to deal with you over the longer term.

Now you have seen three of four possible combinations of smart and likable. But there is another choice available to you.

  • High Insight and High Rapport: You can be both smart and likable. It is possible to be known, liked, and trusted while also possessing the business acumen and situational knowledge you need to serve your clients, helping them to make substantial changes. In fact, the very best salespeople look more like this than they do High Insight and Low Rapport. Why? Because for most complex sales, the relationship comes with the purchase.

Let’s look at the scenario from the first paragraph again. You are choosing a brain surgeon. One has world-class skills, little empathy, and poor bedside manner. The second has world-class skills, is highly empathetic, and a bedside manner that helps put you and your family at ease, giving you a far better experience as you make a difficult decision under immense pressure. Which surgeon do you choose and why?

A large part of selling, the part that is not transactional, is creating a preference to buy from you personally. There is no reason to believe that you are not part of the value proposition, and in some sales, the largest part. The more advantages you stack on your side of the scale, the better. These advantages accrue to you when you are smart and also someone your client wants to work with long term…

The Long Sale…

Some of your competitors will lie to win a deal. They will say whatever they believe their prospective client wants to hear, knowing it isn’t the truth. You may be frustrated knowing that they’re lying and winning.

Some businesses you compete against will act immoral, and some will take actions that are illegal, all to make a buck. Their success may get a lot of press, and it might look pretty in the papers right now.

Some of your competitors will speak poorly of you and your business to win an opportunity. You may be frustrated and angry to learn that a competitor is trying to make themselves look better by trying to make you look bad.

Some people will tell their prospective clients what they want to hear in order to ingratiate themselves to that person. The would rather have their business than tell them what they really need to hear.

None of these tactics are effective long term. In fact, over time these tactics undo those who use them. Someone may effectively lie to win a deal, but over time that lie will be exposed, and the person who lied will no longer be credible. People and companies that try to win by using tactics that are illegal or immoral get a different kind of press when these actions are exposed. Eventually, you are going to judged by who you are, not what your competitors say about you. And, eventually, your dream clients are going to need to know the truth about what they need to change and how much it is going to cost.

You can’t control the tactics that other people or companies use to pursue and win new business. The only thing that you can control is who you are going to be. If you decide to be something different and higher, you will be known for being those things, even if it takes time for this to be known.

Character is the long game. Who you are going to be has nothing to do with the decisions that other people make about who they are going to be. Your character is your business.

Legacy is the longest of long games. The difference that you are going to make is solely up to you, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that other people aren’t considering their legacy. Your legacy is your business…

Building Internal Relationships…

You are more than comfortable selling to your prospective clients, or what I call dream clients. And when your prospective client wants something difficult to deliver, you are happy to sell your sales manager or leader on why you should do something different to win a complicated deal. But for too many in sales, you are completely oblivious when it comes to selling the team that delivers those results for your client. Let’s call that team “operations.”

I get it. You want what you want. You need your operation team’s help delivering for the client. This begins when you need information to put a solution together and continues on into delivery of of that solution. So you badger, bully, and press them for what you need. You go over them, under them, or around them, anything to ratchet up the pressure and force your operations people to do more, faster, and perfect. You argue your case to anyone who will listen.

But the one thing you don’t do is sell your operations team. And that is a fundamental mistake that only rookies make.

The selling we do inside our own organizations is every bit as important to producing results as the selling we do outside our organization. Here is where to start selling inside.

Lunch and learn: You would move Heaven and Earth for a lunch and learn with your dream client and their team. But you can produce an equally great effect by developing the relationships you need on your operations team. Take someone from operations (or a couple of someones) to lunch so that you can learn about their constraints. Go with the agenda of learning how you can help them with all of the things that make their job difficult, like unmanaged client expectations for example. Don’t ask for anything; just work on the relationship.

Engage them in the sales process early: If you want your operations team to own the account once you’ve won it, engage them in the process of selling that account as early as possible. When you’ve done your first discovery visit, share all of the details of that meeting with your team. As early as you can, get them in front our dream client so they can hear for themselves what “our” new prospective client is going to need. The sooner that prospect becomes “ours,” the more willingly your operations team will take responsibility and own the outcome. You’ll be surprised at all the things they can do to create value for your prospective client if they get to listen to them speak about what they want.

Be respectful of their role and their time. You sell. You don’t do operations. You can’t imagine their world unless you spend time learning what that world looks like. Your operations team is busy delivering for your company’s clients all day every day. They’re really busy, and they don’t have nearly as much freedom as you do in sales. That can make it difficult to give you what you need when you need it. You need to negotiate the commitments you need, being respectful of their role and their time.

Get them help when they need it. You’re the salesperson. So sell. If your operations team can’t deliver for you because they don’t have the time or resources, go and sell management on giving them what they need. You want to make friends for life? You want your operations team to move your requests to the front of the line? Then dig in and help them. Even if you can’t get your operations team what they want, when they discover that you are their advocate, watch how fast your relationship changes.

Show some appreciation. We started at lunch, and we’ll end there. Take some folks to lunch to say thank you for their support. Bring them breakfast. Send a personal thank you note. Send the director of operations of note to share with her the wonderful job her team did helping you win an account. Tell the stories of how valuable the team is to everyone who will listen and build them up. If you want to make serious deposits in the relationships you need to serve your clients, show appreciation.

All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still win. You know it is your job to make all things unequal when it comes to selling your dream client on you and your company. Now apply that same idea to the team that delivers those results to your clients once you win their business…

When Calls Don’t Go Well…

That sales call didn’t go the way that you think it went. You felt challenged. You felt that you were being asked to defend your ideas. You felt that the difficulty of the questions and the intensity of the conversation indicated negativity about you and your solution. But you misinterpreted the interaction you just had with your dream client.

The challenging questions your dream client asked were not designed to make you defensive. They asked those questions so that you could help provide them with the rationale and the justification for making the changes that you are recommending. The people within their company, and even their superiors, are going to ask them why they are making the changes, why they are making them now, and why you are the one engaged in this process. This is especially true when what you’re recommending is a disruptive change, where it brings risk, and where it requires a greater investment.

You weren’t being asked to defend your ideas because your dream client believes they’re bad ideas. The reason they’re asking the questions is because they need the language and the logic to defend those ideas themselves. The reason you were sitting in front of them sharing your ideas and being asked these challenging questions is because your dream client really wants to buy the change that you are selling.

The intensity of the questions indicates the seriousness with which your dream client is taking their issue. The challenge for them is emotional. It’s stressful to deal with systemic challenges. Some of the intensity might be caused by the fact that your dream client has tried what some of your competitors have offered in the way of changes only to be disappointed. They’ve been told that they can have better, faster, and cheaper. That has never come true for them, so you cannot judge them for being skeptical. You would be skeptical if you were in their position.

After you sell long enough that you have had rich experiences with difficult and expensive change initiatives, you will know that the difficult, challenging, and intense questions are buying signals. They are not the signals of someone who is not interested in change. In fact the opposite is true; the people who are not interested in changing don’t say much at all.

That call went better than you think it did..

Nothing Changes

There are no changes in sales that happen so abruptly that you can predict that they will occur in any specific year. Nothing happens in a single year either.

The major trends in sales take years to develop, and it is easy to believe that the trend line allows you to predict the future easily. But forecasting future events isn’t so simple, and those trend lines can switch direction over time. No one beats the world champion until one day the underdog knocks him (or her) out.

  • Inside sales is going to replace outside sales, they say.
  • Social selling is going to replace the telephone and other traditional prospecting methods.

What’s more interesting than making guesses about the future is looking at what doesn’t change, what persists over time.

  • Trust: In human relationships, trust rules. This has been the case for tens of thousands of years, and it will persist deep into the future. Putting forth the effort to develop character and engender trust is as important now as ever. The value of human relationships based on trust endures.
  • Resourcefulness: As soon as we humans solve some problem or overcome some challenge, we discover that we have created another problem, usually one more challenging than the one we just solved. Fortunately, resourcefulness is limitless, and the need for people to solve problems isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Fear: Fear has been around a lot longer than Homo sapiens. It lives deep inside of us, doing its very best to ensure our survival. People will always fear making mistakes and hurting themselves. Fear moves us away from pain, and it will still drive human behavior.
  • Leadership: Leaders take responsibility for moving groups of people towards a better future. The need for someone to step up and take accountability for delivering that future is unchanged. This is as true for families as it is for businesses and governments. The belief that things can and should be better persists.
  • Alchemy: The idea that lead can be turned into gold through some magical process has been with us since forever. It is still with us now. People have a strong desire to believe that they can have what they want without paying the price necessary to have it. Con artists, charlatans, and snake oil salesmen will always prey on people’s desire to believe in alchemy.

In the future, these things–and things like them–will persist, regardless of the trends.

There is no reason not to explore the trends. This year’s fashion might help you produce the results that you want. But the persistent truths persist for a reason. You are better to build your foundation on what has been true for millennia. Character and value beat the “new” new thing over time.

Worry about becoming the best version of yourself. Nothing else provides as sustainable competitive advantage or happiness.

The Digitalization of Sales

The sell sheet did nothing to improve the salespeople who used them when they called on their prospective clients. Like the catalogue, it may have improved sales, but it did nothing to make the salesperson more effective. It allowed for more orders.

The telephone, about which I am still romantic, didn’t do anything more to make salespeople better at their trade, their craft, or their art. It eliminated distance as an obstacle and it improved efficiency, reducing the time it took to reach their prospective clients.

The laptop and the PowerPoint deck didn’t improve any salesperson’s salesmanship, woman or man, and many would argue the effect has been detrimental on the whole (an idea with which I would vehemently disagree, as it is a useful tool in the right hands). Email doesn’t make a better salesperson, and automation is in some ways giving up on the hard work of making great salespeople.

If you believe this is true, as I do, then you recognize that communication mediumscan change without improving the mindset or skill sets of the salespeople—or any other group of individuals—who use them. As United States Airforce Colonel John Boyd, war fighter and strategist, said when he admonished the Pentagon and U.S. Congress, it’s “People, ideas, and technology. In that order.”

The transformation of sales is from transactional to super-consultative and super-relational, from self-oriented to other-oriented, from reactive to proactive, from selling product to generating strategic outcomes, from execution to accountability for those strategic outcomes, and from responding to opportunities to creating opportunities. To make this transformation, a salesperson needs business acumen and situational knowledge that would make them a 52% SME (or better). They need to know how to be super-consultative, which requires that they be able to offer the advice that their clients need to produce better results.

If the digital tools were capable of producing these outcomes, it would truly be the miracle that many believe it to be. But, alas, the tool kit, no matter the size, no matter the reach, and no matter the efficiency, doesn’t improve the effectiveness of the salesperson one iota.

The transformation is occurring, but it’s far more disruptive than digital.

The Limited Value of Loyalty

The Somewhat Limited Value of Client Lists

In the business-to-consumer world, a client list is made up of the people that business serves. It’s a list of actual people who have made a decision to buy from a business.

The business-to-business world is different. Our client lists are mostly made up of the names of companies we serve. We are proud of the company names on our list, so much so that we create PowerPoint slides and web pages to display their logos for all the world to see.

But the truth of the matter is, we don’t serve these companies. We serve a subset of the people who work for them. A client list of company names is the byproduct of the work we do with the people within that company.

The limited value of client lists is that it identifies an entity that is mostly made up of people who don’t know us, don’t care about us, and have no reason to be loyal to us.

If you want loyalty, you need a different list.

Where Loyalty Is Found

Loyalty is found where it is earned.

Loyalty is found in the list of individuals you serve within your client accounts. When you no longer have the loyalty of the individuals within a company, you no longer have the client—or that client is seriously at risk.

To earn that loyalty, you have to execute for your clients. You have to deliver the outcomes that you sold them when you acquired their business. If you don’t execute, the dissatisfaction that precedes churn sets in and weakens your loyalty.

Loyalty requires that you proactively take care of the individuals you do business with, as well as their teams. You have to bring them new ideas, new initiatives, and new value.

These are the things that prove your loyalty to the people you do business with within the list of client names you refer to as “our clients.” Those people are your real clients, and the list of their names is a better and more useful list than the big company names where they happen to work.

Your loyalty to the people you do business with is what earns you their loyalty.

Your Value Proposition

You want your value proposition to compel your dream client to take action? Here are seven questions you need to ask and answer to test the potency and effectiveness of your value proposition.

(1) Is it different? If you want your value proposition to do its job for you, you need it to speak to your differentiation strategy. You need it do drive a wedge between your dream client and your competitors. Can anybody do what you do the way you do it?

(2) Is it compelling? If your value proposition doesn’t speak to your dream client’s business drivers and their strategic goals, then it isn’t compelling. If it isn’t compelling, then it isn’t an effective value proposition. How does it speak to the need for change?

(3) Is it tailored? You start with a very general value proposition as to how your company creates value. But as you engage with the stakeholders within your dream client company, you create a more specific value proposition tailored to their needs. If it isn’t tailored to their individual needs, it isn’t compelling.

(4) Is it measurable? Your value proposition must be measurable. You may not need to get to a complex or complicated return on investment analysis, but you do need to describe how you will measure the new results you help your dream clients produce.

(5) Is it time-bound? Part of what makes a value proposition compelling is that it describes a benefit against time. Without making your value proposition time-bound your dream client doesn’t have to act with any urgency. By tying it to some measure of time you can better describe the cost of inaction.

(6) Is it easy to remember? Your value proposition can’t be so complex and complicated that your contacts can’t remember it. it It needs to be a simple summary of the value you create. Remember, you can support it with as much documentation and as much proof as necessary. The value prop is a summary statement.

(7) Is it defendable? The contacts within your dream client company are going to have to defend the value you create within their company. The more clearly and concisely you can define that value, and the more clearly it is tied to their strategic initiatives and outcomes, the easier it is to defend. Remember, you won’t be there when these conversations take place.

Did your value proposition pass these tests?

Hard Times

Many factors lead to stalled or declining sales. They are known, as are the remedies that would result in increased sales. Only those willing to acknowledge the root causes of poor sales results and changing their actions have any hope of turning things around.

Too Few Opportunities

Like it or not, the first reason your sales are not growing is that you are not creating enough new opportunities to generate incremental growth. Without creating the necessary opportunities to provide additional revenue, not only are you not going to grow, you are more likely to experience declining sales due to lost clients.

Creating new and incremental opportunities is a critical outcome for those who seek growth. When you are not creating new opportunities, there is one thing that is almost universally true: You are not doing enough prospecting.

There are a lot of factors that precede too little prospecting. Some sales leaders incorrectly believe that their senior salespeople should not have to prospect for new business, even though their more experienced salespeople have the most significant ability to create value for their prospects and create new opportunities.

Other organizations struggle to create a culture of accountability, expecting their salespeople will prospect without any direction. These organizations and their leaders don’t impose any standards, allowing poor results, believing that the autonomy that comes with sales doesn’t need to be accompanied by strong direction.

Within the first two minutes of a pipeline meeting, you can tell that a sales organization isn’t going to have easy growth. When the first salesperson shares their update on the same account that they shared the prior week instead of rattling off the new opportunities they created in the past week, you know there is a problem. The cardinal sin here is believing that capturing opportunities is all that is necessary for growth.

Too Few Won Opportunities

You are not going to grow your sales by creating new opportunities only to lose so many that you can’t generate incremental new revenue. The data suggests that companies competing for blind opportunities win some percentage between ten and fifteen percent. Different businesses and industries have varying numbers here, and a reasonable win rate in one may not be acceptable in another. That said, it’s hard to outrun poor effectiveness by creating more opportunities only to lose them.

It can be incredibly challenging to outrun a “too low” win rate by creating additional opportunities, as many who have tried can attest. There is a good deal of confusion around the ideas of “efficiency” and “effectiveness” in sales, in large part because of the technological tools that allow for automation and save time. Improved efficiency means producing an outcome with less energy and effort. Not producing the result means all of your efforts were wasted, making you inefficient.

The reasons you lose deals are many and varied. The best place to start, however, is with your sales approach and how you lead the sales conversation with your prospective client. Traditional methods built on the idea that you have to get your client to acknowledge a gap in the results they need and solve that by recommending your solution are often inadequate to creating a preference to buy from you.

There is too little value created in comparison to other, more modern sales approaches. If your strategy doesn’t allow you to provide your client with a new, higher resolution lens through which to see their current and future states, the approach isn’t something that you can call consultative selling.

You can add to the inadequate approach the inability to control the process, allowing your prospective clients to determine the method. You make losing likely when your contacts are not engaged in the conversations they need to have internally and with you, avoiding making and keeping the commitments that would ensure they make the right decision.

While there has been a lot of conversation about the need to build consensus to win deals, deals are lost every day when salespeople still believe their “champion,” “power sponsor,” or “main contact” is going to be the only person they need to win a deal, even when their solutions will impact the client’s entire enterprise.

When you lack a philosophy of modern selling, and the processes, methodologies, strategies, and language for consultative conversations, the result is lower win rates and a lack of growth.

Leadership and Leading Yourself

The great part about being a leader is that everything is your fault, including too few opportunities and low win rates. Believing that everything is your fault is also the most empowering position available to you; if you are responsible for poor results, then you are also the one who can make the changes to improve your results. For a lot of companies, it starts with opportunity creation.

Increasing the number of opportunities and improving your win rates is as good a recipe as you will need to increase your revenue and start to grow your business.

Those of you who sell should not wait for anyone to tell you that you need to create more opportunities, nor should you wait for anyone else to improve your effectiveness in your chosen profession. No one succeeds or reaches their full potential when someone else has to tell them what to do.



The Cold Caller

What makes a call “cold” is that the person you are calling is not expecting your call. Because they are not expecting your call, you interrupt their day, even if they aren’t doing anything important when you call them. You can never know who you are calling, and even looking at Linkedin before dialing the phone doesn’t provide any information about their general disposition or their current mood.

Occasionally, you are going to run across what we might describe as “grouchy” people. The very nature of “grouchy” people is to be “grouchy.” What follows here are some ideas about how to deal with people who are rude to you when you call them to try to help them improve their results.

It’s Not About You

The first thing you need to know about grouchy people is that your phone call did not cause them to be irritable, angry, or upset. They were in a bad mood before you called them because that is the state they choose each day. Your call was no different than the car in front of them that wasn’t going fast enough, the long line they had wait in for coffee, or the fact that they had to park in the overflow parking lot because the main lot was full.

Don’t believe that your cold call to a rude or difficult person has anything to do with their response, no matter how rude or angry they are, and even if they hang up on you. Salespeople are responsible for helping people get better results, something that isn’t always easy to do. You will struggle with people even when they engage you to help them with the better outcomes they need.

Some Choices as to What to Do

The very first B2B cold call I made ended with my prospective client hanging up on me. He told me to call him back when I no longer needed a cold call script. When I asked for advice as to what to do, I was told to call him back and tell him I didn’t need the script and ask for an appointment. It’s hard to call someone back when they just hung up on you, but I made the call and got the appointment. I also learned not to sound scripted.

This was my very early initiation into the idea that as a salesperson, you are not inferior to your clients. You are not something less than they are, regardless of their title, age, experience, or any other factor. There is no need to be servile or excessively deferential. Nor is there any reason to be conflict-averse when you can exercise diplomacy instead.

When They Hang Up in Your Face

One choice you might make when someone hangs up on you is to move on, dialing the next number without giving it a second thought. Maybe you caught the person at a bad time. You have more prospective clients you need to call, and you can always try this excessively grouchy person another time, and if you’re lucky after they’ve had their coffee (even though that isn’t their problem).

You might also choose to call them back, exercising diplomacy, apologizing, and asking for the meeting you called for anyway. If the idea of calling again frightens you, you need to know two things. First, no one will drive to your office and hurt you for calling them back, so there is no real danger in calling again. Second, you don’t have your prospect’s business now, so there is nothing they can take away from you.

You can always call back, and say, “I am sorry I caught you at a bad time, and I want to apologize, I know you weren’t expecting my call. I hope your day goes better, and I’ll try you again some other time. I’ll send you an email so you can reach out to me should you need anything.” By making this call, you prove you are not afraid of your grouchy prospective client. You also provide the idea that you are going to call again later and that you truly want a meeting.

Could making this call upset your contact? Of course, it could. But so could the fact that they ran out of staples.

When They Hang Up II

When your contact hangs up on you before you can even tell them why you are on their phone, you may want to modify your diplomatic call, adding the reason for your call.

You might say, “I am sorry I caught you at a bad time, and I apologize. But I would like to tell you that the only reason for my call is that I believe I can help you get better results in this area, and if that might be helpful, I’d love to meet with you to share more.”

The likelihood of the person still being grouchy is still relatively high. They’re already grouchy. There is also the possibility that your contact hangs up in your face a second time. No matter the outcome, you have distinguished yourself as someone who might be worth working with because you aren’t afraid of them.

The Worst Client I Ever Had

You would be hard-pressed to find a client meaner than one of my first very large clients. She would yell at me, curse at me, call me names, question my intelligence, and criticize my team. I was doing good work for her, but nothing was enough to make her happy. She was perpetually difficult.

One day, I was visiting her in her office when she threw herself into her chair, exhausted and emotional. Then she shared with me that she was working twelve hours a day or more, and then going to stay at the hospital with her husband who had cancer and had undergone a number of surgeries. None of her anger was really directed at me, and I recognized that most of what puts people in a bad mood has little to do with me and everything to do with things that are invisible to me.

If you want to help people and make a difference, it is going to sometimes require you to deal with difficult people. They may prove to be difficult from the very first call.