Yesterday one of my people sent a letter in the form of an email to an exec at a Fortune 500 Company. The letter was a true and authentic representation of the current sales opportunity and a request for a meeting to discuss. While I won’t post the actual letter, I will post the “teachable moment” text of the email I sent to my team forwarding the letter.
The longer I do this the more I realize that people respond to authenticity; not the latest “talk track”. This letter that Chris wrote to an exec at Company X is a perfect example of being honest and transparent with someone about the truth of the situation. Everything in this email is absolutely and unequivocally true. It got a positive response within 5 minutes of being sent and now we have a face to face meeting with this exec on Wednesday. Customers are tired of the constant barrage of nonsense (aka bullshit) that software salespeople are doling out; a special discount THIS MONTH ONLY. (You won’t get it next month–yeah right). It is just one gimmick after another to them. I know I’m guilty of it too. But almost every time the truth is tried it gets you further down the road. These people aren’t stupid. They have seen it all before. And frankly, I’m tired of treating them like they are. Honesty and transparency are a breath of fresh air in the ocean of insincerity and inauthenticity that our technology sales culture breeds.
#5) You’re Lazy
You “fell into” sales because you believed there was no structure or rigorous discipline required. And while there is no one telling you when to get your sorry ass out of bed, or watching you when you clock out after lunch, there is a structure and discipline that is required for successful selling; especially today. If you don’t have the gumption to create this structure and discipline for yourself, for God’s sake get someone to help you.
#4) You Speak Like a Moron
If every phrase or sentence that comes out of your pie hole is an overused metaphor, buzzword, or analogy, then you need to relearn how to speak. After all, if you want to be on the same page, hit the ground running, and have your ducks in a row, then you need to zoom out to a 30,000 foot view and realize that your buyers have seen this movie before. They’ve seen all the robust, seamless, cutting edge, actionable, and epic products and solutions out there. If this sounds like you then you need to reach out to someone for help.
#3) You Don’t Care About Buyers’ Goals and Objectives
Being in sales presupposes that you have high economic values. However, if all you care about is YOUR financial gain then you are wasting your buyer’s time AND you won’t achieve your goal. The current buyers’ landscape requires that sellers have a vested interest in the outcome of their buyers. While not caring about the buyers’ outcome may have short term success, you will eventually be found out. The law of Karma is amplified in a hyperconnected world. If this describes you then you need help reconnecting with WHY you are doing what you are doing. Get help please.
#2) You are not prepared
Because of #5 and #3, you don’t bother to prepare. You believe that your looks, charm and ability to think on your feet will win the day. Buyers aren’t impressed. Not only do you have to understand your buyer’s business but you have to add something to their understanding of their business. You have to change their minds about how they view their business. This requires preparation. If you don’t know how to effectively prepare for a buyer engagement then please get some help.
#1) You are Completely Full of **it
There is absolutely no connection between who you are and what you do. Some call this a lack of congruence. I call it living a lie. Your buyer calls it an endless and unrelenting stream of BS. Breaking through in this selling environment requires authenticity. That means being in true alignment with why you are doing what you are doing. It also means being in true alignment with your buyers’ goals and objectives which, in most cases, occur AFTER you close the transaction.
If you are afflicted by these symptoms don’t be too hard on yourself. These symptoms are the result of years of poor instruction and bad conditioning. It takes real commitment and courage to eradicate them from your life. If you or someone you know are plagued by these issues please do us all a favor, and reach out for help.
I am a salesperson.
Those words never really “roll off” my tongue. As I’m saying them a morsel of guilt seeps into my conscious. I await the subtle judgment of whomever I reveal this fact. I can see the slight disappointment pepper their faces. My business card says ‘Enterprise Account Executive’. But the bottom line is that I’m a salesperson who sells technology to big companies. This truth creates much of my reality. First off, I’m not to be trusted by buyers. I am guilty until proven innocent. When I meet a buyer I am not just myself. I am every salesperson before me. I am every fast-talking, feature spinning, obfuscating salesperson that has come into their life before. I am the amalgamation of all the salespeople experiences they have had in the past, be it buying a used car, a house, corporate software, or furniture. While people do have good experiences with salespeople, they will always remember the bad ones and somehow all that BAD is my fault. It is quite disheartening for your character to be in question by virtue of the actions of others. But anyone who has lasted any significant amount of time in the sales business gets used to it.
Lest you think I overstate this point let’s look at the latest study in this area. DDI recently did a global sales perception report in 2007-2008. In this study corporate buyers were asked what their perception of salespeople was. The most common response was “a necessary evil”. In fact, “Sales: A Srategic Partnership or A Necessary Evil” is the title of the study. Other descriptions of sales people that corporate buyers revealed were descriptions such as cut-throat, sharks trolling the waters, lower than pond scum, and on and on.
Frankly, I understand this situation. In fact, as a consumer I have exactly the same perception. I will do everything I can to not have to deal with a salesperson when I’m in the market to purchase a product or a service. In my car buying example, I gather all the research I can from various websites including a visit to the manufacturer’s website. I go to my social network and ask for their opinions on the model and advice on price. I go to expert sites that compare. Once I’ve made my mind up, only then will I call the dealership. And for the most part, I control that conversation. If I don’t like how the phone is answered, or how I’m treated at the dealership, I go to the next dealership… or I don’t go to a dealership at all.
In my car buying scenario, sales people are seen as irrelevant. In addition, salespeople often compound this lack of relevance with words and actions that reinforce what I call the sales stereotype. Because of their irrelevance and the sales stereotype, buyers, like me are motivated by our desire to avoid any contact with a salesperson for as long as possible.
The Making of the Sales Stereotype
Webster defines Stereotype as “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment”. Most professions have stereotypes associated with them. Engineers, Nurses, Doctors, Policeman, Fireman are all stereotyped in some way but these are not strong stereotypes and most are either positive or neutral. However, some professions have very strong negative stereotypes. Lawyers, politicians, and yes, salespeople are among those that have very elevated negative stereotypes. The sales stereotype plays a major role in how buyers react to salespeople.
Strong negative stereotypes do not just appear overnight. They are the result of history, culture and in some cases our evolutionary tendencies. I believe that this is true of the sales stereotype. All these factors combined have an impact on how salespeople are perceived today.
Sociobiology, a field of study most recently nurtured by Edward O. Wilson states that human behavior can be explained at least in part by natural selection. Sociobiology claims that the behavior of a species is selected as effective behavior in evolutionary terms as a way to promulgate genetics in the population. For example, as little as 10,000 years ago, a blink of an eye in cosmic time, our ancestors were living in tribes of 10-12 people, in caves and other temporary shelter. Back then, food and shelter were scarce and our ancestors, as a species, had to make sure that they protected these necessities at all costs so they could safely reproduce within their tribe. For all intents and purposes it was a zero sum game. Someone else’s gain, was their loss. As these tribes successfully reproduced, this protective behavior was selected and is still prominent today. For example, when someone attempts to convince us or influence us, especially someone who is not in our “tribe”, we automatically assume that they are trying to gain something. We initially become wary and begin to speculate on what their “angle” is. Our evolutionary tendency is to become suspicious and resistant to people outside of our tribe that want to influence us.
This suspicious and protective behavior is the evolutionary baseline on which buyers operate in relationship to being “sold to”. Essentially salespeople, from a buyer perceptions standpoint, start an engagement that is the result of behavioral genetic selection over millions of years, just by virtue of who they are.
Mass Production, Mass Population
In pre-industrial era a blacksmith that lived in a village would create various house wares like furniture, gates, sconces, pots, pans, and other tools. The “tribe” had become the town and all the townspeople knew him and went to him when they needed these types of products. He typically started as an apprentice, learning the trade from a very young age.
Over the years, he perfected his craft and sold his wares to the people all over the village. He had an enormous amount of pride and personal stake in his business. He was intimately involved, not only in his craft but also in the selling of his wares. The internal practice of his craft was intrinsically joined to the external selling of his goods. Hence, he could not afford to do a poor job because word of mouth was his only effective advertisement. If one of the townspeople was unhappy, he had to find a way to fix it lest his reputation be soiled.
This was a world where tradition, expertise, and pride were permanently affixed to the selling of the good. Where the apprentice chose a life and that life was about carrying on the tradition of the proprietor. It was about the perfection of a craft, where the craft was what drove the craftsmen. Business dealings, with customers were intrinsically connected to the craft itself.
Meanwhile, the new world was being settled at a quick pace over very large land masses. Missionaries were sent all over the world seeking to convert the native people to Christianity. These evangelists were really the first travelling salespeople. The native people often exercised their genetic predisposition to strangers, which caused many an unpleasant outcome for those missionaries. However, some missionaries broke through and founded and built missions and churches where they evangelized their religion, converted the native people and kept the townspeople in line. These preachers sold and evangelized eternal salvation. Some remained stationary but others travelled through the country holding revivals. My late Grandfather was a Baptist preacher in Southeast Missouri and was firmly steeped in this tradition. He was “saved” by a travelling preacher who walked out and sold him while he was plowing a cotton field. These preachers leveraged eternal life (as opposed to eternal damnation) to sell their religion. The travelling evangelist was the original model that future salesperson would be built on.
Snake Oil and other Technology Advancements
My bet is that no one has ever sold you snake oil to cure an ailment. Yet, everyone knows what a snake oil salesman is because the stereotype is so strong. In the late 18th and 19th centuries commercial infrastructure was in its nascent stages. Peddlers would travel around on horses and in carriages selling things like house wares, lightning rods, and yes, snake oil. These peddlers would go from town to town and sell their wares, sometimes never to be seen again. When the product malfunctioned or the house burned down because lightning hit it, there was no one to answer for it. Needless to say the peddler was blamed. In the same vein there were actual snake oil peddlers who road into town and sold potions that raised the hope of cured ailments but never worked.
As industrial society emerged, the blacksmith’s tasks necessarily began to become fragmented. Specialization occurred and some blacksmith shops focused on only one product as opposed to many. No one person built the products that they had traditionally built. 20 people built one of those products in a manufacturing line process in a small iron plant. In order to optimize production, a separate group of people sold these goods.
And thus, the separation between what we make and what we sell began. More of these products could be made faster and for less cost. This allowed the separated salesperson to leverage increased availability of the product.
Of course there was very limited access to information in rural areas so publishing companies hired canvassers to sell books. In fact, Mark Twain developed a very sophisticated sales process in order to maximize revenues when selling his Biography of Ulysses S. Grant. It was one of the very first documented sales methodologies. These canvassers leveraged the lack of books (information) in rural areas.
As small towns grew, General Stores emerged. And the wares that peddlers sold were now available in the general store. A new type of salesperson emerged called Drummers. (This is where the term “drum up business” comes from) These salespeople travelled to general store locations multiple times. They leveraged their relationship and the scarcity of a mature distribution system. The drummer was the pre-cursor to the modern wholesaler.
With every macro-change in the economy that displaced sales leverage, salespeople migrated towards products and capabilities where they could leverage something in relationship to the buyer. For instance, once house wares were sold at a general store, salespeople migrated towards bulk sales to those general stores. They leveraged knowledge, pricing, and the logistics to get product from one place to another. This placement-displacement continued throughout the 20th century.
The benefits of industrialization were that many people could afford many products that in previous times were too expensive. In addition, there were people in the organization that just focused on innovating and improving products and processes. This capability and focus drove companies to innovate and create new technologies at a rapid pace. The telegraph, telephone, light bulb, radio, and television were all invented in a matter of 100 years – more innovation occurred during this time than in the previous 2000 years. At the same time, salespeople from many different corporations spanned out across the country. They leveraged logistics, distribution and specialized information about the products and services that they sold. But then something interesting occurred. The widespread adoption of technology like, radio and television gave corporations the means to drive demand directly with the consumer through mass advertising and sponsorship. And with the rise of the automobile, consumers had the power to go to places outside of their immediate neighborhood to purchase these goods. This connection between the maker of the product and the mass consumer was another important component in the cyclical displacement of salespeople.
The combination of our evolutionary biases, the buyer experience with the transient snake oil salesperson, the separation of salespeople from the creation of wares they sell, the increasing relationship between the maker of the product and the consumer, and the past behavior of salespeople, have all come together to create the modern sales stereotype.
I often imagine a group of 18th century house ware peddlers gathered around a bar or saloon comforting themselves by saying things like “there will always be somebody who has to go around door to door and sell house wares”. Little did they know the changes that would come in their lifetime. Bigger changes will be coming in ours.
I recently participated in a meeting. There were about 10 of us in a conference room. The table was full of open laptops, presumably for note taking. Iphones and Androids were on the table. As we began the discussion, people would tune in and out. When addressed some would ask that the question be repeated. There was a point during one of the discussions that a silence came over the group. All that could be heard was the clickety-clack of keyboards. Peoples’ faces were locked into their computer screens or their cell phones. It dawned on me that…
At this moment, no one was actually AT this meeting. They were all somewhere else. They were thinking about or doing something else.
This is the other side of technology — the apparent inability of people in the business world to be present and contribute fully to the task at hand.
The question is: what to do about it? I’m still thinking about how I will handle it. Do you have some good ideas about how to handle this?
Have had the pleasure over my lifetime to study the art of Aikido. My Sensei was David Shaner, pictured above. The value of Aikido for me has been to apply the principles to daily life. In Aikido training, the question is frequently asked, “where is your/their power going? Most commonly it is asked when the uke (attacker) grabs the nage (one being attacked) in any number of ways. The job of the nage is to respect that direction, sense where the uke’s power is directed, put him or herself in alignment with that direction and safely immobilize the attack.
I was thinking of this concept in the context of “closing” a deal. As I wrote in a previous post, closing is purely a sellers term generated from a seller’s perspective. From a buyer’s perspective there is an entirely opposite perspective on this part of the process. For the buyer, “closing” is in fact “opening” or commencement of the journey to value for what they have purchased.
I would guess that 80% of all sales training, coaching, management focus, is directed towards closing. But the focus on closing is way out of alignment with what the buyer’s focus is on — which is ultimately recognizing value for what is purchased. Finishing up the initial agreement – closing – is simply a step towards achieving the value.
One of the reasons that salespeople lose control of deals towards the “close” is because the prospect senses that they are not in alignment with helping the client generate value. In your next sales cycle, constantly ask yourself where your power is going? Focus your power on value and generate excitement about getting started!
Many people ask me what sales methodology I use. I’m very familiar with 4: Mike Bosworth’s Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling, Infomentis’ Value Selling Process, and Challenger Selling. I’m a big believer in deploying a sales methodology primarily because, a) most of them accurately reflect the stages of the buying process, b) they provide a common communication framework for the selling organization, and c) when set against running a sales organization by word of mouth, they work. I use a process which is a combination of the methodologies I’ve learned, the unique gifts that I bring, and the sales experiences that I’ve had.
If you are traveling blindly down a path that someone else has created, it is by definition not your own. Hence, using sales methodology too rigorously, without your unique gifts, creativity, and experience, will ultimately fall short. Each of us brings a unique set of talents and experiences to our selling environments. We should augment sales methodology with these gifts in order to differentiate ourselves in what is increasingly becoming an ocean of selling sameness.
In short, sales methodology is crucial; but it should be your servant, not your master.
I recently talked with a prospect who had been considering my product for over a year. ‘I’m new to the position and territory so I picked up the opportunity in process. Evidently, the purchase cycle was missed last year so I didn’t want us to repeat the same mistake twice so I asked what happened. There were 2 reasons why the prospect did not buy the prior year. One was an internal process-oriented reason that is confidential. The other reason was that the sales person, after being brought into the process by manager/director level sponsors, flanked and ignored them upon meeting the VP (power sponsor). Turns out the the sponsors AND the VP did not appreciate it and along with the other reason had no compelling motivation to complete the transaction and implement the solution.
Much is said in the sales world about “calling high” and “the path to power”. And, it is mostly true. However, what happened here was a breech of trust. Instead of building the relationship with the sponsors and leading them to help build a relationship with the VP, the sales person took the easy road, went to the VP, and ignored the sponsors. It was more than a bad tactical move. It defied the trust that the VP had in his people and any possible trust that the sponsors and the VP had in the sales person. Ultimately, it costs the sales person any chance of moving the solution forward.
While there are some instances where this tactic might work, thinking through the culture of the company and the relationship between the sponsor(s) and the power sponsor(s) is critical.
“an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas.” – Wikipedia
Today’s Sales culture is wrought with cognitive dissonance. Here is an example:
The executive orators give great lip service to how we are in all this for the long term success of the customer. All the marketing material says this, so it MUST be true, but you better frig’n get that deal in and hit that number this quarter…the interest of the customer is clearly secondary. In addition, there are no metrics or compensation mechanisms in place to reinforce the behavior. Unfortunately, Salespeople live in this dissonance every day. In fact, if you can’t handle a significant amount of cognitive dissonance, today’s sales culture may not be for you. (There are a few companies, however, that go to great lengths to align their corporate lip service to the compensation plans of their Salespeople. We have a long way to go in this area but at least its a start.)
I’ve known some good salespeople who have been eaten alive by the cognitive dissonance in their sales organizations. Unfortunately, pointing this out in one of these organizations will usually not do you any good. Either the dissonance will chip away at your performance until you leave or you are asked to leave, you will succumb to it and become a second rate sales person, OR you will learn to navigate through the dissonance and serve the customer despite it.
I suggest the latter.