Category: Sales Leadership

Happiness Or Success…Choose Wisely


What quickly becomes ingrained in us from a very young age is that specific events will make us happy. Getting married (or divorced), making a sale, passing a course etc – all of these things get somehow tied in to whether we are happy or not. What is awfully difficult to do is ‘be happy’.

Happiness is, by virtue of being tied to such events, a moment. As it is also tied to an event – it therefore dissipates as the outcome of that event also fades. Worse still, as we anticipate these events, our happiness builds and unfortunately the feeling generated from the event itself can be disappointing in comparison to our anticipation of it.

What we do is trade happiness for happy moments. We don’t seek to be happy.

There’s increasing writings and research on the ‘choose happiness’ mindset which is happiness isn’t something we get, isn’t a destination, isn’t a event – but something we choose to be. Often easier said that done isn’t it?

Not only do we learn to link happiness with moments/events – we also learn to tie happiness to success, but the wrong way around. We think happiness is an outcome of success.

If we look at happiness in a professional context – scan your office. Who are the happy ones? Are they also the successful ones?

So now we’re starting to think about the links between success and happiness. Are they inter-twined? Often you will find that success breeds happiness – albeit often, unfortunately, for only as long as the success continues.

So, does happiness breed success? Hold on – this now challenges a mindset doesn’t it. This actually means you must choose to be happy before you are successful and being happy will drive success. Is it not amazing that when you are on roll professionally, success seems to find your more easily? But hold on – surely to get on that roll you must have been successful in the first place? Yes, but why were you is the question? Sullen, concerned, negative, mopey sales people seldom get success. But they constantly think ‘I will be happy when I am successful’. What they are basically saying to themselves is ‘I am currently a failure’. They just hide this truism by the way they phrase their internal monologue as it is easier as success is something that will happen to them whereas happiness is an effort they have to choose now.

What also happens if you tie happiness to success in this way? Well, you can pretty much guarantee that even when you are successful, whilst you may be happy, the next ‘moment’ looms on the horizon. You have a fantastic year, you’ve hit top of the leaderboard and you get a massive bonus cheque. Woohoo!!!! However, the following day your sales leader gives you next years target – and thump – ‘well I guess I can be happy again in 12 months time when I hit this one too’. When we tie happiness to events – we are actually seldom happy for long. Successful people are the most guilty of this as they constantly reset their goals once they hit them. Similarly, there is no such thing as a perfect situation so, whilst that particular ‘event’ we’ve been hanging our happiness on may make us happy situationally, we have other ones we’re juggling which are casting a shadow on it. We are seldom 100% happy.

To use an example of how we’ve tied happiness to success from a very young age.

When you watch a young child play sport for the first time – they are simply happy to be involved. To be doing it. To be outside. To be with their friends/family. They are happy simply because of the involvement. They’re the kid playing in the mud on the sports field rather than chasing the ball. They’re simply happy being there. The sheer effort and involvement makes them happy. If you’re a parent, you’ll even know that even the thought they could be going out to play makes them excited.

However, as they get better the sport and it becomes more serious – what changes?

Somewhere along the line we shift our basis for being happy from effort to outcome. Again, we sub-contract out our happiness to a moment/outcome/score. As parents, we’re often guilty of this in how we praise our children. When they win – instead of going – that is because of all the practise and effort you put in – we often go – that is because you are talented. Think about this with school tests – when your child aces a test – do you go ‘this is because you studied hard’ or ‘you’re so smart’? What happens when you child then encounters someone who practised harder than them? How will they react? Will they go ‘I need to practice harder’ or ‘I’m bad at this sport’. Will they go ‘I’m happy with the effort I put in and will try harder next time’ or ‘Woe is me I lost, I am just not good enough at this sport?’.

Will they actually continue to enjoy a sport where they originally were excited simply to play but now their happiness hinges on the outcome? Is this not the reason many people give up sport and many other things in life. They get to the point where there is more effort required to improve and they perceive their chances of success are lessening – so chasing success and therefore happiness is a worthless cause? Is this simply because rather than deriving happiness from the improvement itself, they are deriving it solely from the outcome?

To demonstrate the point: How many times have you chosen not to do something simply because there was someone better than you doing it? I know I have.

Bring this to work now. Replace sport with sales targets? Is it any different? We are professional sub-contractors of our happiness as a rule. Worse, do we ‘opt out’ entirely where we believe we can’t be successful?

We have leaderboards which tell us if we are better or worse than our peers. We have market share data which tells us if we are better or worse than our competitors. We have targets which tells us if we have passed or failed this month. We have customers that tell us if we are liked or not. We can often be praised if we win a deal, ignored or worse if we don’t. We are professionals at allowing others to tell us when to be happy!

Sales leadership is like that sporting parent. You can either focus on the effort and growth or the outcome. Each has a very different impact on happiness (and mindset)

You shape whether your team externalises their happiness or not through how you lead them, coach them and remunerate them.

How Do You Own Your Happiness?

Know Your WooHoo Moments.

Where do you have your ‘woohoo’ moments in your job?

What parts of your role give you motivation, energy and drive you? Sure we all love when we hit our target – and this actually may be your ‘woohoo’. But choose it consciously for yourself, not because someone else says it’s important. Every one gets energy from different sources.

Once you know what drives you, it becomes quite powerful. One of my team told me ‘winning deals’ is where I get my energy. Fantastic! But let’s talk about what that means. So if we know winning a deal is important – how does this affect your view of personal development? Huh? Surely, if winning deals is where you get your energy, you will invest time for your personal development to continually get better to improve your skills to win more consistently. To drive more woohoo’s.

Amazing how knowing where you get your energy provides context to the other things you need to do in your role. To extend this, if you love winning deals – surely having a ‘crowd’ is important, more so than lone wolfing? Because, through having a crowd, you have advocates, knowledge experts, shared resources etc. They can help you win more deals, together. Isn’t it an even better feeling to share that win? Knowing where your energy comes from can alter your context as well.

Know Yourself

What do you hold core to who you are? Is it family, being an expert, being wealthy, being respected, being part of a team? What are your core values? Usually what you will find it your ‘woohoo’ moments will align to your value and your high energy use moments will conflict with them. For example – if ‘Family’ is a core value for you, you may find after work functions difficult, but love breakfast functions instead? (I am this person and it took me a while to work out). If ‘Health’ is a core value and you’re not making time for to exercise, you will eventually become unhappy.

What is as equally important to knowing where you get your energy, is to know where you lose it. What is harder to do for you. Even if you speak to people who absolutely love their role – they will have parts that don’t enjoy or aren’t good at. If you can, minimise, delegate or avoid it. If you can’t, consciously choose to do it in the context of knowing how it moves you towards your real purpose.

Know Where You’re Going

When you don’t have a vision/plan – it is much easier for the negative moments to override the positive because, if you don’t have a plan, you have no idea if you are progressing or not so any and every set back can seem huge. When you have a plan, obstacles are just that, something you need to move around to get where you’re going. You tend to look over the obstacle rather than get target fixation.

A great example is the difference between someone who goes to the gym because ‘they feel fat’ versus someone who goes to the gym to be able to run 10km next month. One is a criticism, the other is a goal. One will see you still lying in bed in the morning because it is raining, the other will see you in your car without a second thought.

Own Your Target

Targets are a fact of life. But the one set for you doesn’t need to be the one you live by. If it is, choose it don’t let it choose you. Too many sales people I encounter can only recite the company’s expectation of them, not their own expectations of themselves. Why? What expectations/targets to you hold yourself accountable to? What is your personal charter? Why you?

In my experience, once you can demonstrate to your sales leader/employer that you hold yourself to a higher standard than they expect (KPI’s are often the minimum expectation in reality) – they will quickly develop a trust in you beyond someone who simply ‘does the job’.

Focusing more on the effort involved than the outcome is also a crucial aspect to how one deals with targets. It isn’t what you have to achieve that is important – it is how you will go about getting there and why. This is the workplace equivalent of showing your workings at school. You may get the wrong answer but a) people can see you tried rather than guessed and b) they can understand how you got there and help. Also – by breaking your targets down – it becomes infinitely easier for you to be present and own your happiness today, rather than postpone your choice to be happy until X occurs.

An example in sales is – if I know what my ‘annual’ expectations are – but I also have trust that if I set myself the goal to ring 6 prospects today, visit one client and speak to an intermediary I will have the greatest chance to achieve this target, I have reset my target in simple form. And if I achieve this by lunchtime – how does my happiness compare than if I am sitting on the 3rd day of the month wondering if I will hit plan or not by the end of it?

In one I will leave that day happy – not that I’ve hit my target, sure, but that I gave what I could to get there.

In the other I spend 27 days hoping I will be happy, versus spending 27 days being happy.

I know which I would rather choose.

Dynamic Happiness

Your woohoo moments will change over time. This is often why we see mature sales people burn out. They start trying to chase the dragon when it comes to their happiness, rather than realise that what drives happiness changes. Like a drug, the happiness from winning deals no longer cuts it. The deals have to be bigger, harder, etc. So what happens is that haven’t realised that what used to make them happy, doesn’t any more.

They haven’t actually burned out – they have simply lost sight of their woohoo moments because they’ve changed and they haven’t.

When we’re younger, simply having a job makes us happy – we’re like the kid playing sport for the first time. Then, as we mature, our happiness starts being contracted out and we let it happen. We let leaderboards, market share data etc determine whether we are happy or not.

Here is an interesting exercise for you to try for the next couple of weeks…..

Next time some one asks you how you are – reply ‘I am awesome, how are you?

Not okay/good/not bad – but awesome, fantastic, brilliant! Why? Imagine the word ‘awesome’ is the scale on which you measure your day. It is your power word. When you say ‘Not Bad’ – are you not saying you measure your day on how bad it is – or ‘No Complaints’ – that a good day is simply when you have nothing to complain about?

Pay attention to what reaction you get. What conversations this incites. More importantly, reflect on how saying it makes you feel. Happiness starts with a thought.


Be The Lion


When ever we look to do something courageous, contentious, abnormal or similarly ‘departing from the normal’ – we are almost guaranteed to receive criticism and/or negativity. Not the constructive kind either.

More often than not, this criticism comes from people who are at or below average at what you’re trying to do. Average or below doesn’t like above average as it feels shown up. So it unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, looks to discourage any one who could put them to shame.

In sales, great sales people aren’t average – obviously. Therefore, it is fair to say that great sales people have encountered a lot of criticism to get where they are.

There is an African proverb that goes:

In sales there are many small dogs. Some bark louder than others and sometimes they bark in chorus – but they will always bark.

Your Dog

If you are a typical sales person – your dog will bark the loudest and most often. Part of us is fearful of putting ourselves out there, so in the recesses of our mind a dog barks to protect us from failure. The logic – by not trying we don’t fail and therefore don’t embarrass ourselves. Of course this is true – but it also means we never succeed if we listen to this dog.

Sometimes this dog barks for real reasons and correctly identifies skill, knowledge, process or similar gaps in what we’re doing. In this case – listen to the dog, but don’t turn around. Address the gaps – move forward. That dog barking isn’t a reason to stop – that dogs bark makes us stronger. It is warning us.

Unfortunately, our dog is the biggest dog we have to fight. We’re usually the only one that can hear it and it speaks our own language. We’ve taught this dog through years of self talk. We’ve nurtured this dogs bark. It has both protected and inhibited us. You need to learn to not ‘turn around’ because of it, but listen and judge whether it’s bark makes sense.

The Team Dog

In some sales teams, there is an air of mediocrity. Of ‘getting by’. As a result, anyone departing from this culture quickly encounters the team dog/s. This is where average endeavours to maintain the status quo. Statements like ‘That won’t work’, ‘They won’t buy from us’, ‘They’re a difficult client’, ‘This sales course is worthless’ and similar remarks are all the team dog barking.

You can see this in some teams where the best sales people end up lone wolfing simply because they have chosen to ignore the team dog and just do what they know works. They don’t turn around, but unfortunately often at the expense of the team dynamic. They risk getting socially emancipated from the team.

This can often be why good sales people don’t last long in poor sales teams. Too many dogs barking, not enough lions. As a sales leader – this is important as often the lions don’t roar often, but you better listen when they do. Provided you can hear them over the dogs barking.

The Company Dog

Sales is usually one aspect of a business – with many other areas of the business existing and working together. Sometimes, tension unnecessarily exists in a business – you end up with the company dog.

It is all to easy in sales to find a reason to not leave the office. Someone always wants a report completed, some admin work done, and similar valueless work. Sure, it needs to be done, but are you turning around because the company dog is barking? If it doesn’t help you achieve better outcomes for your clients, achieve your results and genuinely isn’t time critical – why did you listen to that dog barking?

As a sales leader, you job is to silence, minimise and/or eliminate this noise from your sales teams to allow them to focus on being the lion. Without distraction.

The Market Dog

I’ve seldom met a sales person who is 100% happy with the market conditions. There is always a more active competitor, someone who is cheaper, someone with a better product, not enough clients, poor economic conditions. That market dog can bark pretty bloody loud if you let it. Sheesh – some days you can question why you even get out of bed.

But hold on – I have also met a number of highly successful sales people who perform regardless of these conditions. Sure, their results vary in good and bad markets, but they still outsell everyone else. Sure, market and competitive conditions vary but they don’t turn around.

Listen to that dog and potentially change direction accordingly, but don’t turn around. As a sales leader – you need to determine if that dog barking is an excuse masking another issue, or a genuine reason inhibiting their activities/outcomes.

The Client Dog

Sometimes we can even encounter a dog in front of us which can stop us and turn us around. The client dog. This is especially true in situations like where the client has an unexpressed or unconscious need we’ve identified but they haven’t as yet come to realise. Or, where we have clients under stress, competitive pressure, experienced a service or product failure.

It is easy in these situations to have a client who barks a lot and, as a sales person, for us turn around. Sometimes the client dog can bark VERY loudly. It can be deafening. As both a sales person and leader, you both need to determine is that dog going to bite and how hard. After all, as sales people, they’re why we exist.

However, good sales people are resolute and listen to that dog and continue forward to deliver that client the best possible outcome they can.

There are many dogs barking in sales vying for our attention and endeavouring to throw us off course or stop us altogether. Endeavour to find others like you who can hear but ignore those dogs and keep moving forward. Eventually those dogs will stop barking as they have nothing to bark about.

That Lion doesn’t turn around simply because it has nothing to fear. It has learned, as an apex predator, that those barking dogs are noise but not a threat. They exist but are immaterial.

Be the lion.

Be The Candle, Not The Moth


Asking all sales professionals –

  • Do you curate your own content?
  • Do you create your own content?

One of the challenges in sales is finding, engaging and holding to new clients whilst maintaining strong relationships with the ones you already have. You’re like a moth circling many flames at the same time.

Imagine if you could be the candle instead – your flame attracting your clients and prospects alike? Imagine a world where clients seek you out and want, if not yearn, to do business with you? A sales nirvana. One, historically, that was hard to achieve with mass marketing being expensive and a sales force left with phone, feet and (later) email to reach their market.

However, in today’s world your reach is far more expansive than it has ever been. Personally, status updates and tweet immediately reach our friends and network and quickly circle the world. Youtube videos have immediate and enduring reach. People are prepared to and do broadcast their thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion with often reckless abandon.

Yet, professionally, we seem to inhibited in this ability to similarly present our ideas, expertise, advice and opinion with the same passion and frequency. We stiffle this markedly in comparision with our personal lives.

LinkedIn is a fantastic example – whereby anyone can produce articles, share their own content and that of others content, have dynamic profiles and all manner of other mediums. Yet few do. The old ‘1% produce content, 9% comment on it and 90% watch’ plays out day after day professionally.

What is true though is that the reach of social media in business through sites like LinkedIn is growing daily. Businesses and business people NOT engaged and active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc is dwindling. So, as a sales professional, where is your audience today?

Back to the original questions – do you create and/or curate your own content?

More importantly, if you don’t, you are probably asking ‘why should I’? Well, there are a number of salient reasons, including

  • Distinction Yes, sharing information is the first natural step in the social space. Simply clicking the share button and clicking it again. The next step is adding an opinion, comment or embelishment to it. What will people think? Finally, the big leap is producing and publishing your own content – with your own ideas and your own opinion. Nervewracking – probably. Rewarding – definitely. Doing this is like public speaking. Whilst we have a fear of it, most likely everyone else does as well. But by standing up and doing it, we distinguish ourselves. As scared as the you may be, many in the audience are going ‘Wow, they’re brave’ or ‘I couldn’t do it’. Regardless of your content & relevance (which is obviously still important), you’ve already made people stand up and notice. You’d made yourselve distinct from many of your peers and have grabbed the attention of your clients in a completely different manner.
  • Engagement Notwithstanding them even reading the article/watching the video in full, they will notice you on their activity feeds (assuming of course they’re connected with/following you). They are reminded you are there. Of course, whilst clients and prospects alike may not have an hour to spend with you at that particular moment, many will take the time to read articles. Then, wait until people start commenting and real, tangible engagement ensues. The joy of this engagement though is it is not push, it is pull. You are putting it out to the general ether, they are choosing to notice, read/watch and/or engage.
  • Expertise Here is where you can demonstrate your knowledge and why you do what you do. Why you are passionate about what you do and how it helps your clients. It isn’t about ‘selling’ it is about value creation, problem solving and opportunity realisation. Well written articles can challenge thinking, educate, inform or even entertain. But shouldn’t sell (this isn’t an advertisement!). Here is where you give what you know freely, abundantly trusting it will pay you dividends (in what ever form) later.
  • Bigger Than Social What starts as a social strategy, can quickly develop in to a physical, face to face one. Requests to talk, present, coach, and consultant quickly follow. The absolute benefit of this is they are engaging with your because of your thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion – not simply because of your product/service. They want you to advise them – therefore you, in crude terms, enter the sales cycle correctly once engaged. You start with a relationship, not a transaction.

Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, contributor to the development of RSS and staunch activist for freedom of public information said:

“In the old system of broadcasting, you were fundamentally limited by the amount of space in the airwaves. You could only send out 10 channels over the airwaves for television, right? Or even with cable, you had 500 channels. On the internet everybody can have a channel….So it’s not only certain people who have a license to speak. Now everyone has a license to speak. It’s a question of who gets heard.”

Whilst he was referencing the likes of Google and their control of ‘who sees what’ on the internet – he is stating a modern trusim. Everyone now has the ability to produce content – a license to speak.

However, the last line is true also – it isn’t about simply producing content, it is about who is being heard. To this end Benjamin Franklin said:

Probably like most of you, I quickly remove connections who pitch me ‘ideas’ or ‘opportunities’ immediately after connecting. I unsubscribe and delete similar emails from people who have scraped my email off LinkedIn. They effectively ‘cold call’ by social messaging. Yuck!

I do however read the content produced by my connections and people I am following. And, where it is content I connect with, I share it. Similarly I produce my own content for no other reason than to educate, inform and/or entertain. I certainly hope it is worth reading, but I don’t write it to sell anything.

So, hopefully now I’ve incited you to consider curating or publishing your own content. What next? How do you produce relevant, engaging content?

Consider the below when producing your own content.

  1. Know your audience. In the words of Mr Franklin, one of the key errors is producing (or sharing) irrelevant content. Tailor your content (whether shared or created) for your specific audience. If you don’t know your audience, work it out before you start.
  2. Expertise > Sales. I regularly get infuriated when I read an advertisement disguised as an article. You need to give to get – trust that your expertise is valuable in the hands of your audience if presented correctly. Be a centre of excellence and work The best way to demonstrate your value to your audience is to demonstrate you are a centre of excellence in what you write about.
  3. Don’t over think it. Publishing your first article is someone nerve wracking. As I mentioned above, you will get feedback, questions and sometime criticism. But is this bad? You want to provoke thought and discussion. You want engagement. Sometimes being controversial is actual the angle to take.
  4. Be you. Your articles are a reflection of you – it is your chance to personally talk to your audience. Be conversational and personal – reflect and opine.
  5. Be consistent. Writing one article is easier than consistently writing articles – but regular writing maintains consistent engagement with your audience. Try and publish at the same time so your audience becomes accustomed to when they are likely to hear from you
  6. Don’t worry about the stats. It is easy to become consumed with the number of views, likes, comments and shares. Over time this becomes important, but this grows. Though, do read the comments and respond – if someone has taken the time to compose a response, take the time to respond. Similarly, thank people where they share your article and, if game, ask them what in particular did they connect with as this helps shape further content.
  7. Visuals. A good headline image is important as human’s are visual. Similarly, using images, graphs etc in your article helps with explaining/illustrating points, covering quickly what words would cumbersome to do and provide visual breaks.
  8. Collaborate. If you’re not an expert on a topic you know your audience would like, find someone who is and co-write an article. Ask them if you can share/quote their article and add your own opinions or comments over top to connect it to your audience. Ask them to guest write for you or conversely you for them.
  9. Honour your sources. Don’t use others content without asking and citing them. If you reference other public information – quote and include links. People have taken the time to produce their content, it is only fair your recognise their contribution to the quality of your work.
  10. Be proud. Sign off your work with a) a link to your other work b) how to reach you c) a suggestion people like, share or comment on the article if they found it interesting and/or useful. Remember, 90% of people lurk and for some it only takes a prod or two for people to engage.

There are many more suggestions and I encourage your comments as to what works and doesn’t for you. I fell in to writing articles as I simply wrote for myself and then a few people said I should publish them. Now I find writing articles is incredibly useful for me as much as I hope it is for my audience.

The biggest advantage is this gives you the opportunity to be the candle, producing the flame, rather than a moth looking for something to circle. Sure, you may end up with no or few moths, but with a little perseverance and fine tuning and you’ll quickly find you have an audience, most likely including clients of your competitiors – recognising so few sales people do it.

So, if you are an expert at what you do, why aren’t you producing your own content? Why aren’t you becoming a centre of excellence. The channel is there to speak, you just need to be heard.

Reflect, Refine, Reset


Life in sales is often frantic with many tasks competing for our attention. While we have the encumbrances of a ‘financial year’, seldom does this afford us with the real opportunity to sit back and reflect. There is a Zen saying:

We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see

And this plays very true in sales. It is usually when our clients are quiet that we have this ‘still water’ to reflect wholly on ourselves. This time of year around the traditional holiday season affords us with the stillness to reflect. Unfortunately, too often we cram it full of things which seem important (like tidying up files, organising email boxes, CRM etc) rather than taking the opportunity to personally reflect, refine and reset our mindset and processes for the coming year ahead.

In sales, there are 4 main areas we (whether from the perspective of a sales person or leader/coach) should be reflecting on where we will usually trip ourselves up:

Right Things

Results don’t achieve themselves – they are a factor of doing the right things. Whilst we often have KPI’s in sales which measure the outputs of what we do, we need to clearly define what the right things to do are.

The question here is ‘Are you doing the right things to achieve your results?‘. There will always be things we can identify that we should be doing but aren’t.

Naturally, the next question to ask yourself is ‘If I should be doing them, why aren’t I?‘. It could be as simple as lack of prioritisation or planning. You just aren’t setting time aside to do what you need to do and, as a result, other tasks are filling that void/time.

It could be that you aren’t confident in doing them or don’t know how, so avoid them. In which case, be honest with yourself. If you know you need to do them and know you don’t know how or feel uncomfortable executing them the next question should be obvious: ‘What I am going to do about it?’. Where can you go or who can you lean on to support you developing the skills and/or confidence to do the things you know you should be doing. There are many avenues open to your here once you’ve identified these actions – seeking peer support from high performers, using your sales leader, formal/informal training and practice.

There is another question which is far more difficult to answer yourself – ‘What should I be doing, but don’t know I should be doing it?’. Are those more successful than you better because they are doing things you don’t even know you could and should be doing? How do you find this out? Well, you ask them, observe them, shadow them. Often these people don’t know you don’t know. If you ask, most will be all too happy to help. They will also likely be the people who will help you when you can’t do something or feel uncomfortable.

As a sales leader, do you know the things your sales team should be doing? Do you know what is separating the great from the good from the mediocre and under-performing? If you don’t, how can you help an individual sales person become aware of what they should, but currently aren’t, doing?

Things Right

Obviously, if it were as simple as just knowing the right things to do, we’d all be superstars with this knowledge. I hypothetically know how a house is built, but would I build one?

The next question to ask is, ‘Knowing what you should be doing, are you doing them right?’. Are you executing these things correctly? This is a more qualitative question to ask yourself and one that requires you to be very honest with yourself. Often this can and is measured in sales through various conversion/success ratios, so can sometimes be quite obvious, other times it is degrees of success. A great example is where you ‘win’, but not everything. You leave value on the table unaddressed. So it looks like success – but is sub-optimal. Failure is easy to identify – we you can’t do something it is obvious. However, you can win poorly, inefficiently or despite your shortfalls. This is much harder to identify. We often ‘think’ we’re good at what we do (and blame failures on external influence), but the external perception can be vastly different. How do you better understand this?

  • Seek feedback and advice. Again, observe high performers in terms of not just ‘what’ they do, but how they do it. Ask them to observe you and provide feedback – and it goes within saying, be open to receiving it
  • Ask your clients. Ultimately, the single biggest perspective that matters is that of your clients. Analyse your wins and your losses. Seek feedback regularly – make it a habit. I observed a sales person ask a client ‘Is there anything I should be doing for you that I’m not currently?’ Brave question – but the responses were insightful. But it didn’t finish there. She then followed up by asking ‘Is there anything I’m doing now that is annoying you?’. She opened her Johari window with a whoosh.

If you’re doing the same things, in the same way and expecting different results, you’re definitely setting yourself up for disappointment. Just look at the evolution of digital/social sales, client available information and industry disruption. I would argue that even waiting to reflect annually may be too late given the speed of change in the sales industry. Not knowing is also not an excuse either. You can always ask, you just have to want to.

There is another factor here which can determine your success in doing things right which we’ll cover below – and that is the right reason; your why.

As a sales leader, you must actively observe your team to understand if they are doing things right. The analogy is to be the jockey on the horse, rather than the trainer in the stand – making timely, subtle and relevant adjustments and suggestions regularly to keep your sales people at the front of the pack.

If you find yourself struggling with your development plan actions – it is most definitely because you don’t understand the above. You have limited awareness of your current state and ideal state – so have no idea what needs development. This is something for sales leaders to keep in mind when they see their team struggling with development plans.

Right Volume

Assuming you have the above two locked and loaded – the next question is ‘Am I doing enough of the right things?‘.

In a nut shell, if you know the right things to do and how the execute them properly, are you doing enough of them?

This is often where prioritisation, distraction and apathy can set it. It is also where, as sales leaders, we need to be careful with targets. We often think this is about setting a minimum expectation for our sales team, but we also risk setting an upper limit on this performance as well. We can get to a situation where our high performers go ‘well, I think I’ve done enough’ based on where they sit against target (yes, hiring the right staff with the right mindset shouldn’t see this happening).

The volume question is quite simple and, in reality, is often what we measure first in sales unfortunately. As a result, we risk ending up with a sales team completing many of the wrong tasks incorrectly and lots of activity, without much output. But we look busy. When then try and fix output shortcomings by raising volume – but not always looking at whether we are doing the right things and executing them correctly.

Right Mindset

Last, but by no means least, is our mindset. As a sales person, the question to ask is ‘Why am I selling?’. This can be something both difficult to identify and harder to adjust. It can also be something that, whilst we blame the sales person, can be the influence of the leadership or organisation.

Are you selling because you ‘need the income’, ‘can’t do anything else’, ‘want to make lots of money’ and the list goes on? There is often one thing consistent with sales people who are consistently successful in the long term – they sell because they ‘want to help their clients’, they ‘want to improve their clients position’, they ‘believe what they offer can make a difference’. The key difference is where their purpose is centered. It is centered on the client, not themselves. Without a doubt, in delivering this, they themselves will be successful, but this is an output, not a driver. They know and trust this will happen, but wake up, put their clothes on and come to work thinking about their clients.

Getting this right means you will

  • use greater discretionary effort at work,
  • care more,
  • have better relationship with your clients,
  • seek out the right things you should be doing and
  • seek out the best way to do things things

As sales leaders, we need to tread carefully here as we can influence the ‘why’. Ensuring we are consistent in delivering the strategic vision of the business, that your team understand and agree with it, and we measure and reward against it is important. If we know what the right things to do are, how to execute them properly and how much of it should be done – our job is to sweep all the other dross and noise out of the way and both empower and motivate our sales team to get on with the job. Guiding them to be more effective at it.

This time of year is the perfect opportunity to reflect, reset and refine our sales mindset and processes – are you using it wisely?

Must Read: Legacy by James Kerr.

James Kerr from Legacy wrote about the 15 All Black Principles – ‘The First XV’.

And what can we – as individuals, companies and teams – learn from The All Blacks.  The world’s most successful sporting outfit, undefeated in over 75% of their international matches over the last 100 years. What is the secret of their success?

Here is a diagram of these principles


I would encourage you to look at his book with further information on this content if you are looking to developing team culture – particularly around the power of legacy in a team.  It is an investment in team development you won’t regret




Discretionary Effort: Sales Secret Sauce


Recently Dan Symons commented on how ‘discretionary effort’ is often the secret behind successful sales people.  Where sales people choose to deploy the fullest of their effort when working with clients rather than ‘just enough’ – stunning sales result can, and usually do, occur.

Read more on his LinkedIn Pulse Article

Discretionary Effort – LinkedIn Pulse Article

Sales As An Art


There is a leaning in selling towards ‘sales as a science’ over an art.  The main thrust behind this is science provides us with some certainty as sales people, leaders and organisations that it being an art doesn’t.

Science is about facts, objectivity, repeatable outcomes and, important systemised processes.  All these factors provide certainty – certainty that if we do step A, followed by B, C and so on – we’ll get the outcome we want.  But the reality of sales is it as much an art as it is a science and it is the artistic side of sales which often makes the compelling difference to the overall experience and outcome the client obtains.

So why is sales arguably an art?


303892944_32f95ff922_oIf you’ve ever taken the time to watch artist’s paint, they don’t simply try to paint the end result straight on the canvas.  They often pencil in the key outlines and then go about building up the picture in layers.  Layers of colour and area.  Eventually, once all tied together, the picture becomes clear.  They lay down both the big and small elements with the same amount of care and often in strange order, but it makes startling sense once the picture is complete.

Selling is no different, we don’t walk in to the client with a solution from the outset and, in fact, the solution may not even be in our minds eye when we commence talking with our client.  We have an idea of the outcome, but paint it as we go along.  We ask deep and shallow questions to help shape the picture of our client and their situation and goals.  We undertake small and large tasks to help build credibility and value for the client.  The initial process of discovery is iterative rather than linear.   It is through the layering of the sales process, like painting, that helps us develop the end picture.  Like the painter, if we simply tried to deliver the big picture at the outset, our solution would lack depth and substance – exactly like if an artist were to do the same.

As sales leaders, it is these layers that lay the foundation to great client solutions.  Whether engaging experts, client advisers, hosting clients, doing them favours, learning about their industry (or participating in it) – all of these soft and hard sales layers help build up the bigger picture to a successful solution.

Big Picture

downloadVery few artists start without a vision of what they wish to end up with.  They may not end up with exactly what they envisioned when they started or have what they wish to end up with identified in fine detail – but they start with some idea of where they’re going.

Selling is no different – if you sell aimlessly, you end up with aimless outcomes.  Sure, you may not know exactly how you’re going to help your client – but you should know you want to and, in turn, know broadly how what you offer them could help them.  It is then a matter of filling in the finer details to shape your solution to match the specific needs of your client.   It is very hard to build up the layers of the sale if you don’t know what you’re building up to.

As a sales leader it is as important to discuss and continue to redefine the end result as it is to focus on the sales stages and minute detail of progressing the proposal.

Small Details

Jatropha_hybrid_-_Leaf_detail_(129_DAS)_(4595559479)If you watch a good artist paint, you’ll see that it isn’t the big swaths of colour that make the difference how we view the painting.  It is the smallest of details which have the biggest impact.  The reflection in an eye or definition of a line.  Take the Mona Lisa – her ‘smile’ is feature that makes this painting famous (notwithstanding the artist of course).

Sales isn’t any different – it is the top 10% that makes the largest difference to the client.  The extra mile.  Your price can be matched by your competitors and is usually long forgotten once the sale is completed.  It is your ‘eye’ as a sales person which makes the key difference to your clients experience.   It is your ability to fine tune the solution specifically to the client where real value hides.

As a sales leader, it is often attention to the small details which can trip up a successful outcome.  Not engaging with the correct people in the organisation, spelling names incorrectly, using the wrong client logo, emailing rather than hand delivering and presenting the proposal.

Many Techniques & Perspectives

Art shows us that there are many ways to paint a bowl of fruit and many interpretations as to how that bowl of fruit should look.  Painters can use brushes or palette knives, charcoal or water colour.  Paint it in abstract or realism.  They will all see the original bowl of fruit, but their finished work can vary greatly.  Which technique is right?  All of them.

Sales is no different.  So is choosing one process with limited room for your sales people to choose their own style right?  Yes, you will end up in uniformity in your sales process, but at what cost does it come?  What if your client is abstract, but your sales process is realism?  A process should be a framework, not a rule.  If the same were to occur in painting, our art gallery’s would be pretty boring.  Case in point – our clients are now often knee deep in digital, does your sales process include digital?  Should it?

Also, two people standing in front of the same piece of art can have completely different interpretation of and feelings about the art.  I could love it and you could hate it.  I could see a cow and you and field of roses.  Regardless of what the artist painted, our perception is our reality.

The same goes in reverse; as sales people our perception of our clients situation is limited by our field of reference and, as a result, so therefore is our solution.  So engaging with our peers and specialists to widen our field of reference is crucial to delivering a deeper value proposition to our clients.

As a sales leader it is important to ensure our process and techniques are matched to the client, not the sales person/leader/organisation.  So it is therefore important to ensure the process is fluid and your sales team have the autonomy to use varied techniques to help their clients.   Equally, it is often your sales person the client ‘buys’, so driving their personality out of the sales process is to be avoided at all costs.

Clients Eye

4884006357_caa1fa6826_oAs a sales person, you can’t proclaim your solution as great no more than an artist can their painting.  Like Art and the patron – the only perspective that matters is that of the client.  Many artists have died before their work has found fame.  In sales, many sales people have starved because their clients didn’t find their solutions great.

At all times, when composing sales solutions, it is your clients perspective that should be at the forefront of your mind as they are the one writing a cheque out for it.   This is the unique situation of conflict before artistic flair and compromise.  In sales, you may actually have a fantastic solution but if the client can’t see it, to their mind it isn’t fantastic and therefore valueless.

As a sales leader, it is important to ask questions like ‘what would the client think?’ through the sales process.  No perception matters in sales more than the clients.  Therefore you need to understand their perception well and, where appropriate, manage it through out  the relationship.  Too often sales people forget this.

Shelf Life

Like the above, many artists haven’t seen the success of their work as their work outlived them.

Sales is no different, often the success of your work will be realised long after you put it in place.  Costs savings or efficiency gains will be realised, and therefore valued, over time rather than immediately.  In some complex sales situations, the ROI could be measured in months or years and, sometimes, long after the sales person has moved on.

Great solutions have long legs – much like great art.  They are appreciated and valued over time.  They become memorials to the great work of the artist or sales person and they depth of understanding they had of their subject matter as experts in their field.

As a sales leader, long term sales solutions and client value is what you should be driving your team to provide.  Great businesses usually have great supplier relationships supporting them – NOT great transactions.  They trust their suppliers with key and often commercially sensitive information to ensure you deliver compelling solutions to their business.

Sure, we aren’t painting the Mona Lisa in sales but the creative side of selling is as important as the scientific side.  As sales leaders, the scientific side is easy to measure – it is often reflected in a report or leaderboard but it only show us, at best, half of the inputs that go in to the entire sales relationship with a client.

In fact, I view that the artistic side of selling is where the real value sits.  This is born true simply by the fact that if sales were purely scientific, successful results would be easy repeatable and everyone would be successful.

Next time you’re looking at your sales process as a sales leader – consider how much scope your sales team has to exercise their creative flair and how you go about encouraging and fostering this.

Miss-Measuring: The Paradox of Quantity Measures


“It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.” – Sigmund Freud

We love measurement!  Not just within sales – but as a species.  Ever since we’ve been able – we’ve looked to quantify things.  We’ve quickly developed units of weight, length, volume etc . Often this is because we like standardisation for functions like construction and, undeniably, for comparison for functions like barter.

This love of measurement has followed us through civilisation and is now taught early on in the maths syllabus for our children.

To give an example of how unconscious and pervasive this quantification mentality is – tell a child ‘I love you’ and their likely response will be either ‘how much’ or ‘I love you more’.  They often innocently look to quantify love.  ‘I love you to the moon and back’ and ‘I love you more than all the grains of sand on the beach’.  All are phrases synonymous with romance, but also examples of our desires to quantify what’s around us, even our emotions.  What the underlying concern here is comparison – do you love me as much as I love you.

The question to possibly ask is whether an emotion like love is digital or analogue?  Is it on or off, or are there degrees?  So are we and should we be looking to understand the quality of the ‘love’ or the quantity?

This is interesting – because the discussion about love and quantification is long been a focus on business and sales.  And here is where we get an immediate issue.  Sales is an industry undeniably hot on measurement.   Because sales people are often responsible for the revenue and margin in a business – and because this is incredibly important to a businesses survival – these tend to get heavily measured within a sales team.  But they often get measured simply on quantity, rather than quality.  And, are they about measuring the relationship from the clients perspective or ours?  Are we asking ‘how much to you love us’ or ‘how much do we earn off you?’.

And, the next question is what are we measuring?  To bring the question of ‘how much do I love you’ back up – how do we measure this?  Is it how you make me feel or how many kisses you place on my cheek?  Is it how much I miss you when you aren’t around, or is it how many times you say I love you?

In short, do we determine how much someone loves us based on quantity of interactions or quality of the relationship?  You can probably guess where this is now going around sales measurement.

If we measure quantity in sales – these become how the sales team focus.    If you measure quantity therefore, do you run the risk quality suffers?  In sales, quantity measures are often determined as outputs – products sold, revenue driven, margins obtained, cross sale rates etc.  So, naturally, these are outcomes of transactions.  But are they always outcomes of relationships?  Also, these measures are about how much the relationship means to us, but seldom about how much it means to the client.  We look to quantity their loyalty in terms of revenue.  We look to measure there love of us by way of what margin we can drive from them.   This seems at crossed purposes.

These outcome quantity measures are often about the value to the business the sales person works for, not the value of the relationship/transaction to the client.  Clients don’t really care about how much revenue you earn of them, what margin you drove, your penetrative sales ratios – they care about what the product/service they engaged you for does to improve their position. But we don’t measure this do we?  We look at internal ROI’s – but do we truly understand the difference our sale and relationship makes to the clients business?  This is what they are buying after all.  This is why they are choosing us?

Now, couple this to the conversation around company values.  Most medium to large companies have mission, vision statements and goals which are nearly always client sentiment focus.   Statements like ‘Deliver WOW through service’ (Zappos), ‘Inspire moment of optimism and happiness’ (Coca-Cola).  But what do they measure are sales team level (not saying the two examples are guilty of this!)?

The questions to consider are:

  •  Are we measuring in line with our value statement? That is, are we measuring ‘what’s in it for the client’ rather than ‘what’s in it for us’, and
  • Are we measuring quality or quantity?

Undeniably, measuring unit sales, revenue, margins and the like are important in business.  The need to be measured – but they shouldn’t be the main or only thing you measure.  However, the question is whether these measurements are appropriate to motivate your sales team and how they interact with their clients.   These types of measurement risk  becoming the defacto values  for the sales teams.  Often companies try to disguise measuring revenue, margin and unit outputs by measuring the activities that drive them.  But again, the underlying intent is to drive your sales team toward sales activity which is in the best interests of your business, not your clients.  Therefore, you run the risk sales teams don’t focus on the company value of making a difference to the client, but rather on generating maximum value to their employer.  It is more often luck that these are aligned.

Why is this a risk and problem in sales?

If you measure revenue, you risk your sales team seeing clients as dollar signs.  If you measure margin, you risk clients being seen as percentages.  Sales teams value the relationship with the client in line with this thinking.  Therefore they do and don’t do things in line with this.  If they can’t sell you something today, will they focus on the relationship with you if there is another client who they can sell today?  In short, you run the risk of them focusing on transactions over relationships.  More importantly, you run the risk that your sales team has myopic conversations with the client solely around what they can sell them, not wider conversations about the business.  As a result, they can talk to the wrong people – CFO instead of CEO because they just need a purchasing order, not to understand the company strategy.

What you end up with a symptoms like

  • High client churn – clients experience the divergence of the mission and the sales activity
  • Service over product complaints – missions set a client expectation, failure to deliver on this because of a focus on sales quantity mismatches expectation with experience
  • Transactional relationships with clients – your sales teams only becomes interested when a sale is pending.  Leaving you exposed to competitive threat when there isn’t a pending transaction
  • Shallow client knowledge – given your sales team focus on what’s in it for them, they don’t take the time to understand their clients entire business – just the bit that matters to the sale
  • Lost/uncaptured value – as a result of shallow relationships, there is often uncaptured value in a relationship.  The lack of referrals to other departments in your business or external partners are an example.

The problem is measurement.  Businesses have to measure something.  They always have and probably always will.  Quantity, as history has shown us, is easy to measure.  Even our quality measures are often quantity measures in disguise.  Look at the quality of gold.  24 carat gold is quantity measure (eg lack of impurities) rather than a quality measure.  It is difficult to measure client sentiment and ‘the difference’ we’ve made to a client, so we opt to measure quantity – which isn’t a bad thing, but do we measure it with the correct intent?

Sales teams focus on transactions because they are measured in the outcomes of transactions, not in the value of a relationship?  This changes why sales people sell.  They sell to meet what they are measured on because what they are measured on is often what they are remunerated on and what they are remunerated on is also what they are exited for when they don’t do it.  If they aren’t measured on the meaningful difference they make to a client – will they focus on it?

Good sales people are often immune from this as they cast aside their KPI’s knowing that doing the right things for the right reasons will see them achieve sustainably as a result of doing right by their clients.  However, for new sales people coming in to a business – they run the risk of quickly seeing their clients in terms of revenue, numbers of units or margins.  How many times have you heard a sales people say ‘But they only earn me….’.  Would you say this to your client?

As question to sales leaders – would you be happy if your clients saw how you measured your sales team?  Would you be happy for them to see you rank your sales team on revenue earned, numbers of products sold?  The issue here, as mentioned above, is that these aren’t client forward measurements.

There aren’t any easy answers here and nor is the intention to present any.  It is merely to provoke both thought and conversation around the appropriateness of the historical method of measuring sales teams performance and whether it is in line with the vision company’s espouse on their websites and marketing material.   If we are going to market to our clients, stakeholders and staff that our vision is to make a meaningful difference to our clients yet continue to measure what’s in it for us – something has to break somewhere doesn’t it?  But at who’s expense – most likely both the client and the business.

In short, if we persist in only measuring what we sell and how much it is worth to us rather than why we sell it, we run the risk that what we sell and how much it is worth to us becomes why we sell it.  We then lose sight of the client benefit and, ultimately, the client at some point.  We need to start measuring why we sell our products and services as this is what the client is buying and why they will keep coming back.

Celebrate Happiness

065/365: Show us your smile!

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Hit the target, lift the bar, hit the target, lift the bar.  Live in sales can sometimes resemble ground hog day.

Sales is a constant series of small sprints within a long race.  We have targets, KPI’s, deadlines and a myriad of other external drivers to keep us focused on achieving both micro and macro goals.

How many times have you heard, or used, the phrase ‘I’ll be happy when….’?  We usually think that we will be happy once we are successful.  So we chase success in the hope we’ll then be happy.  But does this work?  Refer this video by @ShawnAchor:

‘Success’ is a usually a moving feast.  We achieve it and recognise it for the briefest of moments before we either reset our expectations or the next ‘race’ begins.  An example of this most of us can relate to is a month’s end/beginning.  We may have had a fantastic month and recognise this success in a fleeting moment.  However, what is laid out in front of us is the next months quota to fill so any happiness garnered from the success of the last month is quickly overtaken by the focus on efforts needed to achieve the coming months targets.  And, if we don’t worry about achieving our target, we will worry about something else.  Whether it is client satisfaction, margins, retention, etc – we are conditioned to worry about achieving some metric or KPI.  As a result, it is difficult for sales people to be happy and, if we are, even more difficult to hold on to.

The weird thing is, we can often manifest this happiness in front of clients – but do we live it in the office?

Stress is counter-productive in sales.  Worrying about achieving target can make you do things you shouldn’t.

  • It can make you focus on transactions rather than relationships.
  • It can make you focus on short term gains rather than long term successes.
  • It can make you focus on any client, rather than the right ones.
  • It can make you distrust your plan

As sales people and sales leaders, we need to make sure we take the time to honour success and celebrate happiness.  The trusim is that if we are looking for our happiness to be driven by our success and our measurement for success is constantly lifting – how are we ever going to be happy?  We actually have to focus on being happy first.

If you’ve hired the correct sales people/team – as a sales leader, you shouldn’t have to bang on to them about their targets and other metrics.  You should be focused on providing the environment & motivation for them to be successful.  Maybe that focus is on making sure they’re happy first?  There is little argument in sales circles that happy staff will lead to happy clients.

If succeeding is something we do to be happy as a sales person, maybe we have the equation around the wrong way as Shawn Achor suggests.  Maybe success is actually driven from happiness?  Maybe a fun work place is a key to success?

Rather than driving happiness from success – maybe happiness is a key skill to being a successful sales person and creating it to successful sales leadership?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post. Pleasefollow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

What Can Sales Learn From Gaming


“To me, gamification is finding the way to incent the behaviors that you want your team to have.”  – Dave McDermott, Director of Sales Enablement, Kelly Services, Dreamforce 2013’s Gamification Forum

Gamification has become a buzz word in sales.  It drives off the combination of both micro and macro task competitiveness to improve outcomes – whether completely on a solo or social basis.  Gamers for years have had an innate satisfaction from both micro tasks (like completing a particularly difficult part of a level or a specific task) or macro tasks (like beating a boss or finishing the game).  Many game publishes provide ‘achievements’ within their game to recognise this and allow the player to compare their prowess with others or strive for 100% completion of a game.  This doesn’t just recognises the players performance; it encourages it.   It improves the playability of games – both in terms of enjoyment and duration.  It allows seemingly mindless tasks, like baking bread in Minecraft, to be recognised as an achievement.  If my daughter’s squeals of delight in the weekend were anything to go by – it works.

This gamification has come across to sales as a means of similarly encouraging and recognising the achievements of sales people.  But, I wonder if we’ve missed something in doing this.  Gaming is so much more than the achievements and there are many more important lessons we can learn from gaming.  As a gamer, the achievements are important and a great way to brag to fellow gamers – particularly when the achievement is difficult to obtain. However, there are many more parallels between gaming and sales.  What do gaming and sales have in common and what can sales learn from gaming and gamers?

Micro tasks lead to macro outcomes

In line with the gamification focus – gaming has recognising the successful completion of many small tasks can result in the achievement of a large one.  Also, and importantly, gaming recognises the incremental achievement, not just the overall outcome, as important and rewardable.

In sales, we often simply focus on the ultimate outcome of our efforts – the successfully closed sale (or not as the case may be).  As a result, we don’t always recognise that whilst we achieved the sale, there may have been some suboptimal components within the sales process that we need to work on. In essence, a pass is good enough to move on – we don’t aim for 100% completion.

Similarly, when we don’t close the sale, we view it as a failure yet there may have been some absolutely stunning discrete pieces of work within the sale at a micro level which are worth recognising, rewaring and most certainly replicating.

Social is better than solo

The current trend in gaming is the move to online, multiplayer games.  Whether playing against or with friends and other gamers – gaming is social.  It is best enjoyed together.  Leaderboards work because you are comparing yourself to other people.  Achievements work because your friends and others can see them.

But it is more than that competition.  It is also about collaboration.  Some games are just no fun (or impossible) to play by yourself.  You need a mix of skills to successfully, or optimally complete the game.

Sales isn’t any different – it is a skill best deployed with people around you.  People you can share both successes and failures with.  People who can help you achieve your tasks and who can accentuate your skills with their own.  Learning from the successful around you and helping others to become successful.  Competing on a healthy basis with your peers and on a vigorous basis with your competitors.

Despite what they say, it is always competitive

Gaming is always about competition.  If playing solo or cooperatively – you are competing against the AI and yourself.  If versus – it is about beating the other player(s).

Sales is no different – it is competitive.  Not necessarily in the mercenary sense against your colleagues or clients – but unless you’re in the unique position of having your market all to yourself, there is always competition for your clients businesses.  Never forget this.

Practice is essential

As much as it pains many parents the world over, you get better at gaming by playing it more often.  Hours spent staring at TV screens and monitors by people the world over as they master their gaming skills.  Sometimes you need to practice complicated movements offline before you can take those skills to the competitive arena to dominate your enemy.  If you play competitively or professionally, there are hours of contracted practice and scrimmage to work through to hone your team tactics and roles before you meet your competitors for a real match.

Sales isn’t any different.  It is a profession so we need to treat it professionally.  It is, like an eSport, a skill that needs to be practiced.   Yes this means role plays, video analysis, coaching, feedback and all manner of tools.  You will have a skill threshold which is naturally yours – surpassing this will require practice and external support.

New games level the playing field

You have a game mastered – you can absolutely dominate your peers and all comers.  Then the unthinkable happens – a new game comes out and all your friends start playing this.  You’re left with some of the best skills, but no one to play against.  You need to start playing this new game and you’re not good at it.  You’ve gone from the top to the bottom.

Again, there are lessons here for sales.  Competitive advantages can be wiped overnight.  Pricing benefits can be quickly matched by competitors.  New products or ways of selling can catch you stationary.

As a sales person, you need to be both multi-disciplined and adaptive.  You can’t hang your hat of a single sales skill/technique or on something you can’t control like price or product.  You can’t get complacent that you will always have competitive superiority to the market or ‘own’ a market niche.  Things change and can do so quickly.

There is always a ‘boss fight’ somewhere

All gamers know this pain.  Hitting a part in a level or game which is soul-destroyingly difficult to pass.  For me, I still recall trying to achieve full gold licenses in Gran Turismo or the hours I spent trying to beat Donkey Kong (yes, this shows my age).  Games have inbuilt skill filters.  They realise the next level is going to be difficult, so in order to be worthy enough to unlock it, you have to prove your skill with a boss battle of some description.

There are often boss battles in sales.  Whether it is dealing with objections from left field, a competitor who swoops in at the last minute, an incumbent who drops price to retain business after 12 months of you selling to their client, or a difficult decision maker who was previously amiable – skill challenges will present themselves in sales.  Your skills don’t have to just be good enough to deal with the day to day, they need to be good enough to deal with these boss battles.

You can always get better

These boss battles also highlight something else in games – what was seemingly impossible yesterday, can be simple tomorrow.  Like trying to work out fatality combinations in Mortal Kombat where, when you start, you almost turn your fingers in to pretzels and still only do a front kick.  A month later your fingers fluidly dance across the keypad and your opposing friends sits there in awe as your onscreen character destroys half their health bar in a 30 sec flurry of fists, feet and special move.

In sales – no matter how good you think you are; tomorrow you can be better.  There are always new skills to learn and old skills to improve.  There is always something you can fine tune, mitigate, or learn.  It is a matter of being good enough, or the best you can be – the choice is yours.

There is always someone better at it than you

This brings up another truism in gaming.  No matter how good you think you are, there is a 99.9% change there is always someone better than you and if you’re the best today, that person will come along tomorrow.  I’ll confess I’ve been both the recipient and provider of this learning experience in gaming.  Challenging players to 1v1 games because you think they need some ‘skooling’ only to find it is you who learns the lesson.

There is always someone better at you in sales.  And, if they’re not better than you as a whole, they may have certain skill areas which surpass you.  And, if they don’t, they could learn them and be better than you tomorrow.  Like the previous example, sometimes your best isn’t good enough to prevail over your competitor.  We just need to accept this as a fact and either improve ourselves to fight a better battle or appreciate that we aren’t going to win every encounter.  We could just ‘rage quit’ or choose to lose graciously to a better sales person.  Some of my best online friends now are people who previously destroyed me.  There is a strong learning opportunity here – especially if they are in your team.

Finally, People play differently

Gamers are very diverse and as a result, they all play differently.  You regularly encounter differing gaming styles which can upset your game play, infuriate you, make you laugh or marvel at their skill.  In games, there are many different ways to achieve the outcome – it could be stealthily slithering through the level without firing a gun or being seen, or (which is my style) running headlong in to the action with guns a blazing.  Both of these styles may work and, unsurprisingly, can also be a great compliment for one another.  Many a gamer as laid down their digital life so another in their team can achieve the objective.

Remember, sales is a people skill and people career.  As a result, people will bring with them their personality, attitudes and preconceptions.  They will do things differently to you in many cases.  This doesn’t make them wrong – just different.  You need to be adaptive to these differences.  Whether it is a client with an opposing personality style to you or a colleague with a different way of approaching a task or meeting.  It is these differences which make things interesting and these differences which can, in some situations, allow you to achieve a task which you couldn’t have completely by yourself if you work with them.

So, while we think about gamification in a sales leaderboard and motivational sense, consider the above.  Gaming can be seen as a ‘waste of time’ or ‘escapism’ and convey many other negative connotations at times, though there are many synonyms and lessons we can draw from the industry.  It is only growing and, we’re already seeing sales infiltrate gaming through product placement and sponsorship.  Hopefully, we can see more of gaming infiltrate sales.

The Sales Leaderboard


Life is full of leaderboards of all descriptions.

Facebook documents the seemingly fantastic things our friends are doing around us. As does Instagram. Pinterest allows us to bookmark the things we aspire to own or believe. More often we are measuring our accomplishments on a digital leaderboard against our peers in some form.

Sales isn’t any different – we have leader boards galore in our industry given the metric rich environment. Sales is often viewed as competitive and thus the sales leaderboard was borne out of sports.

Sales leader boards can lead to the same issues of jealously, anxiety and self worth that social media is generating in our social lives. Is it time to question the value and use of the leaderboard as a sales leadership tool?

Some questions to consider with sales leaderboards:

Who are they competing with?

It most situations sales leaderboards are used, staff aren’t in competition with one another. They aren’t competing with one another for sales – but imposing a leaderboard can have this outcome.

Unlike sport, sales isn’t about winners and losers internally – it is about client value. Sure, the business needs to measure the cost and return of sales activity but is framing it as a competition productive? Are you really competing with the sales people on the desks either side of you? Or are you better to be working together to maximise value to your clients?

Treating sales as an internal competition can have negative consequences, often for the client. It can result is selfish rather than selfless behaviour. It can cause you to lose sight of your client in lieu of winning. It can cause you to focus short rather than focusing long.

Be careful with leaderboards as it can drive the incorrect competitive behaviour, focusing inward rather than outward.

What are you measuring?

Are you measuring the right variable? You need to be careful here are likely to get what you measure, so what you measure better be right. For example, many businesses will measure the ‘value’ of a sale on a leaderboard, but few measure client satisfaction. Those measuring the value will suggest that this is a proxy for satisfaction as the results wouldn’t be repeatable if the clients weren’t happy. But this only plays out if you are selling to the same clients repeatedly.

Leaderboards naturally focus sales teams on what is being measured – especially if this ties in to their KPI’s and remuneration. Many leaderboards focus on quantitative factors because they can easily be measured. Qualitative factors are seldom measured – so care needs to be taken when selecting the variables you are measuring to ensure they don’t negatively affect these qualitative factors.

Be careful with selecting which variable(s) you measure on leaderboards as it is highly likely your team will focus on these and only these.

Is it demotivating some of your team?

Not everyone in your team will be motivated by a leaderboard. The naysayers may suggest that these are likely to be those labouring at the bottom. However, some successful sales people who will likely be at the top of your leaderboard may similarly be demotivated or embarrassed. Consider the scenario of a highly successful sales person who is continually at the top of a leaderboard and lauded as ‘the best’ – their social circle at work can be affected by being pedestalled by their boss. This could cause them to ease off to lower their head below the parapet. You may be surprised, some successful sales people prefer to be quiet achievers rather than see their name in lights.

Be careful with leaderboards to ensure you know how your team is motivated and demotivated by them.

Who is it for?

Many leaderboards are imposed for management rather than the sales teams benefit. They are used to identify where performance management is required, not to celebrate success. This is often typified by the ‘red line’ where success or failure is determined. Leaderboards are often about showing those who are ‘contributing profitably’ to a business, not simply ranking performance.

Because of the often ‘negative’ use of the leaderboards to identify poor performance, leaderboards are often viewed skeptically by the sales team. They are seldom considered a positive thing. Your top performers often ignore them as they will perform anyway and the poor performers rue them.

Be careful as leaderboards should be about identifying, replicating and sharing excellence, not as a stick to punish poor performance.

What about attitude?

Most sales leaders could identify their top performers and their bottom performers without a leaderboard. As could most of the people in the sales team. What leaderboards don’t measure is attitude. Your top performers will likely be at the top of a leaderboard regardless of whether there is one or not. Why? Because they aren’t competing with those around them, they are competing with themselves.

However, you can have high performers with poor attitudes – who sell for selfish reasons but are successful doing it. Similarly, you can have poor performers against your metrics who have fantastic attitudes. Attitudes have a significant impact on their ability to be lead/managed and future performance.

A leader board can quickly change attitudes. It can drive the top to be selfish and erode the good attitudes of those at the bottom.

Be careful as a leaderboard can affect not just the outputs of your sales team, but also their attitudes, but they don’t measure them.

The top is often forgotten

With leaderboards most sales leaders focus their efforts on increasing the performance of those at the bottom. In doing so, whilst the should/do congratulate those at the top, they often don’t invest the same amount of time in increasing the performance of those at the top. The top often gets forgotten. Yet there is plenty of research suggesting you run the risk of losing your star performance due to lack of opportunities to grow or assume more responsibilities

A leaderboard also doesn’t show you ‘why’ a person is performing. You can have someone at the top of the leaderboard who obtains results simply through being in the market long enough, yet you can have another sales person in the middle of the leaderboard who is new but tenaciously hunting down new business. You can’t take the results as absolutes – leaderboards aren’t an excuse to not drill down further and discuss why results are occurring. This is something that can be forgotten amongst your top performers.

Be careful with leaderboards that you don’t focus wholly on the bottom at the expense of ensuring the top performers are also being developed, grown and stretched.

Better or best

A leaderboard often sets a minimum, rather than maximum performance expectation. The bottom is often clearly defined in sales as 0% and the minimum is usually set as the level of business that the business expects for the role, but the maximum is seldom defined. What then can happen is sales people can aim just to be ‘off radar’. They aim to not be in the bottom 2 quartiles and sit in the top 2 quartiles. They aim to be better than the bottom half, but not the best they can be. You run the risk you normalise sales performance by defining the minimum expectation. Just stay ahead of the bottom and you’ve succeeded.

Sales people should be ‘competing’ with themselves to improve their sales performance. To become the best they can be. Not competing with others.

Be careful with leaderboards that you are still leading your team to be the best they can be, not just above the minimum expectations of the business.

Sales leaderboards can and do work; however the above is to help identify where they can become a negative influence on work, attitudes and engagement levels.

But the question really is – do we need sales leaderboards?

  • If you as a sales leader can accurately predict where your sales team will fall on a leaderboard, do you?
  • If you have robust KPI’s to measure your sales team and individuals against, do you?
  • Do you wish to pit your sales team in competition against one another?

Many businesses forget or under-communicate the best leaderboard they have.  The one that the business’ shareholders discuss. The most meaningful leaderboard. The one that ensures everyone in the business is pointing in the right direction.

The Best Leaderboard?

When watching sport, do you see a leaderboard showing one team members performance against their team mates? No, you see which team is beating which.

When playing, you play as one team. It isn’t an internal competition. It is about beating your opponents. Yet why in sales do we measure internal competition?

There is one leaderboard every business should be have prominently displayed in their business but few do. Market Share.

This is the competition. This focuses you on the real competition – the fight to win your clients business and loyalty. This is what should be galvanising the business, sales teams and individual sales people to perform.

Leaderboards measuring sales activity and behaviours are important and crucial to structure correctly and, much like the stats kept in sports, allow you to improve performance…however market share data is the win/loss column.

Social Selling – Success Doesn’t Happen By Chance


#strategicsocialselling – Tony J Hughes

When I started selling – I wasn’t issued with a cellphone, let alone a smartphone or tablet. The internet was an infant. I didn’t have external email to talk to my clients. We still used faxes and mail. All we had was a desk phone and shoe leather.

Today, for an informed and tenacious sales person, the issue isn’t finding information, the issue is finding the right information and using it properly. The world and the people therein are accessible now with a few keystrokes.

Linkedin is a great example. If someone had said to me 20 years ago when I started my sales career that my prospects and clients would have a virtual resume, their entire network, and regularly communicate on this thing called the internet, I don’t know if I would have believed them. Now look – even our kids can instantly show the world what they’re eating for dinner as they’re eating it.

Social Selling is fast becoming an important tool for these savvy sales people. These sales people use LinkedIn, Twitter et al regularly to communicate with their clients and prospects.

The question is no longer whether we do or don’t use social selling within our sales toolkit (using it is a no brainer if you haven’t worked it out). The question is why and how we use it properly.

As mentioned, great sales people relentlessly use social selling techniques as part of their sales activity. They strategically use it. Social selling needs to be part of your and your businesses sales strategy – not something you just leave to chance for your staff to muddle their way through as is often currently the case.

Or as Tony Hughes refers to it #strategicsocialselling. So how could see social selling deployed strategically?

1. Business Strategy

The business needs to start by incorporating social selling in to its sales strategy. It needs to recognise the growing role social selling is playing in the reforming sales landscape and planning why and how to use it tactically. Forming a strategy on why and how to use social sales channels to connect with its existing and potential customers. The difficulty for many business is social selling is often referred to as ‘social media’ and falls under the management of a marketing person or team who manage a corporate LinkedIn or Facebook page(s). This is an important part of social selling, but only a part.

Your sales team are, can and should be interacting with existing and potential clients whose only interaction may be with that sales person. They too need to have the same expertise and knowledge that the dedicated marketing team have. They have a reach beyond the corporate digital footprint and message.

Recognising a business usually invests heavily in marketing and, increasingly, their social media portion therein – is it prudent to ignore their social sales activity by their sales teams?

2. Sales Leadership

Looking at the next step down – sales leaders within business need to be trained on how to coach their sales teams in managing their social sales strategy and execution. It can present significant challenges for sales leaders. It is often new territory. For many sales leaders, they often haven’t earned their stripes in a sales environment which involves social/digital sales techniques. For many, this is like parents struggling with their children’s native ability to deal with technology.

If there isn’t any strategy or training, it becomes very difficult for that type of sales leader to monitor and add value. They can end up being led by their sales team or ignoring it. Social selling can be the perfect disguise for the lazy sales person as an example. Sales leaders need a strategy and training around their teams use of social selling.

If a sales leader doesn’t know the difference between effective and ineffective use of social selling – how can they determine the productivity of their staff?

3. Sales Person Training

The sales team need a framework and training on how to operate in this space.

Some will already get it and be doing it well. Others will be well intentioned, but executing poorly (eg – those numerical quiz questions on LinkedIn – are you a genuis??). Some will be using it to hide their skill shortages in their other sales skills. Others won’t be doing it because they don’t know how, but want to. Some will jus be not interested.

You can’t leave your sales teams execution to chance – you need to train your sales team in this space. But here’s the catch – not so much control and rigour that the personality is sanitised out of the content. Social selling is still a person to person interaction. It isn’t about the mass repetition of a corporate message – this is what those corporate LinkedIn and Facebook pages are for.

Social selling doesn’t replace traditional sales activity, it accentuates the fundamental sales activity we are and should already be doing. It doesn’t make the phone call obsolete. It isn’t an excuse to sit behind your desk and punch out updates all day – hoping the phone rings as a result. It is a tool for a sales person and business. Therefore needs to be included in the sales strategy, processes, training and execution of a business, not just left to the individual sales person to navigate through.

Social Selling allows us to broaden our reach, increase our value, capture and utilise the might of our network, communicate key messages and participate in the new digital business community productively.

Why squander that opportunity by leaving it to chance?

Find An Amplifier

Marshall_Amp_2As someone who dives regularly, you quickly realise the importance of a buddy (or buddies). Sure, your training reinforces the necessity of a buddy in terms of simple physical safety – pre-dive checks and underwater eyeballs. But what is touched on, but not really understood until you start diving, is how your dive buddy amplifies your diving experience. First, they amplify it through sharing the burden of safety allowing you to enjoy your dive. But greater than this they share the absolutely stunning experiences you have underwater, the things you see which are very difficult to share with those who don’t venture off land. They provide banter on the shore, help with identifying and fixing issues, answering (and asking) questions. They provide a social aspect to diving which, quite simply, amplifies your experience.

What I, like many, have come to realise is that you need to find the person (or people) who can amplify you in your professional life. Those who ‘get’ you. Those who you can share the great experiences with and dissect the losses. Those who can bring you up when you’re flat and who you can similarly support when they’re less than optimal. Those you can bounce questions off without fear of judgement. Those who can (and will) constructively provide you with observed feedback with the sole intent of improving you.

This isn’t a role based amplifier – yes, your sales leader should provide some of this support but they aren’t automatically the right person for you because of their role.

Like my diving, I surround myself at work with a close group of people I know I can trust. I know have my interests in mind and me theirs. I know I can approach with any question, win, loss or problem – and they’ll help me address it. They challenge me when I’m coasting.   They redirect me when I’m wandering. They question me when I’m fixated. They applaud when I succeed and support me when I don’t. They provide feedback when I need it, not just when I ask for it.

Some of these I work directly with me and some work elsewhere. The one thing they have in common is they amplify me – and, I hope, I do them.

Undeniably we often have these amplifiers at home – but do you have amplifiers at work? I hope you do, because like good music – an amplifier makes it that much richer!