Category: Sales

Influenced or Influencing?

0 (1)

More than ever before – your body of work, your network and your accessibility are what drive business to you.

Sales has always used referrals as a means to generate opportunity – but increasingly social proofing is driving these conversations well before a sales person asks for a referral.

Social media channels, both professionally and personally, are growing in content asking for recommendations, providing recommendations and, unsurprisingly, providing an outlet for those who had a sub-optimal experience to vent their displeasure.

There was a recent series of articles around the Instagram ‘Influencer’ who wished to exchange free accommodation in favour of what effectively amounted to digital marketing to her follows. This rather innocent approach became a viral news piece – providing for some interesting discussions in offices and living rooms as to who was right.

The reality here is – regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this – it is happening. People are actively providing and seeking recommendations from their social groups often at the very beginning of their buying cycle.

What this means is that it is increasingly important for business and sales people to focus more on the ‘footprint’ they leave than ever. You are simply as good as your last job. Similarly, even if the business is seemingly doing everything right – social has the ability to change that quickly like for this restaurant. It is also important to respect this channel and the audience as many find how vocal an incensed crowd can become, like this business.

There is much on LinkedIn around personal branding and growing your online presence – most of which is very true. However, today, simply being there is no longer enough much like our personal networks, we are often defined by our contribution not membership.

It is becoming increasingly important that these social channels are respected recognising that when it goes wrong, it doesn’t only have a potentially large audience, it can also hang around for a while.

It is this fear that sees many sales people fearful of commenting or producing their own content on LinkedIn. A fear of being judged, contradicated or simply saying something that offends someone and/or their employer prevents many from contributing content. From being a thought and insight leader.

We see this play out in a online lives daily. We get presented with the most popular posts on Facebook or LinkedIn by default – that is, those posts with the most interactions. Yes, we can override this to a chronological feed, but the reality is we don’t. Much like a newspaper – we are presented with the news/articles the platform thinks is the most important. Someone else chooses who we are influenced by as very few people search much deeper than the core newsfeed.

Why is this? It is the social phenomenon of the 90/9/1 rule.

90% of people on social media lurk. They observe, read and listen – but that is all. 1% of users contribute most of the content and the remaining 9% sporadically contribute.

Not only do the 1% produce the majority of content, as a result of the algorithms being these social platforms, they also become the most seen. This is why people get paid for posting on Instagram etc – it is because the drive the ‘90%’ to the platform. They keep the platform relevant. They become the influencers.

LinkedIn is no different – if everyone simply had a profile on LinkedIn and no content or interaction happened, it would die quickly. As a sales person, knowing this, you can use it to your benefit (and that of your clients) by moving in to the 1%. You can become the influencer – leading with insight and value.

Intelligent Reach

How does one do this? Immediately many get goose bumps thinking they have to write articles and do videos. However, there are a variety of way to share content on LinkedIn. A list in least to most intimidating is:

  1. Like someones post/article
  2. Share someones article
  3. Share someones article with a comment
  4. Comment on someones article
  5. Create your own article/content
  6. Reply to comments on your article

Each time you do this, your network sees this activity (yes, you can turn this off, but why would you?). To be effective, all of these strategies can and should be deployed.

The goal with any of the above is developing intelligent reach.

What is this?

  • Relevant Content: Curating and/or creating relevant posts & articles for your audience/network. Ask yourself the question ‘How does what I am about to post add value to those who will see it?‘. Relevant, high value articles are more likely to be interacted with and shared, furthering your reach.
  • Delivered To A Relevant Audience: Build your network up of people you can help, can help you and can help your clients/prospects. The quality of your content is important – but equally so is having a community who appreciates it. Building a LinkedIn Network isn’t like playing Pokemon and collecting everything!
  • Regularly: Growing your influence in social isn’t a one hit wonder. It requires a discipline to seek insightful knowledge and regularly contribute to your community. Contributing regularly means your audience become to anticipate your content.

So – think about these as some parting thoughts

  • How many great articles did you read this week that you could have shared with your network?
  • Did you read and like/comment on your LinkedIn newsfeed posts?
  • How many clients could you have influenced this week if you had?

The reality is, if you aren’t in the 1% – you are likely in the 90%. The influenced rather than the influencers.

In sales, we should all strive to deliver meaningful, regular and relevant content to those we aim to add value to. This is our job.

In years gone by it was accessing the airtime at a realistic cost that prevented most people from accessing their network (remember the days of email blast newsletter done with ‘office publisher skills’. TV and Radio ad, paper etc were all really expensive. The challenged was getting the bandwidth to have a voice.

Today however, the challenge is vastly different. The challenge isn’t the channel, it is being heard. But to be heard, you have to speak. Everyone has the chance to have a voice, the quality of your content will determine if you are heard. However, saying nothing guarantees no one will hear you. And no one will be influenced.


Your #1 2018 Sales Resolution: Just Ask!


There are some interesting statistics in sales – in fact you can make great sport around the various metrics a sales team can generate.

Of them, one set of statistics that should make ALL sales people stand to attention….those around referrals.

You’d be pretty hard pressed to find a sales person who doesn’t understand the value of referrals but, surprisingly, so few make asking for them a regular and disciplined part of their relationship with their clients.

If you are one of the few who don’t realise the immense value referrals present or, as many of us are, simply need a reminder – here goes:

  • Clients are 4x more likely to buy when referred by a friend.
  • 92% of people trust a referral from friends and family – even 84% if they aren’t.
  • Also, when they do, on average that client has a life time value 16% greater than one who isn’t.
  • Nearly 75% of executives prefer to work with a sales person who has been referred to them by someone they trust.
  • Referred clients have an 18% lower rate of churn
  • 65% of new business comes from referrals
  • 87% of buyers actively seek advice before buying

There are many more – read more at DCR Strategies Inc for 26 reasons why referrals are important

One referral statistic stands out head and shoulders above the rest –

“83% of people are willing to refer after a positive experience, but only 29% do! “( Fourth Source)

If you are simply sitting back waiting for a referral – you need to realise that only 29% of people will, but 54% of people are prepared to. They just need some prompting.

The gap is those 54% of people who want to – but don’t. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t know how to and/or just need to be prompted. Maybe a sales person just needs to ask them.

Obviously, the above is hugely conditional upon two key words – positive experience. The key to any referral activity is to first ensure the person you are asking for a referral is actually a happy clients.

Why don’t we ask? There are many excuses. It wasn’t the right time to ask (so when is?). I forgot (so make it a habit). I have nothing to offer (soooooo…..maybe a career change?). I’m afraid of rejection (if they are a good client, the worst outcome is they don’t know anyone to refer you do). If they have a referral, they’ll give it to me (refer above statistic!). I don’t want to be seen as demanding or pushy (your own clients are asking for referrals, they get it!). I don’t need to (*bulls@#t*).

No surprises all these start with “I”. They aren’t about your clients – they are about you. They are excuses, not reasons, why referrals are asked for.

Asking for a referral is often over-complicated when it needn’t be. What do you need to think about when asking for a referral?

  • Habitualise Asking: Agenda item it, plan it, prepare for it and execute. Most ‘excuses’ are simply smoke and mirrors and the real reason is sales people forget entirely. They are so focused on the transaction, they just don’t ask.
  • Ask for help: People are willing to help in most situations – you just need to ask. The opening line ‘I wonder if you can help me…’ is an incredibly powerful phrase.

From here you can either

  • Ask for a specific introduction: If you know your client/intermediary knows someone you really wish to meet, finish the sentence with ‘….I have been wanting to talk meet X. Would you be in a position to introduce me? I’d love to talk to them about Y’ or similar
  • Ask generally: If you know your client/intermediary is likely to refer but aren’t entirely sure who could be potential, finish the sentence with ‘….I, like you am trying to grow my business. I am looking to meet with great business people similar to yourself. Do you know anyone else I should be talking to?’ or similar.

There is seldom a right or wrong time – simply a right relationship with the right client. That said, when you ask for a referral it is one of the few times in sales whereby you are doing something largely for yourself. Just be honest about it. However, in asking, you will find some clients get great satisfaction out of being asked for and giving referrals.

With LinkedIn and the like today, the specific introduction is the most likely (and most successful) strategy. As a professional sales person, you should know who your targets are and who knows them so asking to be introduced should be your preferred strategy. The pitfall with asking generally is, once given, you need to honour the referral provided. Unless you take the time to describe what you are looking for in a referral to your clients/intermediary, there is a risk they can refer you someone who doesn’t represent a client for you.

The key here is you aren’t asking to be referred in to pieces of work or transactions – you are asking to be introduced in to relationships. You want to meet people – not purchase orders.

Here is the kicker – THIS REQUIRES NO EXTRA WORK! You should already be researching prospects and you should certainly already have meaningful relationships with your clients and intermediaries. It is simply a matter of capturing the time you already have in front of them to ask for a referral.

Here is one statistic that should make sales leaders and people excited for the opportunity it presents:

Notwithstanding the accuracy of all the above statistics – are you in the 89% of sales people who don’t ask for a referral or the 11% who do? If the latter, I applaud you. If in the former – you have a massive opportunity to make 2018 huge by simply starting small and asking a few of your loved clients for referrals. Remember, it is highly likely your competitions are in the same position. By asking, you immediately gain ground on them unless they act.

Make it a 2018 sales resolution. I’d love to hear how it goes if you do.

Make Personal Connections


But…it is too easy not to today. And convince ourselves we are.

There are many excuses disguised as techniques available today. It is easy to have many contact details, but no actual connections.

How do you make personal connections?

You can ‘invest’ time in research. You can find so much out about people today online – both paid and free. Isn’t it amazing how many people are so free with their information.

However, if you’re highly analytical, unconfident or a procrastinator – you can research someone to death and even to the point where you convince yourself you can’t or shouldn’t contact them. Or that you haven’t quite done enough research yet.

You can even be so cheeky and buy this information from various data warehouses. Set your criteria, pay your fee and voila – contacts!!!

However – you need to realise that at some point you need to actually talk to them! You should do enough research to get excited to the point where you can’t stop yourself from talking to them. The purpose to research is to find out enough information so you know who you should talk to and about what compelling things. Some one that says consistently ‘they’re on the list’ worries me.

Research is really importantly but it is about finding the reasons to contact, rather than being an activity (excuse) not to.

You can network your way to meeting people.  This is another option. Yes, you can, if you plan. However, Accepting every event isn’t a plan. Simply turning up to events isn’t a plan. Turning up, having a few drinks and leaving isn’t a plan. Having a plan is having a plan. First, you need to turn up to the right events. Second, you need to ensure you have the right audience in attendance. . Third, you actually need to talk to people!  Different people, about them. You need to know your elevator pitch as, guess what, they’ll ask about you and what you do. And, finally, you need to follow up after the event.

Everyone is usually approachable at an event and quite open to meeting people – though this doesn’t always transition to the next day. If you strike a conversation up with someone you see value in – a) position the next contact while you’re talking at the event (as this both gives you permission and commits you to following up) and b) Follow. Up!

Collecting business cards isn’t the name of the game, making connections is.

Are you guilty of this? Maybe as a result of the above networking event. Rushed back to the office and connected with them on LinkedIn? Maybe you were super savvy and ‘connected on the spot’?

Done that? Have a great LinkedIn Network? Awesome – so you can just sit back, research and ask people to connect you with people you wish to talk to?

Of course you can but will you? No. If you can’t contact someone directly – it’s fairly safe to bet you also won’t ask someone to refer you to them either. Harsh – but true.

The human response to not want rejection from the person you are trying to contact applies exactly the same if you are asking someone to introduce you to that person. It just simply won’t happen.

Your LinkedIn network can be an incredibly powerful ally – or a faux safety blanket. It’s okay, they’re in my network is next to it’s okay on they’re on the list.

LinkedIn Networks can be like collecting Pokemon – you want them all, but many are useless unless you a) invest time in furthering the relationship (ie understand what is in it for both sides) and b) actually use the connections for their and your benefit with that knowledge. This mutuality is important. I can count on one hand how many people have contacted me and asked for an introduction….I can count on even fewer hands who have rung me, versus emailed me.

We often think we are ‘imposing’ or being ‘assumptive’ when asking – but for many, like me, being asked for an introduction is opposite. Here’s a really interesting perspective – I love it when someone says ‘do you know X and could you introduce me?’ It shows me my network is sound and I am trusted. I get value out of being useful. So how do I feel when you don’t ask? What do I think?

Hold on. We can email? We’re in the modern era – aren’t we? Yes we can. But you shouldn’t! Email can maintain a relationship and share knowledge, but it is a terrible tool to form a relationship. It is too easy to get someones email from LinkedIn, their website etc….simply googling ‘<<Name>> email’ will usually provide the desired results. All excited, you fire them off an email to connect and try to elicit a meeting.   Then you sit back and wait.  And wait. You have just left your crush a love letter in their locker. You have lost all control over the process. A few things now happen. You can possibly assume their didn’t get the email or deleted it accidentally.  What do you do now? Do you send them another email? Do you call them? Arggggg. Hold on, what if you do make contact? What if they did get your email and chose to ignore it? Wouldn’t it be really embarrassing if I called them? Yes. Yes it would.

Yes, there are situations where you can email for the first contact – like if you were introduced over email or if you know this is the best/only way to reach them. However, it shouldn’t be your method of choice for the reasons above. You can’t confirm they’ve received and read it. And, you don’t know their thoughts. Either way, unless you leave them to contact you back, you have to contact them again if there is silence.

So, where does this leave us? The phone? Yes. Many don’t realise that with all this noise digitally – we are still really immature as a species in our process of using it. Both as senders and as receivers. One thing we all know is voice. Next to face to face, the phone is the only other tool that a) you know who you are speaking with, b) like it or hate it, you get an immediate response. Once you reach the person (if, in some cases) – the phone has the potential to cut through all the time delays of email, back and forths, mis-communications and mis-reading of social cues. Many hate the phone and this is often understandable. It can be time consuming to reach people can’t it? But hold on, what are the delays like on email? There can be many gatekeepers to get through as well on the phone? But hold on, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think PA’s and EA’s vet CXO inboxes either. Phone works because it is instant – it doesn’t work for the same reason. You don’t have the power of time. You have to be prepared enough to add value – yet not so prepared that you are rigid to this thinking, robotic or unable to move fluidly with the client. Phone is like public speaking where email is like, unsurprisingly, letter writing.

Yes, much of the above is a facetious look at building connections and there are arguments to the contrary on all the above points.

The key thing here is choose your medium consciously. Don’t default to a single method for everyone. Think about it each and every time. Don’t choose a channel because it’s easy for you, choose it because it is the most effective for your audience.

If your objective is to make personal contact – ensure you make personal contact.

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.

The Power Of A Love Letter


For many of us, the earliest time we’ve ever had to ‘put ourselves out there’ is when we’ve had to ask someone out. In the school yard – this is fraught with risk, mainly of the consequences of getting it wrong. Enter the ‘love letter’. An arms’ length approach.

Interesting, this is a first real foray in to writing a proposal document of any description. As a supplier (of affection) toward the target of that affection we have to a) see if they reciprocate and b) wish to act on it. It is a sales document no different than many we write to potential clients every day – just with a different outcome and, arguably, greater personal risk.

Now, this was all fun and games until I found out my 10 year daughter got a love letter. Instantly the paternal instinct kicked in and the hackles went up. Who is this boy? Tell me more…..

Then my partner told me to read the letter…

Dear …….

I know a lot of boys like you but I don’t care, it would be enough to be your best friend (well, one of your best friends).

Strong start, acknowledged a/the objection (although, who are all these other boys!! A question to explore later). Also, provided an optional outcome, allowing for a gracious, albeit acceptable exit.

You are a kind and caring person and that’s what I need to keep me company everyday.

Brilliant – lead with the key features you admire and why that is important to you. Compliments, when sincere, are powerful. My ‘Dad Mode’ is softening as this boy has skills.

If you don’t want to be my best friend, it’s okay I understand. I’m sorry that I told you I liked you but it was the truth!

Nearly lost me here but closed strong with the ‘I like you even if you don’t like me back’ line. Same is true in prospecting – just because they say no today, it doesn’t mean they are any less attractive as a potential client tomorrow. And, as this boy so succinctly put it, if you don’t tell them you like them, you aren’t risking anything, therefore you may not get anywhere.

Now I put an end to it and I just want you to be my best friend! ( + some emoticons I am too uncool to understand)

In for the close. Direct and ‘asking for the business’. Well done. Too often we do great things in sales but fail to ask for the business.

PS: Please don’t show this card to anyone because they will tease and embarrass me

No, son – this letter is awesome! We put ‘commercially sensitive’ or ‘private and confidential’ on ours in the work place…same thing. In this case, I love this as it is about being vulnerable. He’s exposed himself and asked my daughter to be empathetic to this.

No proposal is complete without a somewhere to sign, just as no love letter to a 10 year old is complete without:

Bless his cotton socks – he even closed with ‘handwritten by my big sister, sentences by me’. Nice, honest disclosure. I have little doubt that his big sister also helped in write this – but I think this is brilliant. If you have a big sister – why not enlist her help. Why not get someone to help you who is experienced on the ‘buy’ side of the conversation. Something there we can learn from maybe? My good friend, Cian McLoughlin of Trinity Perspectives always talks about Win Analysis. Here, this 10 year old boy started ahead of the curve by engaging the help of his sister. He increased his chances of success dramatically.

To understand how best to sell, understand why your clients buy. I wish I thought of this when I was at high school!

The only thing he missed in this whole letter was what he could bring to the relationship (he’s 10) and this is what I told my daughter to ask him, nicely.

As a Dad – my first reaction was ‘No!’ – but dammit, once I finished that letter I was actually on the boy’s side – eventually. A telling point to remember given I wasn’t even the intended audience. Mainly because I know what was involved in writing that letter. He also reminded me that even a love letter is a sales document.

As you can see above, my daughter said yes (after some consternation). It worked.

We don’t always tell our prospects (let alone our clients) we would be proud to be their supplier and the reasons why. We are often good at telling them why they should choose us, but not so good at telling them why we chose them. We don’t always ask outright for the business – we hope they know we want it. We can learn from a 10 year old’s love letter like this.

This boy and my daughter had a conversation at school and the cards didn’t fall in his favour. He regrouped and wrote this letter and won in the end. Interesting.

This reminded me that, when approaching prospects, we undertake a very similar activity as this 10 year old did, whether written or verbal. Sometimes with less skill unfortunately. We simply just often don’t write ‘love letters’ to our prospects like this. Often we aren’t this explicit – we dance around the fact we’d like to do business and drop subtle hints. We don’t always open up and tell them we’d be proud to do business with them, in any form, if given the opportunity and, importantly, can we? Sure, this boy may have gotten shot down (hopefully I raised my daughter better than that) but at least he would have known, rather than wondered. As we saw, he picked his socks up once and re-assessed his strategy, and it paid off. This 10yo just showed us what great skills reflection, agility and tenacity are here.

As sales people, we can often be guilty of being a one trick pony and always relying on a single means of prospecting – we don’t always adapt our approach to our audience or try different and/or multiple ways of engaging. We do the same thing, every day and often expect the same results with every client, or worse, different (ie better) results. Why is this?

Some clients don’t like cold calls – but it doesn’t mean that they don’t like being approached in a different manner. It may just mean they don’t like being rung. This letter is an example – giving my daughter the time to read, reflect and consult resulted in a far better outcome than simply blurting it out in the playground (a cold call). Some people don’t like being ‘sold’ – but do nearly all like value being added.

How we approach someone can be incredibly important – you only have to go to the animal kingdom to realise the incredibly complex and often ostentatious rituals that exists around finding a partner. Yet, with business, we seem to ‘dumb it down’. We just rush in and often kill the opportunity before it’s started and don’t even know it.

An example is the prospect who never returns your phone call. Ever. We often simply blame them and move on. Our technique is perfect surely – why change? Now you can keep dialing…or maybe not. Try an email. Try a text. Get an intro.

Write a love letter.

Help, I don’t know what I’m doing!


Have you ever purchased something for complex and found yourself way out of your depth? Many concerns often come to mind:

  • I know what you need it to do, but have no idea what I need to do it?
  • Ah ha, found it, but what are all these extra ‘features’ for – do I really need them?
  • So many brands – which one? which model? Which colour?
  • Damn it, what else am I going to have buy to get this thing to work?
  • OMFG, I feel stupid – this sales person is rattling off a bunch of acronyms and talks in a language which may as well be Klingon
  • Do I need to future proof myself as last bloody time it was obselete by the time I got it home!
  • WTF – THAT’s the price?!?!?!
  • Am I just going to get this home and not use it? Again!
  • I’ve had enough, I’ll just get this one

So, what do you do? People will now usually engage in two main things to reduce this buying angst –

  1. They’ll research the product online and
  2. they’ll seek social proof as to which option to select.

Seldom do we seek in store advice any more, as unfortunately, this advice is often limited (ie to a specific product or range of products or generalist) and we just don’t have confidence in it as a result. We are more comfortable doing the research ourselves, despite the limitations of our knowledge. Also, seeking social proof has it’s limitations as it is subjective and specific to the recommender’s situation and their knowledge of what they needed (and your requirements).

Conversely, my daughter is enamoured with YouTube – following an accident that resulted in her being bed ridden for 14 weeks, she started surfing life hacks. The interesting phenomenon here for me was suddenly being painfully aware of the fact that many of the things I had been doing and using in my life, I had been using incorrectly (or not to their fullest). No one had taught me how to do/use these things….so as a result, I was missing out.

Sometimes our clients don’t know what to buy, how to buy it or even use it, they simply know what they need it to do.

Why do we assume those in business are any more adept at buying? Simply because they are in business? In sales, why do we sometimes (and unfortunately often), sell the client what they’re asked for with a blind assumption they were knowledgeable enough to know what they need? If this was, or is, the case, this is exactly where AI and self-service selling will replace the traditional sales person. We’ll just have a series of questions and the product will fall out the bottom.

Some clients don’t actually know what they’re doing when they are buying. No one has taught them how to buy in general – so they draw on their experience. More importantly, they haven’t had any specific training or experience in buying your product/service in many cases. You can often see this on the vendor side of RFP’s where the ‘value add’ often has has to be shoe horned in to the conversation as the specifications are frequently just feature and price based – even for services. Vendors are left shaking their head thinking ‘but there is so much more we can do’ and working out how to work it in to the proposal and get it valued.

For some clients, they just don’t purchase complex products/services regularly enough or their specific request is unique/one off to allow them to draw on prior experience. As a result, they fall back on what they can understand – features/price. Some clients just don’t have the time in the buying process either because the problem they face is large and they need to deal to it. As a result, they can panic purchase.

Some clients are looking to buy when they don’t need to – what they have now is perfectly suitable, they’re just never been shown how to use it properly (this may be an intangible, like a skill or knowledge, or tangible like a product). Unfortunately, where up-sell and cross-sell incentives exist, this can be far more common than you’d think with people being sold ‘extras’, without the knowledge of why or how it is useful.

Finally, some have been taught poor buying habits (like negotiation skills) through the poor sales advice they’ve had in their past. Take price arguments as an example – is that client yelling at you to reduce the price really an a’hole? Or have they just learned that this is how they get action from you? Are you the a’hole? Is that client who doesn’t wish to see you actually happy? Or have they just learned that seeing you is a waste of time as you don’t add any value to their day?


As a sales professional, it is important to understand your role is mostly about understanding why the client has entered the buying process. Very few do it for fun – most do it because they have a challenge to overcome or opportunity to realise within their business. The challenge may be as simple as they need something to write with, or as monumental is fending of a competitor drive in to a core segment of their market. But why they are buying is key.

Understanding what product/service they need isn’t enough – understanding what they need it to do is paramount.

This is where many clients need more help than you can appreciate. This is also what shapes their buying process. Yes, and in some situations, not to buy something is an outcome once you know this. Yes, I said it. Sometimes, in sales, helping a client make a wise decision means convincing them NOT to buy something. They simply may not fully understand how to use what they already have effectively (remember those features they didn’t no were useful before?).

The key thing to remember is you spend all day every day with your products/services – you know them intimately. However your clients don’t. As a result, they usually don’t even know how to buy them effectively, if at all sometimes. Help them through this process – that’s why you’re a sales professional.

There is also another trap you can fall in to – a seemingly knowledgeable and/or educated client. This can also play out for long term relationships where comfortable and familiarity set in. The trap of corner cutting. Fast thinking. Bias and assumptions. Where we think or believe we know what they need, so skip steps or overlook questions as a result. We deliver sub optimal solutions because we don’t follow a thorough process.

As an example – we’ve all seen situations where a client has the correct product but as a result of not knowing how to use it properly, they feel it is the wrong product. Then they complain and someone comes out and show them the right way to use it? What if they didn’t complain. What if a competitive walked in at the moment they were frustated? Would they be bold enough to show them the right way to use your product or simply sell them theirs and teach them how to use it? Clients need educating on buying wisely – end to end.

This is why understanding what they need the product/service to do is more important than simply understand what that product/service is. This is consultative selling – understanding, from your clients perspective, what their problem/opportunities is in the wider context of their business. This is what takes time. Seldom does your product/service exist in a vacuum within a business – it interacts with the business. Even that proverbial pen purchase can see many a stationary room argument if not thought through.

The disconnect can be explained quickly using banking as an example – one of banking’s products are home loans. When a client comes in to get one – what are they buying?

A home. Not a home loan. The home is what they want, the home loan achieves it for them. That is what they want. Yes, they are standing in from of your because they need a home loan, but the home is the want driving it. It is the ends.

Beyond that, they want the security for their family. They want the financial wealth this could generate for them in years to come. When you understand this, suddenly things like why having a risk conversation at this point in time is important. To protect the home from adverse change. To protect changes in personal situations from putting the home at risk. Not only do you need to understand it, so does your client. If you don’t explore this – your client thinks you’re just ‘cross-selling’ (I HATE this word).

Don’t kid yourself your product/service is more important that what your client wants to do with it. And don’t assume your client knows what do buy, how to buy it or even how to use it.

The Great Fail…


Success and failure go hand and glove – whether you like it or not. Even the best fail. Even they keep score of both their successes and their failures.

There is another video from Michael/Nike which goes on to say:

Maybe I made you think my highlights started at the free throw line, and not at the gym…Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God given gift, and not something I worked for every single day of my life…Maybe I made you think that every shot I took was a game winner.’

It’s really easy to look at successful people and to quickly assume they don’t fail – that they have the Midas touch. As a result of being viewed as successful, when they do fail – it is an anomaly. That success is their ‘normal’. The reality is, despite the hours of practice, coaching and visualisation, the best fail. And sometimes often.

As Winston Churchill put it:

Success is going from failure to failure without a loss in enthusiasm

The difference is they don’t make excuses because they fear failure, they simply accept that it is a possible outcome. The biggest difference is what they do to maximise their chances of success and learn from when the don’t. What you often don’t see them doing. We see our sporting stars on the court or field – but seldom do we see the hours they spend in the gym, watching their own games, watching their competition play, practising…we only see the outcome of it.

As Michael Jordan put it – it is very easy to assume successful people are naturally talented rather than worked hard. To paraphrase this in ‘excuse language’ – why should I bother trying as I am not as talented as they are?

In sales, a successful sales person is often viewed as ‘natural’, ‘lucky’ and similar adjectives. But is this about them or about the other person providing excuses as to why they aren’t successful or even trying?

So how do the successful become and stay successful? It isn’t luck or natural talent. Successful people aren’t consistently successful without hard work, self reflection, adaptation, support and growth. Whether in sports or professionally. Michael Jordan has 10 rules for his success which can be equally applied to our professional lives….

  • Rule #1: Keep Working Hard
  • Rule #2: Ignite the Fire
  • Rule #3: Be Different
  • Rule #4: Fail Your Way to Success
  • Rule #5: Have High Expectations
  • Rule #6: Be Positive
  • Rule #7: Be Who You Were Born To Be
  • Rule #8: Have a Vision
  • Rule #9: Stop Making Excuses
  • Rule #10: PRACTICE!

Quite frankly, we could close there as they are a pretty robust set of rules….but what does this mean in action for someone in sales who wants to succeed? How can you put these in to action on a daily basis?

Success starts with practice, not with closure

Like sport and many things in life, success in sales is measured by the outcome, not the input. But also like sport, success in sales comes from what you’ve done up to that point. Many sales people despise practice (does the word ‘role play’ or ‘video’ break you out in cold sweats?). Why is this? More than likely because it is uncomfortable – that we are forced to realise that we have flaws to work on. Because we are judged – by others, and often, and more importantly, ourselves. Well guess what, whether you practice or not, you are being judged anyway…by your client. Do you want them to be the first and only judge of your performance? We’ve all seen those cringe worthy auditions on American Idol of the ‘shower singers’ – don’t be that person with your clients (of course, I exaggerate for effect…I hope).

Natural talent is realised (and maximised) by hard work

Yes, arguably certain personality types and innate skills make selling easier. But none make success a certainty. The old saying goes:

Maybe on the school yard, the child who a ‘natural sprinter’ was able to win without trying – in the work place this is no longer a workable strategy. Regardless of your ‘talent’, there is always someone out their working hard to win your clients and using every ounce of their discretionary effort to deliver them superior outcomes.

This is where having a growth mindset comes in – the belief that abilities and intelligence can continually be developed

The talent/skill you have today isn’t enough for tomorrow. It isn’t fixed or finite – it is fluid. If you don’t use it – you get left behind. It is realised and can be grown through hard work and practice.

Remember, you practice as you play – so work hard with both.

(Re)Assessing yourself

It is almost impossible to find a professional athlete that doesn’t have a coach, often more than one. Same goes in most CXO positions. Why? It forces constant assessment and reassessment of yourself. It also externalises it and means is needs be to faced. Athletes dissect each performance – good and bad. They watch video footage, assess statistics. All of this is focused on honing their strengths and minimising/eliminating their weaknesses. Again, using a growth mindset, even if your skills are good – they can always be better.

This is a sales leaders job – to help your team review and refine themselves. You should be at meetings observing, preparing, briefing – working across all facets of your teams skill base to help them improve, grow and be more successful. As a sales person, you need to be hungry for this feedback to improve. This is Jordan’s Rule #5 in action – have high expectations of yourself.

Most importantly, you and your team need to have a feedback culture. Where it is asked for, readily received and acted on – internally and externally.

Reviewing your competitors

Much the same as looking inward – you need to look outward. Professional athletes and teams spend valuable time on assessing their competitors – so should you in sales. Knowing where they are strong and weak relative to you is important. Strategies need to adapt based on the environment you are operating in. Your competitor may have particular product/services strengths in areas you don’t, or relationships you are yet to form – you can’t ignore this. Do you know your competitors? As a sales person, do you know the other sales person as, being individual, they will sell uniquely to you and, as a result, will get different reactions and outcomes. Do you know who you’re selling against? Do you spend anytime here?

Having the right equipment

As good as your skill level is, some things can be limited by the tools you have at your disposal. In sales, do you have the right relationships, support, collateral and other facets required to help you succeed? Do you know who to call when you don’t have the answer for the client? Do you know what to do when something goes wrong? Do you have access to the right information at the right time and in the right format? Do you have the right team in behind you, fully engaged, to deliver the promises you’re making?

Do you use them consistently? Do you prepare the same for every meeting? Or follow up? Is your pre-game ritual the same each time? Successful sales people can be automatons in this regard – sticklers to routine in an almost superstitious manner. Watch Djokovic pre-serve bouncing the ball, or Nadal with his towel. Quirks yes, but they remove distraction and focus them on what is coming next. They are getting everything in alignment. What do you do? Or is it seat of pants and hope for the best?

I’ve used the quote before from Abraham Lincoln, but if you’ve got 6 hours to cut down a tree, ensure you spend 4 of it sharpening the axe. Are your tools sharp?

Visualise the Outcome

The big question – why are you sitting in front of that client/prospect? Why? What is the outcome you have in your minds eye? Here is where we diverge dramatically from the sporting analogy as, unlike sport, the person sitting opposite you isn’t the competition. They aren’t someone you conquer. So, next question, do you believe your outcome is the same as that of your client/prospect? Should it be? Successful people are very good at visualising the outcome they expect to get and clarifying that of their clients. Again, getting everything in alignment.

The reality is you need to know why you are in front of the client – short, medium and long. Sure, the short term solution may be to ‘fix the problem they have’. The medium term solution may be ‘ensure they are happy and loyal’ – but what is your long term purpose? Why do you want this client/prospect? Not knowing this means you are doomed to completing transactions/deals.

Enjoy the game

Successful sales people enjoy what they do. Personally, I struggle with the concept people are in sales, hating it. It makes no sense. If you don’t like it, how can excel at it. How can your clients can superior outcomes? Why would you bother improving yourself at something you don’t like?

Passion is undoubtedly linked to success in the long term.

First Learn To Fail

Out of all of this comes the key aspect of Jordan’s ten rules – in order to succeed, first you must learn to fail (and learn from it). As you stretch yourself, failure is inevitable, you can’t stop it – but you also can’t let it stop you. In fact, it is a barometer of effort (provided you’re not repeatedly failing at the same thing). As Jordan is quoted:

Sure, you can limit failure by not stretching yourself outside what you know or not even giving it a go. But whilst you might not fail at what you didn’t try – haven’t you already failed by not even trying? Growth comes from being outside our comfort zone.

The Great fail. Often. With alarming regularity actually. But they never use it is an excuse? Are you?

I started with video on Jordan and it seems fitting to end with on:

Jump Out Of The *^$%#(# Plane


‘God placed the best things in life on the other side of your maximum fear’

Prospecting – a word and activity that can and does strike fear in many a sales person. I love #prospecting myself and believe I am good at it but I’ll let you in on a secret or two. First, I never used to. I used to actively avoid it and used many a devious means to pretend I was doing it.

Second, and most important, even today, when ‘my toes on the edge’ for the first time for the day, I am still nervous. I am still anxious. But I ‘jump’. Everyday.


I’ve learned that it’s more than worth it. It was once my maximum fear in #sales. Contacting people who don’t know me and may reject me or my ideas. Why on earth would I do that? As a business development manager, unsurprisingly prospecting is a big aspect of the role.

Well, let’s chat about why jumping out of the prospecting aeroplane is worth while.

Why should you do it…..

People Don’t Bite

The single worst fear most sales people have with prospecting is fear of rejection. The fear someone on the other end of the phone is going to be so mortally offended by your approach that they are going to tear shreds out of you. Well, guess what – it doesn’t really happen. Most people are polite. Most people you call also work for a business that has people in it charged to do exactly what you do, so they often understand. Unless you’re approached them in a completely reckless manner, you won’t suffer any harm – physically or emotional.

Obviously. your approach is important – that is, how you contact someone and what you say, but never be fearful of ringing people. The human race is incredibly polite and empathetic to the feelings of other. On the whole, we actively avoid confrontation as a species. This is why prospecting actually WORKS rather than doesn’t. People telling you it is a waste of time are often those that are too scared to try it and want others on their band wagon to justify why they aren’t doing it. Do. Not. Listen. To. These. People.

However – you will encounter the odd aggressive response if you prospect enough. But bear these two things in mind – unless your approach has been offensive/reckless

  • it never hurts you
  • it usually says more about them than you. They may be busy, stressed etc and the approach was just poorly timed.
  • If they a person who has a propensity to ‘nut off’ at you in the first contact (assuming you’ve done nothing to warrant it) – do you really want them as a client?

People Crave Knowledge

This leads to the next point – your content. You should be approaching your prospects because you know (or certainly believe) you can improve their position. That working with you will make a positive difference to them. So, knowing this, what is worse – calling them or not calling them?

People in business CRAVE knowledge, advice and expertise that helps them and their business. They want connections with people who know how to help them, how to add value and put their interests first. By not calling, you are doing more harm. You are making a decision that they aren’t worth helping. That your knowledge, advice and expertise isn’t worth sharing. By not showing them what they could be achieving, saving or maintaining you have let them down.

Again, the prospect you encounter who isn’t receptive (again, assuming your approach is sound) is possibly someone you don’t want to have as a client as will the be receptive to your advice? Will they value it?

You Distinguish Yourself

The very act of engaging with prospects makes you distinct. Most sales people/relationship managers struggle to maintain client contact cycles, let alone tenaciously contact and chase prospects. Often, with a regular prospecting contact strategy you can be having more regular and more meaningful conversations with your prospects than your competitors are having with them as clients.

With the right approach to help them, you can quickly demonstrate why you are more valuable to their business than their existing provider without having to point it out. One of the best compliments I believe I ever get as a professional BDM is ‘I speak with you more often than I do my current bank’. It is a very sad indictment of the industry as a whole, but shows me I am doing my job correctly. Unfortunately, the bar often isn’t very high as either sales people aren’t prospecting, or when they are doing it they are doing it for selfish reasons. It is disappointing, but making yourself distinct often isn’t difficult.

Sales Leaders: Note here that you MUST have a regular, proactive and meaningful call cycle with your existing clients or professional BDM’s will quickly and methodically chip away at these relationships.

You Meet Great People

I have formed my best relationships, including friendships, with those I have actively prospected. I have found out so much more than simply business intelligence from proactively engaging with and strategising with my prospects. Humans are natural connectors – we’re pack animals and you’ll be surprised in the quality of conversation you can have with people beyond simply ‘business’.

The great thing about prospecting is you get to select your prospects and therefore get to engage with some truly great people. I have been honoured in my prospecting to meet some of the great business leaders and minds in my area through my job by reaching out. I have grown as a person as well as, hopefully, helped them in the process.

You Help People

Here is one of the key ‘whys’ of prospecting as you have to want to. Help people that is.

Prospecting gives you the opportunity to help people improve their situation. It works because you have the belief this is what you can achieve and this is why you are doing it. Whether through what you sell, what you know and/or who you know. You help. This is the true silver bullet to successful prospecting. This is your purpose. Not to shift widgets or billable time – but to improve peoples situation. The other stuff takes care of itself when you do this and, intrinsically, helping people is a much more rewarding outcome.

You may not know the answers, but know someone who does and simply make connections. This is value creation. You may not know the answers, but know where to find them. Seeking this and then delivering it is value creation. The answer may not have anything to do with what you sell, but you care enough to still seek the solution for your prospect. THIS is value creation.

You Control Your Client Base

By prospecting in a considered and regular manner – you get to drive your portfolio/client base based on the client you REALLY want to have, not the ones that find you. Ever inherited a portfolio only to find a bunch of clients you don’t like, can’t add value to, have no potential and/or aren’t really interested in a two way partnership?

Prospecting is the solution to this problem. Here you get to date your clients before you marry them. You get to find, target and form relationships with the clients of tomorrow that are your ideal clients. You get to grow a portfolio of perfect customers. Why wouldn’t you prospect for this reason alone?

You Succeed

Undoubtedly, successful sales people prospect. It grows your portfolio, covers attrition, and has many other ‘financial’ and measurable advantages. But you succeed in many other ways. Your brand grows both internally and in market. You learn more about your clients using the skills you have to deploy when prospecting. You learn more about yourself and you grow as a sales person. If you don’t prospect, you are an account or relationship manager, not a sales people. You aren’t complete as a sales person.

Unpinning all of this are human emotions of curiosity (wanting to better understand someone else’s position and learn) and caring (putting someone else’s interest at the forefront). Do this when prospecting and I promise you that not only do you help people, but you get a level of satisfaction that hitting target or earning commissions doesn’t come close to.

It is Fun

Back to our sky diving analogy. Once you are out the door, it is bliss. You wonder what the fear was all about. It doesn’t hurt, quite the opposite is actually fun. The more you jump, the easier and more fun it becomes.

When your feet hit the ground, you want to go again and again. It isn’t without its stressses, but like most things in life, the reward is worth the effort.

Undeniably prospecting usually isn’t an easy skill or, for many, a natural one – much like skydiving. However, very few who do it, and do it regularly, say bad things about it. The single biggest benefit of prospecting well is no one loses.

So, why don’t you put your parachute on and jump?

What if I can’t….


Whatever the rest of that sentence is – win that client, close that deal, help them, hit my targets – what if you can’t?

It is often easy to think about all the reasons/excuses why we shouldn’t do something – the effort involved, fear of failure, just can’t be bothered. It is ‘easy’ to not do things. What are the consequences of not trying?  Have we stopped to think about this? Do we think about it or is it simply an excuse to not try?

It is an age old response from when we are young to go ‘I can’t/couldn’t….’.  Parents hear it early on from children and, the reality is, it still remains an easy excuse as we get older. Sometimes it signals we don’t have the confidence and need someone else’s reinforcement, sometimes we just want someone to watch. But the reality of saying or thinking this is it forces other people to justify why we should, rather than us.

Instead of asking or thinking what if I can’t, there are two more important questions to consider:

What are the consequences of not trying?

  1. Nothing changes: By not trying, you are deciding that the current position is preferred – for you and your clients.
  2. No one wins: You or your client. No one wins anything by not even entering the race – though many have been surprised by their results when they do.
  3. You don’t learn: Growth doesn’t come from doing that which we’re already good at, it comes from stretching ourselves
  4. You go backwards: Further to point 1, whilst ‘nothing changes’, you go backwards as, rest assured, someone else IS trying.
  5. Client loss: Just because you decide not to try, it doesn’t mean your client will stop looking for better solutions, smarter advice, greater relationships.
  6. Competitors glow: Those around you look better through simply exhibiting more effort, they don’t actually have to be the best, just better than you. By not trying, you’re setting the bar very low for them.
  7. You have to try harder: Eventually. It catches up, never goes away.
  8. You hit ‘Give Up’: However, if you do stop trying for long enough, eventually your forced to give up. Whether you like it or not.

So, not trying may actually seem like the easiest option today, but it’s often at the detriment of the future. You lose and, importantly, your clients lose. When you make a decision to not try, you tie your clients to the consequences of that decision, whether they like it or not.

So knowing what happens if we don’t try and them making a conscious decision and still not working to we’re left with one final question:

Do you actually want to? 

React Consciously

Picture your least preferred client…..

They email you unexpectedly with ‘I have the proposal you gave me in front of me.  I have found a few mistakes and have some areas I need to talk to you about.   Can you come to my office at 2pm?’

What feelings do you have?  Natural to go/think ‘Sorry 2pm doesn’t work for me’?  Groan?  Hackles go up?

Now picture you favourite client sending the same email, they say the same thing…..what feelings do you have now?


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.

Ask To Act


Two recent video interviews I shared from two sales professionals I respect touched on this need to focus what we do for our clients. Tony Hughes recently completed a video interview with John Smibert extending Simon Sinek’s Start With Why philosophy to articulate you need to understand Your Client’s Why.

Then, John (if you haven’t noticed a theme, follow John!) followed this up with an interview with Tony Bananno who reinforced the fact that sales people today need to develop the skills to have Effective Commercial Conversations.

In the information rich digital age we currently live in – clients know more about our products and services than ever before. Gone are the days of simply connecting features and benefits and using ‘product sheets’ to wow clients with how great what we offer is. Now, it isn’t about the products and services we have, but whether we understand our clients well enough to deploy them effectively to help our clients meet their objectives. This starts wholly with both the themes raised by the two Tony’s (not sure if there’s something with the name).

These aren’t new concepts – every sales course and training regime is heavy on the concepts of open ended questions, deep discovery, active listening and other tools and techniques to help uncover the core needs of our clients. All espouse the need for sales people to spend minimal time talking about products and services and the maximum amount of time discovering why their clients need their help and what opportunities and challenges they are facing. Once understood, it is about wrapping what you do neatly around your clients to support where they are going. It isn’t about finding clients for your products and services.

However, here is where I wish to extend this conversation and say that it doesn’t end here. Simply knowing what you have to do isn’t the silver bullet. The real magic comes from why you do it. Simply asking these questions and finding out this information doesn’t help your clients, it is what you do with this information that creates magic for your clients. You must Ask with the intent to Act. And Act in your clients best interests, not simply your own.

Before you can act, you have to ask. So where are the pitfalls common in the sales discovery process?

Don’t Ask / Asking the Wrong Questions

The first mistake is simply not asking any questions followed closely by asking the wrong ones. This is what Tony Bananno touches on – having social or spurious conversations with clients that don’t actually go anywhere. You can’t act on information to help your clients if you haven’t asked any questions to get it. You are left guessing/assuming what your clients wants and/or needs. Similarly, and sometimes worse, you can’t act effectively if you don’t have the right answers/information.

This is a training/experience thing which most sales leaders can pick up and coach following observation. It can come down to inexperience/confidence or under/no preparation and can be resolved relatively easily once identified.Now, let’s assume you are asking and asking the right questions as most who read this will be.

Moving on to two ‘sales person’ centric issues:

Ask to Tell

Some sales people like being experts more than they like being sales people. Selling can be a great opportunity for this and, unfortunately, some sales people simply ask questions so they can demonstrate to their clients how much they know and that they are a subject matter expert. They simply use the questions as a means to directing the conversation to areas they wish to talk about. This can be an outcome of an overly prepared sales person (predetermination) or one, as mentioned, who wish to stand ahead, rather than behind their clients

Ask To Sell

As Tony Bannano touches on – some sales people simply ask questions to sell and press/push product on clients. The minute they get the sniff of the ability to shift a product or service line, they jump down the rabbit hole to sell it. Sure, sometimes they may make the sale, but often at the expense of the larger and/or longer opportunity. Or they can under/over sell and create a problem for themselves and/or company later when they realise they didn’t know as much about the client as they thought they did (significant issue in regulated industries like Financial Services).

These two are examples of the ‘old’ methodologies of sales and ones where some of the age old sales stereotypes reside. Sales people who simply wish to shift product/service.

Now, what else can happen that can disconnect the ability to ask good questions, yet not have an effective ability to act on the responses? This is where we get in to the sales person’s intent in the discovery process:

Don’t Care

It can be very easy for a sales person to learn to ask the right questions – but do they care about the responses? Are they genuinely asking these questions because they have an interest of understanding their clients position and improving it – or simply because they ‘have to’ or are ‘going through the motions’? This is one of the more nefarious issues in sales – a sales person who doesn’t care and, ultimately, needs a reality check or new career.

There is a real issue here when it comes to sales leadership. Some organisations have the view that certain fields in the CRM ‘must be completed’ or questions ‘must be asked’ – but unless you give the context of why these questions should be asked and what should be done with the information – you run the risk these questions are asked and the information collected – never to be referred to again.

No Active Listening

Asking one fantastic question usually leads to a fantastic answer. This answer usually leads to one or more fantastic potential follow up questions/lines of thought. The joy of asking great questions is you often get surprised by these great answers. Being able to follow these threads but stay on point is a real sales skill. Being able to follow up your client with insightful questions along their thought line leads to the real gold. As Tony Hughes identified, this is where you uncover the clients why. One fantastic question seldom makes the meeting – it is the ability to act on this within the meeting to drive the conversation deeper that does. This can be symptomatic of an overly scripted process. Sometimes this can be confused with the ‘don’t care’ issue – but they are distinct. A lack of active listening doesn’t mean the sales person doesn’t care, it can simply mean they are inexperienced or nervous.

No Record

Asking fantastic questions and receiving fantastic answers is great – but if you don’t make notes of the conversation you are doing your client and yourself a mis-service. Great conversations can change course quickly – and diamonds can be exposed in conversation only briefly. As good as your memory is, I guarantee it isn’t as robust as your pen. When you get back to your office without notes, it is almost a certainty you’ll remember the meeting in bullet points and miss some of the key points as the memory fades. It is hard to act on information if you can’t recall it. The next step is to ensure this information is captured in your CRM (or where appropriate) so you (and you’re wider team) can access this information later, whether tomorrow or weeks/months later. So it can be compared over time.

An aside, taking notes also slows thinking down, allowing time to a) better remove ‘unconscious bias’ (ie assumptions), b) reflect and connect thoughts/ideas along with c) a better spatial recollection of the meeting later.

Now assuming you’ve dodged all the bullets above – you’re gold, right? Here is where many sales people let themselves down…..

Not Acting On It

The fantastic information captured from your fantastic meeting after asking fantastic questions is meaningless unless you do something fantastic with it. Unless you Act on it. CRM’s the world over are littered with such information – sitting dormant, gathering dust. If we’ve done the above, we have immensely insightful information about our clients and, by giving us this information, our client hasn’t just empowered us to make a difference to their business, they’re actually compelled us to. Why ask the questions if you don’t wish to act on them? What is the point of asking questions simply to fill our a CRM? Why even bother meeting with your client in the first place?

Ask yourself – why do you meet with clients? What are you trying to achieve by having the meeting? What is your real agenda? If it isn’t to help them, improve their position, reduce their risk, help them realise opportunities or discover more about them so you can do any/all of the above and more – why ask the questions?

Acting isn’t an overly complicated process – but it starts with recognising that you often need as much time after the meeting as the meeting took to reflect on the outcomes of the meeting, plan ‘what next’ and execute. Effective action doesn’t happen by accident. Some ‘actions’ post meeting include

  • Definitely completing your CRM – thoroughly and usually within close proximity to the meeting itself. Bulk loading your CRM doesn’t work as you will find you will shorten your notes.
  • Following up your client with some immediate proximity to the meeting with an email/note reflecting on the meeting and some immediate value
  • Connecting them with people in your community who you know can help them with areas of opportunity/risk outside of your expertise, yet important to the client
  • Share information/insights/research with them which helps them on their journey as you have or come across this information
  • Invite them to functions/events which help them on their journey
  • Diarising future contact (and why!)
  • Follow up on key milestones/events identified in the meeting to see how it went

Then it is about, re/assessing whether you could and should do business with your client based on the information discover, and how you should move forward. You lead with your value as it relates to your clients situation. This is why you collect information – to allow you effectively deliver what you do to provide the most value to your client. It only works if you put the information you gather to work.

Asking insightful questions and collecting insightful answers is wonderful if that is all we are measured on – but ultimately we’re measured by our client on the difference we make to them and their business. This only comes from acting on the information we obtain, in their best interests.

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?



The one word sales people often fear, irrationally.

Often perceived as absolute in its meaning; usually negatively at that. For sales people, it has the perception of the end. An inability to do business or continue doing business with a client and, emotionally, also strikes at the ego of sales people as it resonates with the client not wishing to do business with you. Ouch.

We encounter it regularly in life – and it is often a response we ourselves fall on unconsciously. Think about when you’re window shopping and approached by a sales assistant – you’ll probably say ‘No, I just looking thanks’ often without thinking; even if you do actually need help. Think about parenting and how we learn to say ‘no’ rather than ‘maybe’ so we don’t enter in to a circuitous debate or fall foul of the fantastic situational memory kids have.

The reality is you’ll struggle to find any sales person, no matter how successful they’ve been or are, who hasn’t had a client say ‘no’ to them. Sometimes repeatedly, even from the same client.

If you roll your memory back to school and your affection for your school crush.  Did you ask them out? If you didn’t – why not? I can pretty much guarantee you it wasn’t because you were scared they’d say ‘yes’.  Instead, subtle hints are planted in the hopes they notice you and something happens naturally. Nothing does and you’re left wondering ‘what if?’. Sometimes the most attractive opportunities go wanting as no one is prepared to ask for it – not only are we scared of a ‘no’, we actually grow to expect it so can avoid situations where it happens.

The problem with this fear of ‘no’ for sales people is the same. Through the fear of receiving a ‘no’, we can often stop ourselves from asking for their business because we don’t want ‘no’ as an answer.  Worse, we can often not undertake any actions to avoid receiving a ‘no’ in the first place. Think of cold calling as an example. However, in doing this, we also never get a ‘yes’. Instead, we dance around our desire to do business with them in the hopes the client asks to do business with us, or sit at our desks wondering why clients aren’t ringing us to do business.

Why do we often have as many closing strategies in sales training as we have for those to overcome objections? I wonder if is because the client isn’t the problem – but it is because sales people often never ask for the business, at the wrong time or poorly. One of the biggest flaws many sales people have is they don’t actually ask for the business. They can often do all the right things on the way through, but never come out explicitly and ask their clients to do business together.  You’re probably shaking your head… about this old sales adage then:

‘I don’t sell to clients, they buy from me’

Ask yourself when you hear this (from you or someone else) – is this just a euphemism for this very problem in sales?  Sometimes, this may as well say ‘I don’t like asking for my clients business, so I wait until they ask if they can do business with me’. Successful sales people sell to their clients – unashamedly.

The other issue with fear of the ‘no’ is we often wait until the end of the sales process to ask our clients if we can do business together.  We dither and delay around asking the question. Sure, we can convince ourselves that we are laying a ground work of value first before asking…but are we? Or do we just not have the confidence to ask our clients outright?   Successful sales people start closing from the outset. They are discussing with their clients what their buying drivers are from the beginning of the sales process and asking ‘if I can deliver these for you, could we do business?’.  They close on a ‘conditional’ basis from the beginning of the sale, knowing what the client values and that they could and should do business.

Why is this important? Both your clients time and your time is expensive and finite.  Unfortunately and surprisingly, some clients will spend time in the sales process with no intention of actually buying unless explicitly asked. Excuse the crude analogy – but it is like flirting and never asking for their phone number. You have fun at the time, but go home alone. So if you don’t ask, you’ll spend a fair amount of time going no where. Yes, this does happen more often than we realise. Meanwhile, there are far more motivated clients who you could and should be doing business with, but aren’t.

One of the biggest issues with the fear of the ‘no’ is that it isn’t actually the end….if you’ve sold properly on the way through the process.  Most, if not all, successful sales people will have examples of clients who have said ‘no’, only for them to go on and do business together later.

Why? A ‘no’ doesn’t scare the successful sales person off. A ‘no’ puts a stake in the ground and provokes the conversation to change tone. It allows the sales person to explore the hurdles between the current state and them doing business with their clients.  Clients say ‘no’ for many reasons and are often, unless you’ve truly destroyed the sales process, a point in time decision. Some clients, like our shopping example, saying ‘no’ instinctively.

They can be a reflection of the fact you haven’t addressed all their needs, or address them properly. They can be resultant from a change in thinking mid-way through the sales process. There are a plethora of reasons which you can find out, if you’re willing to stay in the game. The absolutely wrong things you can do as a sales person when a client says ‘no’ is to a) run off with your tail between your legs (woe is me) or, worse, b) throw your toys (&^%#$ the client).  This is almost certain to burn a bridge with the client.

The right thing to do is to explore why, determine whether it is end game or simply pause and form a strategy to move on. If it is a firm ‘no’ – knowing why is crucial in sales. It is where you learn and change. To simply walk away is dooming you to repeat your past. Ask the client if you can stay in touch (things to change, and rapidly in this market) and agree to this (and don’t let yourself down by not following through!).

Also, even if their ‘no’ is completely definitive, it is still useful. It allows you to redirect your activity to other opportunities. You have qualified that client as one you can’t (currently) do business with. Whilst it is obviously preferable to do business with them, a no is still useful. It takes the ‘what if’ off the table. It is certain and therefore actionable. It saves you, and your client, from investing any more time and you can focus on more promising opportunities.

Successful sales people aren’t afraid of clients saying ‘no’ – sure they do everything in their power to minimise situations where it happens, but they appreciate the a ‘no’ can be as useful as a ‘yes’ in sales. They certainly don’t avoid asking for business through fear of receiving one.