How Successful Salespeople Take It to the Next Level
Bill Hawkins and Marshall Goldsmith
“In over 20 years of sales leadership, I had yet to see someone describe self-improvement through the elimination of existing behaviors rather than the creation of new ones―what a simple, concise, and personally applicable developmental tool. This is a must-read for everyone in sales!”
-Chris Richardson, VP Global Sales, Abbott Vascular
Empathy, Not Ego
Salespeople once needed big egos to succeed. They could convince strangers – their customers – to buy what they had to sell. For many salespeople, their gold-plated egos got them where they wanted to be in sales.
Today, a dominant, ain’t-I-great, overarching ego will kill you professionally. Salespeople now need something more and better: They need empathy. Being empathetic shows your prospects and customers that you care about them. It enables you to connect and communicate effectively.
“The Selling Context”
Everything about sales has radically changed, including the context of sales – the selling process, the buying process and the customers. Selling has become much tougher. What worked for salespeople in the past won’t work today or in the future. To stay current, salespeople must change, too. As salespeople change, they can become more productive and close more sales.
“This is a new game. Selling is different, buying is different and the rules are different.”
This matters to companies. About 90% of the time, customers’ satisfaction rests on their salespeople, the fulcrum upon which sales depend. Salespeople must become expert at understanding how and why people connect and, particularly, why their customers connect with them. They must help customers arrive at a state of mind where they are ready and willing to buy.
“The State of the Moment: Being Present”
The secret of sales success is being completely present – always fully in the moment – with your customers. This mental state is called “intentional consciousness” or “dispositional mindfulness.” Being fully present implies exercising robust emotional intelligence. When you are fully present with your customers, you manage your attitude and control your behavior. You never inadvertently say or do something that could irritate or anger your clients. You never interrupt or speak over them. To win their approval and cooperation, you remain respectful and courteous.
Salespeople aren’t saints. They’re human beings, full of human imperfections. But when they remain fully present with customers, salespeople set themselves up to manage their temperament and behaviors. Sometimes this requires changing your behavior and habits by using dispositional mindfulness. Veteran salespeople tend to have a well-developed comfort level with themselves. Normally, this is good. However, such comfort can become a double-edged sword that can lead to “unthinking arrogance” – the kiss of death when interacting with customers.
“Stop Being Nasty”
Most behaviors are neither good nor bad; they’re “value-neutral.” But some behaviors have a good or bad impact depending on how salespeople use them and the messages their actions deliver to their customers. Salespeople who want productive client relationships must eliminate any negative behavior they might direct toward a customer, such as impatience or rudeness. This doesn’t require a radical personality transformation. It calls for “shifting into neutral.” Say you have customers who think you’re not nice. You want to alter their perception. This means you must be nicer to them. However, this doesn’t mean you must go out of your way to pay them compliments, pepper your conversation with please and thank you, discuss only the subjects they care about or pay attention to everything they say. Taking on all these “positive actions” at once could be quite wearying. And they’re not all necessary at once.
“Sales is…different – different from other professions, different from other aspirations, different from other lives.”
For your customers to view you as a nice person simply stop being nasty to them. This doesn’t require any new, positive actions on your part. It simply means you must stop doing anything negative. If your customers argue with you, don’t argue back. If your customers criticize your firm, don’t engage with their provocation. If your customers do something that angers you, don’t react negatively. None of this requires any “acts of commission” – that is, doing anything extra to be nicer. Instead, it calls for “acts of omission” – that is, stop doing things or acting in ways that others view as nasty. You don’t necessarily need to be proactive, but don’t be reactive. You become nicer by not being so mean.
16 Habits to Shed
You may not even be aware of your bad habits, even while you’re driving customers crazy or driving them away. Think about whether you indulge in any of these bad habits. Some will particularly irritate certain customers. Target your behavior to fit each customer as you jettison these 16 bad habits:
- Failure to be present– Indicating you would rather be somewhere else is rude. Consider salespeople who take cellphone calls while their customers stand around waiting. That’s a rapport killer. Focus on your customers at all times.
- Vocal filler- “Verbal qualifiers” – “like, um, you know what I mean, sorta” – aren’t professional. When they pepper your speech, customers think you haven’t thought out your message.
- Selling past the close– Don’t verbalize every aspect of your sales process. If your customer is ready to buy, shut up. Take the yes. Close the deal.
- Selective hearing– Listen carefully to what customers tell you. Never fail to show them the attention they deserve. Be a better listener by doing nothing. “Give seven seconds of silence a try.”
- Contact without purpose– Don’t call a customer again and again because you want to sell something. Only call or visit a customer when you have a solid business reason to do so.
- Curb qualifying– Don’t make superficial assessments about potential clients as they “step over the curb” on the way into your office. To understand customers and their means and motives without overestimating or underestimating, get close to them.
- Using tension as a tool– Does it make sense to make a customer uncomfortable? Some marketing professionals and salespeople seem to think so. This is why you see TV commercials with messages like “Everything must go…going out of business…no reasonable offer refused…sale ends Saturday.” This is a “coercive power” pitch. No one believes it.
- One-upping– If the customer says something or tells a story and you feel compelled to say something else or tell a better story to come out on top, you’ll never win that person’s favor or sell him or her anything.
- Overfamiliarity– Calling customers you don’t know well by their first names irritates them. This is especially true if you and the customer are of different generations.
- Withholding passion and energy– Do your customers consider your sales pitch mechanical and uninspired? Put genuine enthusiasm into your presentations.
- Explaining failure– Everyone dislikes people who won’t accept responsibility. Own your product. Focus on how you will make things right for your clients in the future.
- Never having to say you’re sorry– You do have to say you’re sorry if you make a mistake. Express your regret or acknowledge the customer’s loss. This way, you and your customer may be able to put whatever happened behind you. Otherwise, bad feelings can fester. It’s hard to secure sales from customers who hold grudges against you.
- Throwing others under the bus– Never sacrifice or blame others for mistakes you make; pinning the blame on someone else won’t keep your customers happy. Step up to the plate when you have a mistake to correct.
- Propagandizing– Your company’s marketing messages – its propaganda – should make sense for the segment of the marketplace you target. Think of this segment, overall, as the mass audience. The problem is that each customer is an individual with singular wants and needs. You can profitably propagandize on a wholesale – but not retail – level. When a customer speaks to you about a personal need, don’t simply “regurgitate the company line.” Interact with customers as individuals.
- Wasting energy– Business is tough. Problems are sure to ensue. When they do, deal with them forthrightly. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and engaging in “organizational blame-storming or pity parties.
- Obsessing over the numbers– Sales requires reaching your targeted numbers consistently. Life demands something more. Be purposeful, be energetic and never lose sight of the bigger picture.
Don’t try to get rid of all your bad habits at once. Focus first on a few bad habits; three is a good number. Deal with your first group of bad habits, and then move on to the others. To determine the most glaring habits you want to address, become a detective about your personality. Note what comments people make about how you act and come across. Write down what you learn. Ask your family members and close friends to weigh in. Once you have a working list, select your group of three bad habits to focus on and fix. Recruit someone you trust to help you overcome them. Discuss your specific behavior-modification goals.
A “Peer Coach”
Engage with a peer coach who will speak with you by phone daily or a few times each week for a few minutes about your self-improvement campaign, without giving you any “negative feedback.” Have your coach record your answers to specific questions on a regular basis, such as, “Did you work on the first set [of bad habits] today?” Offer similar assistance to your colleague. The coach can’t criticize, ask more questions, induce guilt or give feedback. The coach’s purpose is to support your success.
You Must Be Present to Win
The rules of buying and selling have changed. In addition to being present, you must:
- “Ask” – Ask everyone you deal with for information, feedback, insights and opinions. Include all your contacts in this outreach – “present and potential customers, suppliers, team members, cross-divisional peers, direct reports, managers, other members of the organization, researchers and thought leaders.” Demonstrate your “willingness to learn,” “humility” and “desire to serve” by asking your questions sincerely.
- “Learn” – Salespeople who go out of their way to be proactive learners will gain a valuable competitive advantage.
- “Follow up” – Like everyone else, salespeople must constantly ask others for essential follow-up. Without it, people can’t improve.
- “Grow” – In sales, growth means personal and professional development as a routine activity. Just as good health depends on regular exercise, salespeople must regularly expand their capabilities and expertise.
Heed these universal truths for salespeople and their organizations:
- “Hi-tech/no-touch doesn’t work” – Customers are loyal to salespeople, not their products. Client interactions need to be personal, not remote.
- “Functional first” – Your success in sales depends first on your mastery of basic sales functions and then of attendant skills and competencies
- “Choose empathy” – Sales is no longer the traditional “us versus them” paradigm. Empathize with your customers.
- “Make room for positive behaviors” – Replace bad habits with good ones.
- “Embrace the idea that “what got you here…will not get you there” – The talents and behaviors salespeople leveraged early in their careers may no longer apply. Salespeople must constantly upgrade their skills and strengthen their talents to stay current.
- “Narrow it down” – No one can do it all. Focus on even just one thing to improve.
- “Know your enemies” – Your hardest opponents are
- Time – everything takes longer than people anticipate
- Effort – everything turns out to be harder than it looks
- Failure to take ownership and perform maintenance. Once you achieve your goal, you must keep achieving it.
- Don’t compare yourself with others – You’re distinctive. Focus on yourself and how you can grow, not on how others behave.
- “Keep score” – “If you can measure it, you can change it.”
- “You go first” – Don’t wait for others to “mend their ways.” Ask, “What am I willing to change?” Once you learn the answer, don’t hesitate: Make your move.