The Seven Sins of Selling

There are certain sales behaviours that can actually damage the chances of success. Assertiveness is often interpreted by prospective purchasers as unwanted aggression. Persistence can translate into being annoying. Positive questions from the seller are usually received as rhetorical and manipulative. Focusing on features often triggers concerns with price or confirms that the seller is just not listening. The stark reality of selling is that pushing creates resistance, and assertiveness creates defensiveness. We all prefer to buy rather than being ‘sold’. Here are the seven pitfalls of B2B selling that should be avoided.

First Sin: ‘Selling is the transference of information’. Selling is actually building trust and transferring belief. Information can easily be sourced by customers without the assistance of a sales person who should actually serve to filter and distil the mass of available data down to what is relevant and benefits the client. Facts merely serve to support an emotional decision to buy from someone they like and trust. Emotion creates more influence than information.

Second Sin: ‘Talking is the best way to influence’. Only if your goal is to bore people into submission or negatively push them to your competitor. Words account for only 7% of received communication. People think at approximately 500 words per minute and you can only talk effectively at 125 per minute. You must engage the other person visually with positive and congruent body language or they will tune-out. Effective communication means asking insightful questions and actively listening to clarify your understanding and get to the deeper meaning. Listening rather than talking is actually the best way to influence.

Third Sin: ‘Features are benefits’. Not necessarily. Benefits must specifically solve acknowledged problems relating ultimately to time, money, comfort or risk. Prattling on with spurious features early in the sales process creates distracting noise and potential price concerns, preventing the buyer from focusing on the real value you offer in meeting their business needs.

Fourth Sin: ‘Objections are opportunities’. Not so. Objections actually reveal that the sales person has sought to close prematurely or that they do not fully understand the needs of the buyer. Objections are not buying signals nor are they opportunities to close. Yes, objections need to be overcome when raised but they are usually generated by amateurs. It is always better to avoid objections by first having them expressed by the client as problems before any attempt to close. Only seek commitment once you have complete understanding and the buyer’s readiness to purchase has been confirmed.

Fifth Sin: ‘The product is the product’. Not really. Selling the product, service or solution is the third and final sale in any engagement. The prospective client first needs to be sold on your worthiness (credibility) for investing their time and effort. The next thing they need to establish is trust in you and your organisation. Can they actually trust you with the information you are requesting and can they trust you to competently and ethically make recommendations in their best interests? If the first two sales are made, then selling the product, service or solution becomes very achievable once you align with their buying criteria and procurement process. The product is therefore problem resolution through the sales person. The buyer will engage effectively only once both credibility and trust have been established.

Sixth Sin: Skill and knowledge define value and success. Although these are important prerequisites, the real differentiator in the workplace and market is positive attitude and ability to influence. Knowledge and qualifications can easily create alienating arrogance and pride. People don’t care about what you know; they care about what you can do for them. This is why having a positive attitude and proven ability to deliver is crucial.

Seventh Sin: ‘Success is just a numbers game’. Work ethic is important and understanding the required activity levels for building and maintaining a sales funnel is essential. Yet the mediocre focus on being efficient in the least important activities. Be effective and avoid the busy fool syndrome. This means doing the right things, with the right people, at the right time. Yes, understand and honour the required activity levels for a healthy pipeline but progressing a prospect to becoming a customer is not about numbers; it is all about people, process and strategy.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: KungPaoCajun

Behind every great sales person is a surprised CEO

In my first sales job, at age 25, I was crap… for a little while until I became good, then great, then the most successful person the industry had ever seen. I sold to IBM at prices 70% higher than the incumbent competition and IBM remains a customer for my old employer 25 years later. My run-rate success took 120 days and within two yearsI won the biggest deal the company had ever done. When you consider my starting point, it is staggering. I had much working against me inside my head (just lost my business, mother just died, car stolen, dog run over, relationship breakdown and family imploding, combined with a negative attitude about my new career).

A colleague once joked to someone as I walked into the pub after work: “Here’s Tony; you run a warm bath and I’ll get the razor blades.” So how did I set sales records that were never broken and make President’s Club for BellSouth globally? The answer is that a small group of people believed in me and were willing to take a chance on me. They invested their credibility, time and emotional energy. Especially my first sales manager, Keith Sutton, who invested a whole day with me on the road every week without fail. He didn't rescue me or do my job by jumping in to make the sale. He let me fail, then he debriefed me, asking great questions, coaching and mentoring me. He also sat with us at one of the workstations rather than in an office. He did this so he could hear us on the phone and he would often walk over and offer to buy me a coffee where he would chat about my technique or choice of words and questions with a prospect. My sales manager was the biggest reason for my success.

The best CEOs understand that the value of a sales manager is defined by how many hours they invest with their people in the field and the time poured into coaching on opportunities, instilling strategy and disciplined execution. But sales management is typically the weak link in the revenue chain because they become bureaucrats, administrators and CRM jockeys who spend most of their time managing-up to bosses who destroy their productivity by endlessly asking about the forecast. Who contributed most to your success?… track them down and say ‘thank you’.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Flazingo Photos

5 Topics That Sellers Should Write About

Every real profession demands that its members read to remain relevant. Their members research topics including the latest trends, industry obligations, case studies and research findings. Those within their ranks who are respected most are the ones who develop insights, achieve the best results and publish their findings.

Don't claim to be a professional and then tell me you don't read... you're joking, right?

According to CEB research, 95% of buyers expect insight from the seller. Yet Forrester Research highlights that 85% of sellers fail to meet buyer expectations while CEB research found that 86% of sellers fail to differentiate in the mind of the buyer. We clearly have a problem but it can be solved when sales people embrace imperative to write within the guidelines of their company and with management and marketing serving as editors.

If you want to transform the way you sell, commit to reading and then writing. Don't just read about how to sell, also read about the issues that impact your clients. Researching and writing is the best possible sales training a person can have because it forces the individual to go deep and test assertions while creating their own authentic narrative.Here is why sales people need to write but...

Should sales people write or 'curate' content during office hours or selling time? ... No!

Sales people should instead invest 30 minutes a day in their own time, before or after work, for career development. They should also work closely with their marketing department and manager to ensure quality, leverage tools, and be aligned with corporate messaging and policies. There are two types of content publishing:

  1. Content curation. This is where you work with other people's content and publish Updates via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or other social platforms in which your clients and target market monitor and engage.
  2. Content Authoring. This is where you create your own blog posts or articles that demonstrates insight and value for your target market. It is also how you evidence your credentials and set the agenda with those whom you seek to engage.

Content publishing is important because 75% of buyers use social media to research sellers before engaging (Source: IDC) and 74% of buyers choose the seller who first provides insight and value (Source: Corporate Visions). It begs the question: What do people see when they find you online? Do they see a sales person's CV or do they see a warm professional person offering insight and value?

Go beyond the basics of personal branding to also attract and engage with content

Content Curation

'Content curation' is the process of working with other people's content where you add brief commentary and then share with your network. Your goal is follow those who are relevant for your target market and then become the 'forager for the tribe' as David Meerman-Scott says. Everyone is busy and you can provide value by being a content aggregator where your market can simply follow you to see content from dozens of sources they don't have time to research individually themselves.

Who are the journalists, bloggers, analysts and industry leaders that your market audience follows and respects? By attaching yourself to these personal brands you elevate your own, and by sharing their content with short additional insights and commentary you can create value for those who follow you. From this list, highlight the individuals with substantial following within your target market whose followers you would like to become your own. Who has substantial following within your target market?

The above format is my simple way of recording the details of those who can provide you with valuable content to then share with your network. Hootsuite or Buffer are excellent technologies for easily creating a scheduling content to be automatically published at the best times. 

5 Topics to Inspire Content Creation

We need to publish content write about what interests our audience instead of projecting our 'value proposition' or factoids about our company, product or service. Importantly, we must be clear about who we are targeting with our content and here are content categories that sales people and marketers can use to create blog articles to write that attract and engage clients.

  1. Your customer’s fears and concerns (competition, disruption, etc.). Without writing from a negative perspective: What are the risks that your customers face? What competitive risks that worry them? How are they being 'disrupted' by technology, changes in the economy or legislation, agile competitors, off-shoring, etc. These topics and more can be the subject of posts you write
  2. Insights from research data that impacts your customer’s world. Search and subscribe to analysts that comment of your customer's industry or the trends that impact them.
  3. Blind Case studies evidencing how things can be improved. Every sales person needs to be masterful at telling powerful true stories of how their customers solved problems, created business cases, managed change and delivered transformation. Even if the client won't do an official case study or testimonial, it can be written by the sales person and attributed along the lines of: One of my clients shared some insights with me recently concerning how they ....
  4. Objection neutralizers that positively position and set the agenda. As an example, I work with a client in the recruiting industry and a common objection is: 'I'm too busy meet but if you have a candidate then send me their CV'. I've coach recruitment sales people to write posts along the lines of: How 20 minutes saves 12 hours and dramatically reduces hiring risk. Skills, experience and qualifications are easy to screen but cultural fit is where the greatest risk resides in a hiring decision. List all of your common objections such as 'I'm too busy', 'We have an incumbent supplier', 'You're too expensive', etc and write about why that is the very reason they should meet you.
  5. Newsjacking topical events to create interest. When Harrison Ford crash-landed his plan on a Californian golf course, I had this post up within 90 minutes.

Trigger events are excellent opportunities for both content creation and initiating contact with potential buyers. What events provide potential opportunities to improve your own customer service, intercept competitor customers, or engage potential clients early in their buying process? In the mind of the buyer, trigger events create awareness of opportunity or need and can amplify perceptions of pain. These events can motivate people to take action to change the status quo? Trigger events can include changes in personnel, a major scandal, legislative changes, new compliance obligations, products going ‘end of support’, suppliers being acquired or dropping the ball, competitor staff leaving or retiring, new leaders coming into the organization. My worksheet below is ideal for identifying trigger events and establishing the best way to monitor.

Sales people should work with their marketing team to formulate strategy, select the right tools and secure the right levels of training and support to build their individual sales pipelines. Here are my tips for going beyond content curation (working with other people's content) and writing your own material that sets you apart as a sales person:

  1. Identify your audience and then write for the one person or role you are seeking to influence. This makes it targeted, personal and on point.
  2. Be clear in your own mind about why your message is important and what you want them to do about. But avoid any call to action that overtly seeks to sell or paints you as a salesperson.
  3. Create a catchy headline (think like a newspaper editor).
  4. Use an eye-catching picture that has an abstract relationship to your topic. Honor copyright by using 'common use license' images and attribute source, or use your own photos.
  5. Have an opening that hooks, a body that informs and a close that motivates or inspires. Deliver insight rather than mere information.
  6. Aim for 700 words and don't ramble. Longer is okay and some of my best posts with more than 220,000 reads have well over 1500 words.
  7. Create back-links to other content but never use click-bate to take people to another site where they have to complete forms or register to view content.
If you don't read, then you're not a professional. If you can't write, then you can't sell because you are incapable of building a strong personal brand online that shows insight and attracts clients.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Joe Flood Follow Writing = Breathing

The Test For Assessing Sales Aptitude

I’m giving you my sales aptitude test linked here absolutely free but I encourage you to first read this advice. I’ve been in professional selling for more than 3 decades and during that time I’ve been a sales rep, sales manager, sales director of public companies, and Managing Director of my own businesses and also for the Asia-Pacific region of global operations. I've written a best selling book on sales leadership and I teach sales master classes for the MBA program at the University of Technology Sydney.

You’d think I would be masterful at hiring the right sales people. But I have a confession to make – it’s incredibly difficult!

What defines the right sales person and how do you screen-out those who look good but can't deliver? Once you’ve got a short-list, how do you get past the masterful façade being projected? How do you differentiate the candidates and find those with the right attitude and values? I’ve written about the importance of cultural fit and how to best execute a job interview but for the employer or recruitment consultant, how do you uncover the truth about their capabilities, values, and weaknesses?

Without doubt, the biggest mistake a manager can make is to hire the wrong person. This is because it damages your own personal brand and wastes huge amounts of time and emotional energy in managing the person out. It also has devastating consequences on revenue and lost momentum. Finally, it can also damage corporate relationships in the market-place. Never hire the best of the bunch. Only hire the right person – the one you feel strongly will be successful in the role and fit within your team culture. Here is what I regard as the best process for hiring and also rules that should never be broken if you are committed to managing risk.

Go beyond the job description and qualifications. Forget generic job descriptions! Instead write an ad that talks about what the person is expected to do and how they will need to execute. Ask them to write a one-page letter, attaching their CV, highlighting why they are the ideal candidate to join your team. Don't accept something that merely plays back the advertisement and obviously reject those who do not have prerequisite qualifications and experience. Does their CV provide evidence of consistent high performance? Have they been with past employers for sustained periods of time? Do they possess the necessary qualifications and experience?

Progressive screening to qualify out. Now that you have an initial group of candidates who have the necessary qualifications and responded as requested; it’s all about a progressive qualification process to continually screen down to a short-list.

Can they write? If they could not write a good letter (structure, grammar and spelling) or failed to do basic research and adapt their pitch, then reject them immediately. The covering letter and CV should also have been tailored to show relevancy for the role. You don't want a generic sales person and neither do your prospects and customers. Seriously, this is important because if you hire someone with poor written communication skills, you will forever be editing or rewriting proposals or correspondence – you don't have time. Worse than this, they will submit losing proposals that miss the mark with prospects. In complex B2B selling, written skills are essential.

LinkedIn social proximity. LinkedIn is phenomenally powerful and it is likely that you know someone who knows someone who knows your candidate. Use your network to check the candidate out informally. Do it as an ‘off the record’ conversation, nothing official. Ensure the conversation is nuanced and that you pick-up the subtext of commentary about the individual. None of these conversations should be with a formal referee listed on the CV and certainly not with their current employer.

Psychometric Testing. The next step is to conduct psychometric testing (intelligence and operating style) and personality profiling (if not incorporated into previous). Here is something controversial: I don't hire amiable personalities for business development roles – they have no chance of executing concepts such as Challenger Selling. Anyone who has a personality that avoids conflict or tension will be high maintenance and struggle to execute – you will forever be pushing them. The HR department will not like this, nor will they be in favour of informal ‘social proximity’ conversations but you cannot afford to get the hiring decision wrong, and you must take all necessary steps remove risk from the hiring process.

Written Exercise. Can they write under pressure? Before you run your ad, take the time to create a realistic sales scenario with a two page brief supported by a subset of your marketing collateral. This should be tailored for the sales role (field sales versus inside sales versus pre-sales / solution architects). Only give the candidates 24 hours to respond. For a business development role, ask them to write a two page executive summary that would lead a formal proposal. You’re looking to see whether they can construct a relevant, concise, professional, logical, evidence-based letter that focuses on business value rather than features of your company or functions of your product, service or solution.

The Interview. This is where you are laser-focused to determine cultural fit. They have already demonstrated that they have the skills and qualifications to do the job but now it’s all about their values, work ethic, attitude and personality. Put them under pressure and ask them to provide real examples of how they’ve dealt with difficult situations. Ask them these kinds of questions: 

  • How do you define ‘strategic selling’ – what do you do that makes you ‘strategic’?
  • What was your biggest loss and what did you learn?
  • How do you qualify an opportunity?
  • What was your biggest win and how did you create value and manage risk?
  • What’s your approach for building pipeline and how do they leverage LinkedIn and other social platforms and tools for monitoring and research?
  • What are the professional development books you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Integrity trap. If the candidate comes from a competitor, ask them what they can bring to role beyond their skills and experience. Ask them what IP they possess that can help them accelerate their success. If they say anything other than their insights, domain expertise and relationships; don't hire them. Anyone who offer to bring a contact database, pipeline report, or any other private and confidential information belonging to your competitor will most likely do the same to you when they leave. Integrity is everything – yours and theirs. There are also obvious legal issues you could become embroiled in. Your personal and corporate reputation is everything so reject anyone who shows poor moral judgement.

Reference checking. Never delegate reference checking and never make it an afterthought. Always select the people you want to talk with rather than the ‘buddies’ listed as referees on the candidates CV. You know they will say nice things and report back to the candidate afterward. Instead select the most senior contact of a large deal they won, or a senior contact with their biggest channel partner. The hiring manager (the person who the candidate will directly report to) must do the reference checks personally, over a coffee if possible rather than a phone call.

Hiring the wrong person is the biggest mistake you can make. It will cause you enormous pain and damage your own career. When in doubt about a candidate, don’t hire them. Wait, be patient, get it right. If you use a recruitment consultant, make them earn their fee by ensuring they understand your culture and that they define value in fewer CVs rather than more CVs. Don’t let them bombard you with marginal candidates or send you anyone that is not both technically and culturally qualified. The very best recruitment consultants work with a ‘less is more’ ethos and invest the time with you to understand your culture.

I promised you a free Sales Aptitude Test for complex B2B selling and here it is... Click the image below.

I won't use your email address to market to you – no spam. The self-assessment takes approximately 50 minutes but there is no time limit. Upon completion, summary scores are provided for the following seven competencies in professional selling:

  1. Sales Process
  2. Communication
  3. Knowledge, Attitude and Skill
  4. Opening
  5. Closing
  6. Objections
  7. Opportunity Development

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Quinn Dombrowski - A bizarre job interview


"Confidence, the feeling you have just before ..."

It matters how we define words. This definition of confidence [the feeling you have just before you understand the situation] was instilled by my flying instructor and saved my life. Be positively paranoid: "Where will you land if you lose the engine?”, he would ask as he killed the throttle.

I was a pioneer in the ultralight movement and learned to fly in a single seat aircraft but when I bought an aerobatic biplane I thought I should get some formal training. I went solo in Cessna 152 in club record time (6.3 hours) because I could already fly. I crashed my biplane more than 27 years ago. The undercart was ripped away, the lower wing spars snapped, the engine mounts shattered; but it was a successful landing after an engine failure above the pine forest in the background. I'll write a detailed post about this incident later as it has many lessons for business and professional selling.

He taught me a little bit about the skill of flying and a huge amount about my attitude. I’ve carried these lessons into professional selling and business. I’m always ‘positively paranoid’ about what could go wrong in a sale. I’m not negative but I’m constantly thinking about things such as, ‘what happens if my key relationship leaves?’ or ‘what’s going on politically?’ or ‘what’s the competition up to in my account?’ or ‘what are their internal options?’ or ‘could their funding change?’ or ‘what could wrong with their process?’

The best sales professionals manage risk for themselves and their customers. Hope is not strategy. Planning, preparation and masterful execution are the hallmarks of a pro. Look at the top 3 deals in your forecast right now; do you really deserve to be confident? Don’t worry about things outside your control but what risks can you positively manage.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Bill Larkins