Sales Professional's Oath

The world is changing faster than ever and this is going to be the year of leadership… real leadership, naked, transparent, values-driven, human centred leadership. Technology will continue to accelerate at break-neck speed, the noise with increase by decibels, visual pollution online will swamp us. Distractions and gimmicks will abound. But here’s what won't change – the importance of quality relationships in doing quality business and making a difference. All business is done at the speed of trusted relationships.

The way we sell has always been more important that what we sell. This is the biggest differentiator in the world of B2B selling; and it’s what will set you apart in creating your success. Will 2015 be your break-out year as an entrepreneur, manager or leader? How will you leverage technology and social platforms to accelerate the time it takes to create trusted relationships?

Here’s a law of life: Things only change for the better when we do. Make this the year you embrace social and live the law of reciprocity. Whether you subscribe to the principles of sowing and reaping, or believe in karma, or the reality that we attract what we radiate, or the golden rule of do unto others; it all boils down to one thing – YOU need to be different.

We must be the person worthy of the success we seek! Personally commit to The Sales Professional’s Oath here by hitting the like button. Then cut-n-paste the following and adapt to be your own affirmation; print it and stick it up on the wall at you desk. Read it every day – make it part of who you are.

The Sales Professional’s Oath

  1. I am a loyal person of integrity and positive influence. I am values-driven and make a difference with a sense of purpose in all that I do. I lead by listening and serving others. I have an optimistic attitude and gossip has no place in my life. I do what is in the best interests of my client and my employer. I will do no harm – no lies, no half-truths, and no duplicity. I am transparent in my motives and values as I do what it takes to deliver for those I serve.
  2. I open powerfully by not talking about myself. I positively challenge the status quo and believe in the value I offer. I am a subject-matter expert and problem solver, always diagnosing fully before prescribing solutions. I know exactly what a well qualified potential employer or customer looks like and I seek strong cultural alignment in choosing those with whom I work.
  3. I always lead with ‘why?’ and I get to the point by starting at the end but with context before detail. I am concise yet connect emotion with logic and provide credible facts to support any assertion. I am masterful at telling relevant powerful true stories and only after the ‘why?’ is established, do I discuss the who, when, what and how. The last thing I discuss is my product, service or solution; or who we are and how we operate.
  4. I talk the language of leadership – positive outcomes and managing risk. I talk the language of business – delivering financial results and KPIs. I talk the language of legacy –sustained change that makes a difference in the lives of customers and staff. I am positive yet conservative and I possess gravitas in how I operate – energetic yet never in a rush.
  5. I treasure time and use it wisely, investing it rather than wasting it. I distinguish between the urgent and the important. I build quality relationships of trust, online and in the physical world. I research and prepare for meetings; especially with the insightful questions that I plan to ask.
  6. I am always early, have an agenda and am fully there for people when I am with them. I actively listen, take notes and follow-up in writing. I document and validate the customer’s critical events, dates, timing, approval and procurement before forecasting.
  7. I thoughtfully build my brand and network, embracing social platforms to be a positive contributor. I carefully choose those I follow and I happily promote others who I believe in. I share and collaborate well with others.
  8. I am the best employee my boss has in the team – positive, reliable, and professional. I make things happen and deliver results but I also care about people. I always deliver on every promise, big or small. I am rock-solid reliable. I keep our systems up-to-date and I provide accurate and timely data so those above me can make informed decisions.
  9. I am a life-long learner and I read a minimum of one hour every day from leaders online and one book a month to improve myself personally and professionally.
  10. I pursue meaning and purpose rather than entertainment and happiness. But I never take myself too seriously and I have a well-honed positive sense of humor.

Could this be the year for you where personal leadership and professionalism becomes the hallmark of execution, internally and with customers? Be the change that your world needs. Great execution is more important than strategy. How will you execute the plays this year? How will you eliminate distractions and make a difference? How will you transform the way you lead? Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership over three decades.

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: Rob Chandler

Abracadabra: 8 Epiphanies From 80 Posts

Here's a little list of light bulbs that went off in my head as I've gained my sea legs with the LinkedIn Publisher platform in the early days, endeavoring to leverage it in building a platform of my own, as Michael Hyatt would encourage. These truths still apply today:

  1. Reciprocity rules. I like, share and comment on others posts at a rate of 10 to 1. Why? Because I am curious and it pays to pay it forward. I do my best to take the time to personally like and comment anytime someone ever interacts with me in any way. I realize this is not scalable but it pays dividends accelerating the speed and quality of the platform I am building here as an author and speaker. It's manageable because I can batch process this returning to it in scheduled intervals.
  2. The network effects on LinkedIn are sensational and exponential compared with any other platform I've personally used, especially when one nails a great story line.
  3. It's possible to grow an entire social media footprint just by focusing on writing great content on LinkedIn. Making this the core of my strategy was risky but has paid off rapidly. Publisher has been the hub and the other networks like Google+ and Twitter are spokes playing key roles in the supporting cast. Twitter is the best amplification strategy, hundreds of retweets yield massive likes, comments and shares. I always thank people when they add commentary.
  4. The perfect length of a post is 1,600 words or approximately 7 minute read, data has been analyzed on this (some studies say 1,900). It's shocking how many professionals love long form content. A frequent response I get on the longest ones that I share is ironically, "Great concise read." Moral of the story: readers are leaders so there are some incredible readers out there and writers who will reply with incredibly profound comments. They even take the time to research the story and add incredible intrinsic value.
  5. Quality still trumps quantity: When I invest significant time on a weekend to craft just one post, I do notice that effort pays off dramatically. Super high quality content is given wings on LinkedIn. Variety is the spice of life so switch it up a great deal and experiment. As soon as you're sure you've cracked the content code, a post will fall flat. Formulaic posts can create consistency but there is little rhyme or reason beyond this maxim, "If it truly inspires you, your true audience will find you and be inspired." So write from the heart with passion about what you know!
  6. Don't be shy to contact powerful people you admire and engage in relevant and meaningful conversations. The time to start doing that is now, don't wait another minute. When you tweet at bestselling authors or thought leaders, they often will Tweet right back, impressively within minutes, even seconds. Yes, they're that good and always on. They practice what they preach: #socialselling
  7. Leadership seems to be at the core of a great deal of the problems in business right now, maybe even the world. My readers wish that more people in any position of power operated with greater integrity. It's been gratifying to evolve the content from a sales discussion to a greater leadership discussion and realize in many ways, it's one and the same.
  8. Remarkably, readers on LinkedIn seem to enjoy overwhelmingly positive, inspiring posts as opposed to conflict and controversy which is typically not what the internet is known for, particularly in social media. It's been my experience that dry B2B brochure-like content typically falls flat. Astonishingly, if you truly put yourself out there, almost no one hates on you (OK, maybe a couple). This too is remarkable when thousands of new people cruise past your profile to learn more about who is writing and many write in.
  9. BONUS, I had to add one more as a runner-up because I haven't seen many people mentioning this word lately but it's still a key arrow in your quiver. Mash-ups are here to stay. Comparing sales to Cricket or piloting an aircraft to being a brand ambassador, taking a bunch of wildly disparate elements and finding things in common while mashing them up, tends to create enormous hybrid synergy and remarkable, Power-of-Wow, Purple Cow content. Mash-ups are also a great way to source content from evergreen and recent topics. There are millions of human systems that one could draw inspiration from by comparing them to situations in business. There are unlimited lessons from history, art, music, philosophy, science, sports and especially walking in nature that apply to sales, marketing and leadership excellence. Perhaps that's why Steve Jobs loved to take meetings while he strolled...Cross train, get away from the computer (yes, your smartphone is a computer!), experience life and bring your own unique perspective back to the fray. Being uniquely you is the strongest card that you can play. Social media isn't going away anytime soon so you can make your mark and perhaps a little bit of magic by infusing insights from your life experience.

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: Eva Peris


The Tao of Jobs in Sales

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Is there still room to innovate in the world of sales? Emphatically, yes! Study the masters, the greats, study all styles and build your own. Realize buying habits have changed so study research from Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and make sure to factor in the real-time nature of the internet, as Andy Paul talks about in his books. The great salespeople I’ve managed and trained have had an inherent sense of curiosity, always questioning, always innovating, looking for new ways to blend the technology of sales: Old school meets new school. SPIN questioning is a technology, so is Challenging with new insight.

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Intuition is key in navigating deals of all sizes but especially in reading big complex deals with ultra long sales cycles. Many of you reading this have put in your 10,000 hours. My advice to you is simply, “trust your gut.” Sometimes you get split seconds to make a call, the Gladwellian thin-slice, nanoseconds to read people and pressure to react. Great managers empower their people, they train them through role play and ride alongs to hit their marks. There’s a temptation to play a character, to 'fake it until you make it' but ultimately, being yourself which requires that you muster courage and confidence, is going to trump everything else. Even a seller leveraging weaker tactics who believes in herself will outsell any contrived facade masking insecurity. 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice and 7% is the actual words spoken so the nonverbal cues will be huge for you. Be comfortable in your own skin. Develop this. Seek to enjoy the selling process. To do this, simply move from interesting to interested, wholeheartedly hang on your customer's every word. It’s about them!

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

There’s something to be said for customer experience design, the design of a CRM, your Salesforce Automation, your enablement programs, your pitch and the insights themselves. It’s all a grand design, think hard on it. Measure twice, cut once. Coming from a design perspective is actually a unique way to look at it. “And one more thing…” Jobs was a master of suspense and showmanship in his legendary keynotes.

“Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?”

Salespeople will like this. It’s definitely a field that requires pirates and ninjas level freedom of improvisation and creativity. Ultimately your gauge of success will be revenue and customer satisfaction/retention so it will be up to you to structure your day, week month and quarter to optimize the ultimate outcome. Perhaps the greatest form of rebellion is pushing yourself to total mastery of the art and science of sales which is a triumph over self. This requires extraordinary levels of patience. I’m not suggesting you fly the Jolly Roger from your computer but thinking differently is the Jobsian hallmark. There’s no one right way to success! Approach the playing field with out-of-the-box ideas and a lion share of intensity coupled with fresh energy. Never to be discounted, there are many lessons to be learned from military strategy also.

“.. almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Passion dictates performance. Find your niche, do what you love. If you figure that out, you’ll never work another day of your life. Jobs figured this secret to life and business success out early on. Fall in love with helping customers solve problems. Fall in love with serving and helping others, the time will fly!

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Setting expectations is key, always level set with customers. That being said, anytime you exceed expectations, you’ll blow their minds. Do you know how rare it is to receive a handwritten note these days? How about the Dale Carnegie simple strategy of just remembering someone's birthday. Dale kept it on notecards, you get notifications every day from social networks directly to your inbox; there’s simply no excuse. Customize, tailor and research for your presentations. Make agendas thoughtful. Be strategic. Take time to learn about clients before you meet with them. Winging it is the opposite of a quality experience. You are the face of your brand and the company. Going the extra mile is actually about little personal touches in this digital, always-on era. Excellence is in the execution.

“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

There’s an optimism conveyed in this quote. Know that you can sell, believing wholeheartedly in your product and the company you represent. Join a company that is growing where the energy you contribute can have a synergistic effect: 1 + 1 = 5. From acorns, oaks.

“To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.”

Discipline meets disciplines, we wear multiple hats as entrepreneurial sellers. We must stay laser focused on the daily activities that drive outcomes that we can influence. The therapist, the doctor, the technician, the customer service rep, the personal trainer. The analogies are endless. It’s a long game and you will gain the greatest payout sticking it out more than 18 months in one role. Outlive the enterprise sales cycle and set your sights on a bright horizon, knowing you can get there with consistent inspired effort each and every day. A positive attitude is your edge. It’s how Jobs continuously silenced critics and skeptics, creating something out of nothing, even releasing a phone when so many in the industry panned his breakthrough idea as "already done," predicting failure.

“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

When you think about confusing sales processes or a hodgepodge of CRM data you get a sense for a need of design inspired thinking. With the customer defining the new funnel, designing a set of procedures to reflect this and allow reps to be nimble is critical. Customers being 57% through the decision making process, creates a bizarre asymmetry. Engaging upstream with critical insight requires designing a new sales process for your organization, getting closer to the buyer. "53 percent of B2B customer loyalty is a product of how you sell, not what you sell," according to CEB research.

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.”

This quote has profound implications on sales. It may be the most relevant one when you talk about B2B complex selling in enterprise environments. Nine times out of ten, a customer will surface a symptom they believe is the problem. It’s up to us as sellers to peel the onion and to do much of this in advance. We can collect enough data during due diligence to provide an informed diagnosis, refine that diagnosis and work collaboratively on a prescription. We can come to the table with a rock solid value hypothesis and work to prove this out together qualitatively and quantitatively (Jeff Thull). Clients don’t always know what they want, what's wrong or what a solution could look like. They're often enamored with the status quo or a shiny object that they think will solve it. They've often been misdiagnosed and are drilling off into infinity compounding the problems. Executives do understand their core business drivers but sometimes they’re so close to it, they're blinded by familiarity. Moving off the solution to focus on their pain is a Mahan Khalsa principle that is an ingenious perspective on this. Fixing a set of symptoms is just a band-aid approach. Bring your subject matter expertise to the table to close this gap in understanding and help point customers in the right direction of incremental progress.

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

Iterate quickly, take 100% responsibility for your mistakes. Own them to your manager, to your customer and to the executive team. If you operate with good intentions and integrity as your compass, you’ll inspire confidence and become a trusted advisor.

“The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.”

This is the Jobsian distillation of management science at its finest. Hire rockstars or train them to be so (take responsibility for grooming them) and then get out of their way, remove obstacles and push them out of the nest so they can fly. Watch the magic then unfold when you empower and enable gifted sellers. Drive comes from within in so unlocking this in people creates star performers who take pride in their work and self manage to an extent. I like this quote because it highlights the simplicity of the viewpoint of building a team of talented people and getting out of their way. Jobs lead by example and created a world class culture of innovation. He demanded this by the example he set. He brought in people he felt were even stronger and more talented than he was like Jony Ive, to expand his ability to put a “ding” in the universe. Despite foibles, he did not act alone even though catching heat as a misperceived solo flyer.

“I think we're having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we're always trying to do better.”

Spirit of play, élan vital, esprit de corps, there are so many ways to express this concept. Put into practice: have a blast, work hard and play hard. A sense of joy in what you’re doing is contagious with customers. In fact, "fun" unto itself can create customers even entire markets.

“I want to put a ding in the universe.”

I love this quote. You’d think setting huge goals would be demotivating. The old adage, "reach for the stars and you just might hit a mountain," is more realistic. I actually find I’m even more motivated when I think bigger. Set achievable goals but also put forward stretch goals to anchor your progress.

“So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.”

This quote is about handling rejection graciously and persistence. Jobs didn’t take no for an answer. He was hell bent on selling his vision. The sales will come, you have a good product, just know that it takes consistency and persistence over time.

“Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.”

Brazen, yes I know but Jobs was always willing to stir the pot. I really just think it shows the faith, tenacity, and unerring vision in the company he’s building. The takeaway here is to have an unwavering belief in what you’re selling.

“It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them - not something they'd want now.”

Challenger selling vs. relationship selling. You can give clients exactly the product they’re looking for and risk being commoditized out. Or, you can diagnose the larger complex problem which is typically comprised of many facets and build out a suite of solutions that even see around corners. This will protect your margins and buffer you from competitors nipping at your heels.

“Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Steve Jobs was a game changer and polarizing force but he changed the world as we know it, millions would agree. His technologies live in our homes and most of our pockets. Market share? He created and won by literally creating new markets. Sales and product teams can unite with those in marketing and design. Getting the silos out of the organization and making sure to have meetings of cross-functional teams is critical to stay ahead of the breakneck pace of technology acceleration. Product can inform Marketing, can inform selling. Front line sellers are closest to the customer after all and can bring incredible insight back to the product team from the field. Sellers run the gamut in unique ability and life experience. I’ve found many that are extremely talented in another area like music, swing dancing, language learning, philosophy, Sudoku or Jai alai. Through his "reality distortion" field and Jedi Mind Trick intent, Steve Jobs was able to push through the barrier of skepticism and actually change the world. There is a great amount of resistance to change. We need to puncture through this wall with our advocates in the buying organization to foster true disruptive innovation from within, especially when we vault like David vs. Goliath against megalithic incumbents.

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: MIKI Yoshihito

A Job Interview Is Not About You

Selling yourself is always the most important phase of a sale because people are only interested in what you have to offer once they trust you. It’s not easy – it’s a cynical world, that’s why you need an impeccable social presence, especially on LinkedIn, with a profile that attracts people to you. Avoid the ‘quota crusher’ persona and instead show yourself as a domain expert with strong values who is well networked. Also, have a CV that is well honed and tailored for the role you're seeking. LinkedIn does not replace a resume.

But before you can sell someone’s product, service or solution; you’ve got to secure employment with them. Selling yourself is everything at the job interview and there is a key rule to follow if you are to succeed. It will seem counter-intuitive but here it is: It’s not about you – it’s about them! That’s strange, you’re thinking, they’ve asked me in for an interview and they’re asking questions about me – of course it’s about me! They want to compare me with others. No, they want to know what you can do for them compared with what others can do for them. There is a very important distinction – what can you do for them? Not, tell us everything about you. Avoid the temptation to waffle-on about yourself… can you hear the snoring? Instead, show insight in your understanding of what they need from you and how you can deliver for them.

Think about what’s going on in the mind of the potential employer. After all, that’s what masterful selling and negotiating is all about – obsessing about what’s happening in their world. Employers hire someone because they have a problem or an opportunity but they worry about hiring the wrong person. This is because it’s one of the most costly mistakes they can make. It’s expensive in terms of money, time, market momentum, credibility and emotional energy. Recruitment fees are significant but lost time and effort is much more costly. They also worry about the risk to their business and reputation if they entrust their brand to someone who fails to deliver or damages relationships through incompetence or unethical behavior. The best recruitment consultants focus on cultural fit as the number one key criteria once they have a short-list of candidates.

Employers always have a range of candidates that appear to be equally qualified but skills alone are not what make a sales employee successful. Qualifications and skills are prerequisite rather than differentiators. What the employer cares about most is the person’s ability to influence and deliver results while also being a good cultural fit within their team. There are myriad qualified and knowledgeable employees that don’t get promoted because of poor attitude. The sad thing is that they often never know the real reasons they were passed-over for promotion.

No-one really cares about what you know or your qualifications. They care primarily about themselves and what you can do for them. All employers, consciously or not, seek the three Cs in hiring someone: Competence, Commitment, Character or Cultural fit.

If you’re older, then you need to show that you’re energetic, healthy and technology-savvy. If you’re younger, you need to overcome the stereotype of being a casual, impatient, itinerant, ‘click and flick’ technology distracted, unwilling to diligently serve and prove yourself before being rewarded with promotion. Your LinkedIn profile and online social presence therefore needs to break the stereotypes and address any concerns before you can make it to the interview stage. Remember, a LinkedIn profile or CV will be used to screen you out of their process if not crafted masterfully.

Success is a 50:50 proposition in that both you and your employer are needed in the equation. Do your research online and within your network to assess whether your potential employer is Competent, Committed, and of good Character or Culture. The issue of alignment is not a sales ploy, it is genuinely important and goes both ways. You need to know your boss is committed to your success and able to deliver.

In addition to the three Cs, you need them to discuss the three Ps. You should evaluate the potential for success within their organization based upon their response to the following topics: People, Proposition and Patch. Your employer has an obligation to provide an environment within which you can be successful. This means they need to have people you are proud to work with (competent, committed and of good character), and a value proposition that is strongly differentiated in the market; and a territory (patch) that is viable with an achievable target. During the interview process, you should gently and humbly explore all of these things.

You should also gain an understanding of their expectations for the role and the process for selecting and then hiring the successful candidate. Here is a phrase that could transform any job interview if delivered well.

‘I think the most expensive mistake you can is to hire the wrong person in this kind of role. But equally for me I can’t afford to accept a role with the wrong employer. Rather than sell to each other I would like to understand whether this is a good fit for both of us. Like you, I’ve done my homework for today so may I also ask some questions I think only you can answer?’

Adjust the phrasing to suit your own style but the important thing is to establish genuine empathy for their difficult task of evaluating candidates for the role and assessing cultural fit.

Experienced managers however often regard the interview persona as a façade. They can be cynical so be prepared for what they may ask and be ready with your own insightful questions. If you are asked direct questions, then provide candid direct responses. Never avoid answering a question.

Remember, you wouldn't be at the interview if they did not already believe you to be qualified and experienced. They are fishing to see whether you are a cultural fit and ‘the real deal’. Provide examples of situations you’ve navigated to convey the strength of your suitability.

Here is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle, where Joshua Peters is being interviewed for a sales role slightly beyond his qualifications:

Joshua sat with Janet Reynolds in the CEL boardroom. She possessed a disarming manner that masked a laser-like ability to get to the truth. She had granted him an interview because she liked his direct approach and evidence-based validation of performance and capability. It didn’t take long for Janet to get down to business.

“On paper, you don’t make the grade for this job but you sold me on giving you an interview. Tell me, why should I take the risk of hiring you?”

Joshua looked her in the eye. “I know that hiring the wrong person for this role is the most expensive mistake you can make. It will cost you time, energy and revenue. Worse than that, it could damage your reputation and brand. Equally for me, I can’t afford to take a job with the wrong employer. I’m looking for a long-term successful career move. Rather than sit here and sell to you, I’d like to explore whether there is genuinely a good fit for us to work together. Is that an approach that works for you?”

“Sure, but you haven’t answered my question.”

“You see me as a risk because I don’t have specific industry experience or a CV that shows stability and long term performance. Are these your main concerns?”

Janet didn’t like losing control of the conversation. “Let’s come back to all that later. You’re right in saying the biggest mistake I can make as a manager is hiring the wrong person, but what’s the biggest mistake most sales people make?”

Joshua paused before answering. “The two big mistakes are pursuing business that cannot be won and selling to people who cannot buy.”

“So how do you avoid wasting time and resources?”

“I qualify properly. I then invest with people at the right levels to set an agenda that creates value and an advantage.”

Janet was skeptical but Joshua leaned forward. “Janet, I know this all sounds cliché but I’ve done my research. CEL is who I want to work for. I’ve done more than visit your website, LinkedIn profile and read analyst commentary. I’ve met with some of your customers. I believe I can learn from you in selling real solutions to serious business problems for large organizations.”

“That’s all very well, but how does this overcome your lack of experience in our industry?”

“All risk comes from not knowing what we don’t know. In the case of hiring me for this role, the issues are whether I’m competent, will I be committed and am I a cultural fit. Employers usually hire based on skills yet have to fire based on poor fit or performance. I would like you to get to the truth of who I am and what I offer by talking with the most qualified people.”

Janet said nothing.

“I know that what I’m about to suggest may seem unconventional but I would like you to meet with the CEO of my biggest and most recent customer, and also with my current boss. I know that references are usually used to validate the decision at the end of the process but in my case I would like the reference phase to occur early. Is that something you would be willing to do?”

Janet sat back and a wry smile appeared as she spoke. “I’m intrigued as to why your current boss would be willing to act a reference. Is he trying to manage you out?”

“Actually, it’s the opposite. He wants me to take a promotion to sales management but maybe that’s the first question you should ask him when you meet.”

There was a period of silence before Janet finally spoke. “Let’s come back to that at the end of this meeting. Right now I would like to focus on your approach to selling. Do you regard yourself as transactional or are you strategic in how you sell?”

Janet had unwittingly but instinctively set the scene for Joshua to talk about RSVP. “Both are important and require good relationships and effective tactics but it’s also essential to offer unique value and have complete understanding of their buying process. Relationships need to be managed strategically which means positioning early, starting at the top, understanding the power-base within the organization and then aligning with winning agendas. But more than that, I know we have to become part of a compelling business case.”

Joshua continued, focusing on strategy and changing the rules on competitors. The conversation demonstrated real substance in Joshua’s knowledge and maturity. Janet was impressed with what she heard and progressively became more open. Joshua knew he needed to sell through asking questions and, more importantly, he needed to understand Janet’s process for evaluating and hiring the successful candidate. He changed the direction of the conversation.

“Janet, what happened here at CEL to create the opening for this role?”

“To be candid, we hired the wrong person, they didn’t perform. It was as you described – they appeared to be qualified for the role but they were not a good fit.”

Joshua already knew this from meeting with one of their sales people. He was glad she had answered honestly. Janet had passed the first test and he seized the opportunity to begin to understand her selection criteria.

“What will make the right person successful in this role? What defines a good fit?”

Their meeting lasted ninety minutes and Janet agreed to speak with Michael Blunt and David Thomas as the next step. Joshua would brief both men concerning what he needed them to cover in their conversations with Janet. His adaptation of Damien’s interview phrases had worked. At the next interview Joshua would do a lot more of the questioning and move on from the three Cs to the three Ps. He would focus on how CEL uniquely created value for customers and also the caliber and style of the People with whom he would be working. Lastly he would discuss his territory – Patch – to ensure he had a viable market within which to operate.

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: tec_estromberg

"Boulder Management" by Sisyphus

Let's just assume Sisyphus finally summits to the mountaintop and rests the boulder in place. Rest assured, he'd have an instant business management bestseller on his hands that every MBA would be required to read forevermore. Implementing the below methods and drawing inspiration from these books will certainly help you breathe a sigh of relief as you right the ship and navigate it through a frenetic 2015 sales management maelstrom.

For those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to a career in sales, we’re all too familiar with Sisyphus, the Greek Myth of the man pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity only to have it fall back down upon him, time and time again. So much of what we've traditionally done to succeed has been mind numbing repetition but all that is changing thanks to things like automation, social selling, trigger events and new ways of connecting with target prospects.

Perhaps you've felt like Sisyphus in a deal. It’s even a trendy tech word "Sisyphean" which is often interchanged with Herculean, although these dimensions are highly juxtaposed when it comes to the concept of conquering a massive challenge or reaching a "wildly important goal." This post is all about the WIGs, so that I'll get right into that in a moment.

Luckily, the challenges of professional selling are not insurmountable but if you do not heed the following advice, you too may find yourself banished to a seeming eternity of rock pushing if not enjoying selling much less. In sales, we thrive on the challenge of battling time and exceeding our number. We thrive in going up against the incumbent, our competitors and the two horsemen of time and the status quo. Whether your boulder is conquering your personal best, renewing a key account with ACV growth or disrupting legacy dinosaur business models, the following ideas could help you prevent it from falling back down on you, even lighten the load:

I read the book Four Disciplines of Execution recently and was struck by its deconstruction of lead measures versus lagging measures which drew a parallel in my mind to Jason Jordan's bestselling management book, a modern classic. It was very interesting to witness Sean Covey focusing on WIGs or "wildly important goals." I’ve written about the rocks and the sand, my 80/20 inspiration for daily time management and extensively about Cracking the Sales Management Code, which espouses leading indicator driven KPI management in prior posts, so I think these points are worth underscoring in recommending this superb, foundational work.

Both books got me thinking about the meta concepts of Leading versus Lagging Indicators and their corollary Leading & Lagging Measures. It's an important question to relentlessly ask ourselves? Which actions am I taking that are driving results?

How can we tangibly effect change on our external environment, increase our pipeline, impact the current sales cycles we’re in and accelerate our progress as professional sellers? One major way is to focus on leverage. The levers that push that proverbial boulder up the hill. They are most certainly leading measure activities in contrast to the static lagging measures that "follow," levers to hurtle the metaphorical missiles of enterprise tactics from your trebuchet of strategy over the parapets into the stronghold of Castle Status Quo. I think I just hit the TILT switch on metaphor usage.

Ironically, revenue itself is a lagging indicator and cannot be managed in a CRM. Management can bark at pretty dashboards projected at a wall and send consternation down the command chain but this typically just creates an end-of-quarter fire drill and is much ado to no avail in helping your team qualify their deals more stringently, make that 5th to 12th contact (where 80% of sales actually close) or engineer a competitive strategy to close the deal more efficiently and effectively.

Things like reporting, endless meetings and constant revenue check-ins coupled with unrealistic goal setting and vanity metrics really don’t move the lever toward the Wildly Important Goal. This is a big goal each one of us sets that harnesses our inner drive. The 4DX book makes many recommendations but one I appreciate is weekly WIG sessions between managers and direct reports to recalibrate, checking in on the progress of the goals set the week before. There's a new science of change management in play here that is worth studying and applying to bring your organization to a new level. Rather than review the entire book which is a jewel in the crown of Franklin Covey’s flagship global training, I thought I’d simply hone in on a few key concepts.

As a supplemental side note, Mahan Khalsa who's trained sales squadrons at blue chips, the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and Accenture is also doing brilliant things over at Franklin Covey and wrote Let’s Get Real or Let's Not Play which is another sensational treatise centered on authentic "get real" sales processes to grow revenues. It features amazingly useful and thought-provoking flowcharts throughout that I recommend to help sustainably grow revenues in 2015. Key takeaways for your team:

  • Surface new business opportunities in a holistic way that all parties can be invested in
  • Build a conversation structure that gets to the bottom of the true client needs and fosters a trusted advisor relationship
  • Ask the hard questions is a finesse way, then practicing active listening
  • Increase propensity of deal closure by building mindshare and openness
  • "Move off the solution to diagnose before you prescribe," see Mahan's brilliant YouTube video below:

What are the actions that you can control in your day to move the needle as a front line sales manager or sales executive? Step one, take a look at environs you can play in where contact rates are the highest. What activities can you execute each day to engage most effectively? Hint: that’s rarely still email or a telephone (under 5% engagement rates). I’ve tested my ability to contact senior executives in companies and granted, this is the software and technology sphere, but Twitter can often garner a refreshingly rapid response and effectively personalized, Group-driven or InMail-driven digital outreach can yield incredible results i.e. higher conversion rates to appointments set. Another leading measure can even be the research phase itself. Rather than rattling away endless calls to Executive Assistants, performing due diligence to get smart about segmenting and targeting a healthy base of the key clients based on trigger events, goes a long way. This helps you avoid the "busy fool syndrome" I've talked about and is one of Konrath's Paradoxes: "slowing down to speed up."

When asked about how to measure the success of social selling and get to ROI by Gerhard Gschwandtner in a recent Selling Power interview, Jamie Shanksresponded, "There are a couple of leading indicators you should be looking at. One of them is the size and the effectiveness of your LinkedIn Network and it's called your social reach...And 'How is my voice growing over time?" Linked & Twitter are providing you these baseline metrics...Those are leading indicators. The lagging indicators are the opportunities and the revenue you are driving. And if you’re not driving that money, then you need to look back at your leading indicators and say, ‘what am I not doing? Are people listening? Is my social reach terrible because my network is small? Whatever that is." I would add that generating super high quality influencer content via LinkedIn Publisher will be a new lead measure activity this year as sales people become micro-marketers.

If your goal is to close 5MM in new revenue this year, you'd better have a realistic concept of where those sales cycles began last year to land some of those in the first and second quarter. Otherwise, have the courage to level set with management and your CEO that these will most likely stack up in Q3/Q4 because you'd rather do it right and nurture the account rather than destroy the natural order of paradise by being pushy or rushing. Real-time selling is real but it's no longer a sales cycle, it's a buying cycle so customers are leading the dance.

Relentlessly focus on strategy in qualifying the exact companies you will seek to penetrate based on trigger events, the strongest of which are stakeholders who were just promoted or transitioned to new companies. Keep this list a short list and go deep to the target rather than widening the approach. (Mike Weinberg) If your company has sold to these executives before and they’ve moved into a new world they are already champions of your disruptive solution paradigm, so getting back in touch with them via a referral / warm introduction can help you to gain ground in the new account.

Static and active is another sound way to look at KPIs from this vantage point. Bernard Marr wrote the book on KPIs as a mechanism for accurate business forecasts so peruse his prescient corpus at this link. Jason Jordan found that only 17% of sales metrics captured are activities that contribute to a sale! Jason and Michelle Vazzana unpacked 306 metrics, breaking them into 3 buckets: sales activities (17%), sales objectives (59%) and business results (24%). The first are highly manageable, the second directly influenceable and the third are not manageable but relate back to sales objectives. “Activities can be managed – outcomes cannot."

If I could only obtain 6 metrics (in addition to deal value) from a CRM, and assuming the data is accurate, here are my choices:

  1. Qualified pipeline as percentage of quota/target
  2. Opportunities by deal stage
  3. Opportunity qualification scores (with snapshot versions)
  4. Deals stuck at stage beyond defined period
  5. Meetings that progress the sale (with call plan in the CRM)
  6. Opportunities with close plans (versioned and in the CRM)

What would your six key metrics be to drive the team and ensure they are building pipeline and progressing the best opportunities effectively?

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: AK Rockefeller

The Seven Reasons Selling Is Not A Profession

I’ve been in professional selling most of my life and it’s been very good to me. Notice I use the phrase, ‘professional selling’ rather than ‘the sales profession’. In all of my writings you’ll see that I maintain this distinction and I do so very deliberately due to a deeply held conviction – there’s a problem in selling, we’re not actually a profession and we desperately need to be. It’s okay, I’m ready for the rocks – throw at will.

I think professor Neil Rackham understands this and has been working behind the scenes for many years with universities to make selling a post-graduate qualification. Mike Kunkle commented shortly after posting this that about 80 of the 4,000 universities in the United States offer a dedicated sales curriculum. The mission of the Sales Education Foundation is to change that, and elevate the sales profession through university education. Thanks Mike and also for your work with Neil Rackham in this regard!

Robert Kelly from The Sales Management Association also does great work in lifting professional selling. There are other associations and publications that also make huge contributions including Jonathan Farrington with Top Sales World and Gerhard Gschwandtner with Selling Power. In LinkedIn there are many groups that foster conversations, debate and information sharing including the ‘Professional Selling’ group moderated by John Smibert. All of this is valuable but it doesn’t make selling a profession by any reasonable test.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know that many sales people are professionals in every sense of the word, both with formal (university and post-graduate) qualifications and in how they operate. Some in selling have a university bachelor of psychology or business, possibly an MBA or even a masters, but almost none have a qualification in sales. But universities don't offer qualifications in sales, you’re thinking… exactly – that’s my point. Here’s the big test: If you asked people randomly if they regarded selling as a profession, you wouldn't get a resounding, ‘yes.’

Yet sales people earn as much or more than all other professions. Although selling is conducted professionally by many, these are the reasons why it’s not really a profession:

  1. The vast majority of sales roles do not require a university degree. This is especially true in B2C but in the world of B2B, degree qualifications held by sellers are rarely directly relevant to the activity of professional selling.
  2. Very few sales roles require a license to practice which can be revoked. The financial services industry is one exception and licensing was introduced due to severe moral lapses within the industry post-GFC.
  3. There is no peak standards body. Unlike most professions, there are very few associations that represent the professional members. The Sales Management Association (SMA) being an exception but where is the association for sales professionals (individual contributors as opposed to managers) with a creed and code of conduct?
  4. A sales person does not lose their job for malpractice. Most sales people are adept at blaming others when a customer is lost. Uncompetitive pricing, a desperate competitor, bad luck – I’ve heard it all. A surgeon does not blame his client if he leaves an instrument inside the patient.
  5. Sales people regularly prescribe ‘solutions’ without proper diagnosis. Imagine if doctors prescribed without thorough diagnosis, yet many sellers push their ‘solutions’ as a cure-all remedy.
  6. Failure to take notes and keep accurate records. It staggers me how often I see sales people sitting in meetings failing to take notes and record actions; then fail to update the CRM when they get back to the office.
  7. Sending substandard proposals that do not accurately reflect the requirements and needs of the buyer. A real professional listens, understands and validates before sending a proposal or contract. They also ensure the document is not generic and does not have errors in it.

Think about all the recognized professions out there: accountants, managers, marketers, architects, engineers, lawyers, judges, doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, pilots, and teachers. My wife is a qualified teacher and is now doing post-graduate studies with a college to become a counsellor. As I write this, we are in Vietnam on vacation and we met a lady from South Africa who is also doing the exact same program with the same college in Sydney but via their distance learning program – it’s a small world. Sales people can easily earn double the income of a teacher or counsellor, yet the teaching and counselling professions require years of study and substantial cost just to earn the right to practice. But not selling; in many cases you just need the ‘gift of the gab’ and the right personality to plough through rejection and you’re away.

Many trades are professions because the tradespeople have to do apprenticeships, pass tests and secure licenses that can be revoked. These include builders, electricians and crane drivers. The military adopts a hybrid model of professional qualifications (academic and ‘trade’) but every member of their team is thoroughly qualified for their role and is a professional in every sense of the term.

And we wonder why selling is often not respected – right up there with politics and prostitution.

What are the drivers for making a vocation into a profession, in the fullest sense of the term? Here is the surprising answer… When the public needs to be protected from poor practitioners. When I walk onto an aircraft, I don't want the pilot to be in command because he talked his way into the command seat. I want to know that he is qualified and experienced; and more than that, I want to know that he is regularly certified and tested. All of our lives depend on his competence and leadership. Review the list of professions in the above two paragraphs; any dodgy operator can cause significant damage to lives. This is why the financial services industry was forced to regulate their sales people – their advice can cause severe financial loss and the public needs protection from amateurs and unethical operators.

Can sales people cause significant damage by recommending products, services or solutions that are not fit for purpose or in the best interests of the client? Absolutely yes! This test alone justifies the need for professional selling to become a university degree qualification with individual industries also having regular certification testing and code of conduct. The good news is that there are approximately 100 universities around the world now offering sales qualifications. Take the time to follow Professor Neil Rackham as he is leading the way. Selling is a demanding field because you need the listening and questioning skills of a counsellor and psychologist, the diagnostic capabilities of a doctor, the financial abilities of an accountant, the analytical skills of an MBA, the solutioning capabilities of an architect and engineer, the leadership qualities of a pilot, the strategic thinking of a general, the ability to market and teach (The Challenger Sale), and the ability to communicate like Bill Clinton. No wonder employers are willing to pay so much to those who can execute.

[Since this original post: Jason Jordan wrote to me adding another important prerequisite for something being a profession: a profession needs to have specializations. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, and other 'professions' all have sub-specialties where they focus and hone their talents. For sales, there needs to be an acknowledgement that there are different types of sellers -- inside salespeople, key account managers, territory salespeople, and other specialties that have unique skill sets. AND it's okay to remain in one role for an entire career. Inside sales doesn't have to be a career path to outside sales... Different skill sets, different professional paths. Jason also contributes to the Sales Education Foundation along with Professor Neil Rackham.]

We in selling deserve to be a profession and recognized as such! The public needs protection from the worst of us and we deserve the respect earned by the best of us. Let’s lift the bar. Here is my checklist for sales professionals. How do you rate yourself?

  1. Dress: Professional and conservative (minimal jewellery and perfume).
  2. Manner: Friendly, positive, polite, accurate and thoughtful.
  3. Business cards: Always have with you and treat with respect.
  4. Empowered: Use the language of leadership, delivering outcomes and managing risk.
  5. Appointments: Arrive five minutes early and have an agenda. Talk only one-third of the time and ask insightful questions. Always take notes and agree to follow-up actions for progression. Anchor every meeting with follow-up correspondence.
  6. Pen and notebook: Always have with you and take notes (think Moleskine but yes, you can use a tablet)
  7. Accountable: Deliver on every [small] commitment.
  8. LinkedIn profile: Professional picture and state your value, not just your history.
  9. Voicemail: Professional greeting that confirms it’s actually you. Return all calls and respond to all messages.
  10. E-mail: Relevant subject heading. Don’t copy people unnecessarily. Proofread before sending. Signature with complete contact details on all e-mails.
  11. Proposals: Structured, concise, tailored and relevant. State what you want them to do and why it’s important. Proofread for grammar and spelling.
  12. Presentations: Avoid PowerPoint hell (endless slides about you). Make it all about them (relevance and their benefits).

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: Lauren Nelson

Why Men Are Great Listeners – Gender Matters

Men are brilliant listeners – if they think there is the slightest chance of money or sex at the end of the conversation. Seriously, gender differences are real and the greatest disservice done to the advancement of women during the women’s liberation movement was the notion that men and women are the same. Women and men are of equal value but there are real variances beyond the obvious physical characteristics – the brains of men and women are radically different and so is their brain chemistry. Diversity in any team is essential for success – cultural, personality and gender. The strengths of both women and men should be harnessed by valuing difference when building balanced teams; this is how to avoid blind-spots and ensure we relate to everyone on the other side when we sell or negotiate.

Self-management is essential for success, and communication skills are the foundation on which influence is built. Whether you’re in sales, support, service, management or leadership; understanding yourself and others is prerequisite in any leadership role. Here are some interesting facts about gender difference, and then some recommendations for both men and women in the workplace. None of this is politically correct, but maybe I can get away with these comments in the USA because I’m from Australia.

Firstly, men have larger brains than women but size plays no role in human intelligence. This is despite some men proclaiming that a bigger head and brain makes them smarter. A women once said to me in a course I was running: “It just shows that men have thick skulls or fat heads – either way it obviously makes it more difficult for them to hear.” There was lots of laughter in the room, especially from me.

Male and female brains are physiologically different, evidenced by the fact that the female brain has 40% more connectivity between the hemispheres (corpus callosum). In computer speak, this faster bus speed between the two CPUs helps account for the way the female brain can multi-task so well. Another important factor influencing gender difference in communication is that the centers for key brain functions occur in different regions within women and men. These diagrams below are simplistic but paint the picture.

Note that the adult male brain is less connected for words with emotion. Note that the adult female brain has words being generated in multiple areas on both sides of the brain, and that words are well connected with emotion. On average in a day, a women speaks almost three times more than a man, but the volume of words does not necessarily equate to more effective communication.

In addition to ‘brain wiring’, gender chemicals also play a significant role in how men and women think and act. Testosterone, for example, produces competitiveness and aggression, while oestrogen and progesterone create feelings of well-being and calm. Testosterone levels are up to 20 times higher in men than in women. Testosterone is literally a mind-altering anabolic steroid, creating competitive aggression. The male brain is wired for focus and men generally possess the following comparative traits:

  • Stronger spatial ability (map reading, mazes, etc.)
  • Poorer peripheral vision than women
  • Less receptive to non-verbal communication
  • Independent, self-reliant, competitive and focused
  • Focused on things and theories
  • Seek power and dominance
  • Less equipped to explore and express feelings

Doctors Anne Moir and David Jessel were pioneers in the field of gender brain science and documented ground breaking research in their book, BrainSex. Much has been been built on their work over the years and here is some of their commentary on men. In most of the key senses, he hears and feels less. He is more single-minded because his brain is more compartmentalized. He does not notice distractions (page 101). By contrast the bias of the adult male brain expresses itself in high motivation, competition, single-mindedness, risk-taking, aggression, preoccupation with dominance, hierarchy, and the politics of power, the constant measurement and comparison of success itself (page 159).

The female brain has significantly greater connectivity across the two hemispheres to support ‘multi-processing’ of the higher order functions. Women typically possess:

  • Stronger verbal ability
  • Superior peripheral vision (literally more connector rods in their eyes)
  • See, hear and feel (tactile sensitivity) more than men
  • Greater sensitivity to non-verbal cues
  • Better memory for faces
  • Natural desire to focus on people and relationships (socially interdependent)
  • Stronger natural awareness of ethics

Here is some of the BrainSex commentary on men by Doctors Anne Moir and David Jessel. [Female] superiority, in so many of the senses, can be clinically measured… it is what accounts for women’s almost supernatural ‘intuition’. Women are simply better equipped to notice things to which men are comparatively blind and deaf (page 19). [A woman] sees more, and remembers, in detail, more of what she sees… she is better at imparting, and receiving, the social cues of body language… she has a better memory for faces and characters. She understands, better than a man, what a person means, even if that person is apparently saying nothing. That’s because her brain is specialized for this very function… the right hemisphere of her brain that controls the emotions is better connected to the left side of the brain that controls verbal expression than it is in men. The intuitive, if you like, is more in touch with the communicative skills (page100).

So imagine if you could create a hybrid male/female brain… Angelina Jolie meets Sylvester Stallone… scrub that thought, too disturbing. It’s impossible anyway because the female chemicals of oestrogen and progesterone combat and largely neutralise testosterone. But you can assemble teams with balance and finesse. Every corporate board, every leadership team, every sales organization should be comprised of men and women. The very best leaders value and harness difference in the pursuit of common goals through cohesive values.

Here are my suggestions for any man in business if he wants to overcome weaknesses naturally inherent in their brain wiring and brain chemistry:

  • Seek to develop awareness of non-verbal communication cues
  • Recognize and value the differences and strengths that women bring to any business situation
  • Learn to communicate your feelings as well as your thoughts
  • Develop relationships in the workplace of genuine friendship, and without any ulterior motives

And here are my suggestions for any women in business who also seeks to excel in the world of business, politics or community service.

  • Provide context before detail
  • Start at the end, lead with ‘why it’s important’
  • Be focused and outcomes driven
  • Prioritize issues and actions
  • Dress for business and do not distract with jewellery, cleavage or hem-line
  • Consider lowering tone of voice (if necessary)

For women, it’s about how you lead, not about how you look. By all means use your femininity but never allow sexuality to be a factor… you’re better than that. One of the best sales managers I reported to in the early years of my sales career was a woman. She was very tough, more so than any man I’ve worked for, but genuinely cared about everyone in her team. She didn't accept crap from anyone – her employees, her boss or her peers. She was strong and confident and I once witnessed a senior executive from one of our resellers make an inappropriate comment to her. It was misogynist bullying but she didn't take the bait. I asked her about it afterward and she smiled as she said, “Women should never lower themselves to the standards of men.” Touché.

If you’re engaged in M&A due diligence or a negotiation or a sales presentation; always have a balanced team on your side. Women naturally read what’s really going on between the lines, between the glances, and the body language; far better than men. Women are better naturally wired for morality and communication. In this regard, the best leader for the job is probably a woman, but only if she is qualified, goal-driven and focused.

Before I share the last interesting fact, I will tell you another story. I once asked a friend of mine how he and his wife were going. He answered with: “Don't know. I haven’t spoken to her for 3 days.” I was concerned: “Did you have a bad argument – is your marriage okay?” He responded laconically: “Everything is fine – I just didn't want to interrupt.” The story is not true but the fact is that on average women speak 20,000 words a day and men only 7,000. They talk things through and listening is a skill we all (male and female) need to develop in our personal lives, business and professional selling – practice active listening in everything you do by taking a genuine interest in others.

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:

Photo by: Craig Sunter


My Plane Crash and Lessons For Leadership

I was a pioneer in the ultralight movement in Australia and owned a small aerobatic biplane. My passion for flying was tempered with a healthy respect for the dangers of aviation and I knew that deaths in sport aircraft were mostly attributed to ‘pilot error’ or the lack of correct ‘owner maintenance’. Usually a polite way of explaining inexperience, over-confidence or shoddy modifications leading to catastrophe.

On the day of my crash I was part of a group of 5 aircraft travelling cross-country to a fly-in, cruising at 2000 feet above a huge plantation pine forest. I was at the rear and slightly above the others. Everything was normal – then it happened. The engine screamed to maximum revs and the needle on the tachometer swung wildly beyond the red-line. I immediately urged the nose down to maintain airspeed while reducing the throttle. The engine idled and I slowly reintroduced power but it raced away again with little throttle input. The propeller was simply free-wheeling in the air-stream and it was obvious that something in the drive system had failed.

The twisting narrow dirt roads below were tell-tales that the terrain was treacherous but in the distance ahead, the forest ended and semi-cleared scrub took over. A little further to the left of the shortest route out of the forest was a cleared semi-rural area that looked viable. I should be able to make it to the clearing, but if I can’t I’ll adjust my glide-path to the right and land in the scrub, I thought.

My father’s words echoed in my head: “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.” Don’t try to save the plane; stay calm and you’ll live, I thought. For a brief moment I toyed with the idea of deploying the ballistic parachute which was connected to the aircraft in the event of structural failure. But the vision of an uncontrolled spiral decent into a pine forest, with the aerodynamics of the wings fighting the parachute, had no appeal. I killed the engine, switched-off the electrics, tightened my seat belt, fastened the chinstrap under my helmet and offered a distracted prayer while I focused on managing the glide. No radio and no-one noticed by forced descent – I was on my own.

My plane had a 16’ wingspan and was a home-built, flown under Australian Air Navigation Orders (ANOs) for ‘ultralight’ sport aviation. We were largely self-regulated and the rules stated that we were always to stay out of controlled air space and below 500 feet. But height is safety – it buys you time if there is an engine problem. This is why I was cruising at 2,000 feet but well below the 10,000 feet controlled airspace above.

I had lost about 500 feet since the drive system failure and was heading for the clearing just beyond the edge of the forest. Keep it flying, maintain airspeed, don’t stall, stay focused, relax. All I could hear was the haunting sound of wind whistling through the rigging wires but I was steadfastly calm. I had made dozens of practice forced landings in previous ultralight aircraft and on two occasions had real emergencies during take-off. On both occasions I had managed to walk away and I believed I could do it again – if I maintained control.

Now at 1000 feet, I was feeling decidedly nervous about my ability to make it to the clearing on my current glide path. At 500 feet it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make it. I made the decision to abort the clearing and moved the stick to the right and headed for the nearest exit point from the forest where there was a small dam in semi-cleared scrub. The tops of the pine trees were looming and on my current glide slope I was going to be 70 feet short of escaping the forest, but I still had good airspeed. I focused on the tip of the trees 50 feet in from the boundary where I would begin to wash-off air-speed before finally escaping the forest. At least, that was the plan.

I was now down to 100 feet above the tree-tops and 150 feet short of the last of the pine trees. I had 55 knots and I eased the stick back, decreasing my rate of decent, but now sacrificing airspeed. Stall was always preceded by sluggish controls and would occur at 32 knots; the point at which the wings failed to produce adequate lift. I knew that stall-induced spins were always fatal close to the ground.

My air-speed was down to 40 knots and I was holding a reasonable sink-rate with 25 feet to go. The controls were beginning to feel mushy; 35 knots! I pushed forward on the stick to improve airspeed and in doing so gently brushed the tip of the last pine tree. Airspeed – I must get more airspeed! I only had 60 feet of height with a small dam in front of me and light bush beyond. I pushed the stick forward and dived for the dam to create more airspeed and lift – pull back!

The relative silence of flight was shattered. My tail wheel snapped off with the impact of my heavy three-point landing and the suspension was hammered. After careering only fifteen feet, my main wheels dropped into a deep bulldozer rut that had been formed during dam construction and the whole under-cart was torn away. The fuselage skidded forward on its belly and lower wings. The propeller and right engine bearer snapped causing the engine to collapse, destroying the firewall which partially lodged against my right leg. The journey was abruptly halted when the lower left wing collided into a hidden tree stump. The wing-spar was snapped close to the fuselage and my landing had come to an abrupt end only forty feet beyond the dam. The picture in this post is the actual crash site.

The silence was eerie but I could hear my heart pounding with adrenalin. I wondered if I was okay and wiggled my toes, successfully confirming that I had feeling. The splintered fire-wall and engine however was pressing against my right ankle. I tried to bend my knees but my lower right leg was jammed. I removed my helmet and dropped it to the ground. I noticed helmet paint on the instrument panel and could smell fuel. Petrol vapour is explosive and I focused on how to extricate myself but removing my right leg seemed to require the agility of a contortionist. I twisted and leveraged myself out leaving my shoe behind. The fuel tank had not ruptured but the feed line had been split, fortunately not dripping onto the exhaust. There was very little fuel due to the fact that I had has closed the tank valve in the air.

As I looked back at the pine forest from in front of the aircraft, I remember feeling euphoric. Great landing – I’m alive and uninjured, I thought. I then walked toward the forest and stood on the dam, surveying my makeshift runway. It was not a pretty sight, seeing the wrecked plane from behind. Five feet either side of my chosen path were enormous half-buried trees covered by light re-growth, making them invisible. I surely would have shattered my legs if I had impacted any of these head on. This was the era before mobile phones, and I walked for about forty minutes to a remote farm-house to be greeted with suspicion before being allowed to use the phone to call for assistance.

I’ve come to understand that the outcomes we experience in life are largely determined by the way we think, feel and act. Bad luck is often not that at all. Every profession has an ethos, a code, and tried and true set of beliefs and values that drive it forward. There is no better example of continuous improvement and leadership excellence than aviation. Airbus, Qantas and QF32 are great examples with Captain Richard de Crespigny and the flight crew of QF32 embodying the very best of leadership design and behaviour.

In my own time as a private pilot, there were truisms I embraced: All the runway behind you is of no use at all (always take the time to taxi all the way to the end to provide as much runway in front of you as possible. If you have an engine problem, you’ll be able to abort or land more safely). You only have too much fuel on board if you’re on fire (always have maximum reserves in case you get lost, the head-wind is stronger than anticipated or the weather turns bad and you have to find an alternate field).

I attribute my survival to a number of things; one of them being a definition of success for forced landings that my father taught me: “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”

There was another definition that also helped save my life, imparted by my flying school instructor. Just before I went solo he asked me: “What’s the definition of confidence?”

I thought for a few moments and gave him what I believed was a good answer: “When skill and experience come together.”

He shook his head. “No. Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.” He went on to say that almost every recreational pilot who crashes, does so because they were over-confident and too casual with their pre-flight and weather checks. “Never over-rate your ability and never take anything for granted – dirty fuel, an insect in a pitot tube, anything.”

I chose to own that definition of confidence for flying and business – it has saved my life and won many deals. It has helped keep me safe and successful because I constantly think about what could go wrong and I seek to be vigilant and prepared. I regard confidence as the paradise of fools.

My father first taught me to fly and beyond attitude and definitions, he emphasized the necessity for both knowledge and experience. He educated me about engine failures by encouraging me to experience them in controlled circumstances. I had glided my plane all the way onto the runway many times. Practice, experience, correct thinking, and a positive attitude, all played a role in my successful landing. The way we feel about ourselves and our purpose in life largely determines how we respond to opportunity and adversity. We need to be positively expectant, yet our confidence can be misplaced. Years later I reflected on what I had learned from flying, and how my flying instructor’s definition could apply to business and all aspects of life.

In truth, my aerial mishap was no accident – it was 100% my fault. Months earlier I had broken a propeller on a heavy landing that I mismanaged. I replaced the propeller but did not pay attention to the drive-system. A hairline fracture had been created in a $2 bolt and it was only a matter of time before it failed – I should have replaced it. Sound familiar? Just like Air Crash Investigations, catastrophe is often the cumulative effect of small problems or innocuous cascading events. Here are the five lessons for leadership that flying has taught me:

  • Pay attention to the detail – it’s where the devil lives. Strategy and planning means nothing without great execution.
  • Be positively paranoid, always think about what could go wrong and be prepared for every contingency.
  • Always consider the unintended consequences of an action or event; think things through.
  • Remain calm, think clearly, and maintain situation awareness when things go wrong. Leadership demands clarity.
  • Stay on task, filter the noise and don't let distractions take you away from what’s important.

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:

Maing Image Photo by: Tony J. Hughes' crashed Cessna

Syllabus for Sales Mastery

Books are a uniquely portable magic ~ Stephen King

The average CXO reads over 50 books per year while the average reader digests around 6.

Success leaves clues. If you have a long commute or flight to visit clients in the field, turn off the music, video games and talk radio and transform the car, train or plane into a mobile classroom. In the spaces between each frenetic day, you are given the golden opportunity to develop subject matter expertise by which you can draw unique compelling business insights to share with your dream clients. I believe the secret to career success in any field in 2015 will rest squarely upon a solid foundation of reading and writing prolifically. Sales is often called an "art meets science" because it is based on the empirical frameworks of strategy, communication, persuasion and value. One of the most common questions I get in response to my writings and when I speak and consult is,

Tony, what are the most cutting edge, advanced and sophisticated books you suggest reading in order to master strategic selling methodologies and frameworks that drive world class revenue results?

In addition to 10,000 hours in the field, these are some of the literary gems that formed the cornerstone of my thinking in devising my RSVPselling meta-framework that I've utilized over my three decade career, recently to help close a $100MM deal.

Corporate Solution Selling

SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
Scientific study of sales and excellent tactical sales methodologies, still the bible on questions and active listening

People do not buy from salespeople because they understand their products but because they felt the salesperson understood their problems. - Neil Rackham

Power Base Selling by Jim Holden
Business sales strategy

Strategic Selling by Miller & Heiman
Complex sales planning

The New Solution Selling by Keith M. Eades
Strategic solution selling

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon & Brent Adamson
Sales and marketing [finally] come together for effective strategic demand generation

The world of solution selling is almost definitionally about a disruptive sale. It’s not that you’re asking customers to buy your product and put it up on the shelf with all of the other products they’ve bought. Rather, you’re asking customers to change their behavior—to stop acting in one way and starting acting in another. - Matthew Dixon

Business Leadership

Good to Great by Jim Collins
Business and personal leadership taken to Level 5

The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
Principles of business success

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Success in business and life

Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey
Sustainable success and self management

Built to Last by James C. Collins
Business leadership

Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one. - James C. Collins

Making The Difference by Pat Dixon
Women and men in the workplace

The Emotionally Intelligent Manager by David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey
Making emotions work successfully in business


Brainsex by Anne Moir & David Jessel
Gender difference from extensive scientific study

Personality Plus by Florence Littauer
Personality understanding and interaction – Christian aspects

New Business Development

New Sales. Simplified. by Mike Weinberg
Timeless principles for action based new business development

The best intentions, target account lists, and powerful sales weapons are useless if we never launch the attack. - Mike Weinberg

Proactive Sales Management

Cracking the Sales Management Code by Jason Jordan & Michelle Vazzana
Revolutionary methods for leading KPI driven management

Crisp Sales Objectives are the difference between a chaotic selling effort and a precision selling effort. - Jason Jordan


Influence: Science & Practice by Robert B. Cialdini
The fundamentals of what drives human behavior and exchange

Trigger Events

Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers by Craig Elias & Tibor Shanto
Introduces the concept of Won Sales Analysis vs. Loss and highlights the three types of trigger events including which are most powerful to spot and leverage to rapidly open and accelerate deals

Consultative Sales

Mastering the Complex Sales by Jeff Thull
Diagnostic business development, forming a value hypothesis and proving out value clarity

Execution & Time Management

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey & Chris McChesney
One of the few books written on execution and WIGs (achieving your wildly important goals!)

The kind of scoreboard that will drive the highest levels of engagement with your team will be one that is designed solely for (and often by) the players. This players’ scoreboard is quite different from the complex coach’s scoreboard that leaders love to create. It must be simple, so simple that members of the team can determine instantly if they are winning or losing. Why does this matter? If the scoreboard isn’t clear, the game you want people to play will be abandoned in the whirlwind of other activities. And if your team doesn’t know whether or not they are winning the game, they are probably on their way to losing. - Chris McChesney

Readers are leaders and sales is yet to be a recognized profession, seldom taught in school. Get a mentor who gets results, embrace a consistent, simple sales process, remember "you play like you practice" and apprentice under someone you admire who admires you in return. As traditional enterprise field selling is supplanted by self-service, automation, new inside paradigms and customers are closing in on 90% of the way through the purchasing journey, I believe that knowledge will still be the ultimate power to future-proof you for a budding career in strategic sales.

For should it come to pass that our ranks are reduced by 75%, the remaining 25%, to quote a friend 'will not only be in great demand, but be filthy rich due to our abilities.' - Renbor

In your opinion, what are the books and resources that are timeless that can make or break a career, quota and calling in sales? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. For my vision on how these all fit together, please also check out this post on the Evolution of Selling and this more in depth article on Solution Selling vs. Challenger Selling. In closing,

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Da Vinci

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: Eirik Stavelin


      How To Hire Sales People. Sales Aptitude Test

      At the end of this I’m going to gift you my sales aptitude test, absolutely free. For the last four years it’s only been available to those who purchased my book but I’m on a mission to give much of my IP away and live the law of reciprocity. I’ve been in professional selling for 30 years. 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 global operations in Asia-Pacific. I've written a bestseller on selling and taught it for a university and run dozens of courses. You’d think I would be masterful at hiring the right sales people. But I have a confession to make; it’s incredibly difficult to hire great sales people and I’m probably no better than the majority of others leaders seeking to build effective teams to drive revenue.

      What defines the right sales person and how do you screen-out the dross? Once you’ve got a short-list, how do you get past the masterful façade being projected? How do you differentiate the candidates? I’ve written about the importance ofcultural fit and how to best execute a job interview but for the employer or recruitment consultant, how do you get the truth about the real person, their capabilities, their values, and their defects?

      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?
      • 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.

      Again, 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 consultancy, 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. The password is RSVPYES. You’ll need to register on my website so that your results can be saved and you can take the test as many times as you like. I won't use your details to market to you – no spam, no newsletter, no contact. The self-assessment takes approximately 50 minutes but there is no time limit and it can be completed in multiple sittings. Upon completion, summary scores are provided for the following seven competencies in professional selling:

      - Sales Process
      - Communication
      - Knowledge, Attitude and Skill
      - Opening
      - Closing
      - Objections
      - 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: Sam Churchill

      Leadership Secrets From The Inside

      Leadership is mercurial stuff – it’s very hard to put your finger on. Most of us think we know what good leadership looks like but the reality is that we struggle to appropriate it for ourselves. That’s because knowing the principles of leadership is very different from being the person needed to change our world. The human condition is a complex thing but here’s what we know for sure about great leaders – success is an inside job. To lead we must do so from the inside-out. Forget personas, we must be the real deal.

      Poor leadership abounds and worse still, toxic leadership is often veiled in a cloak of transient success, sporting metaphors and bravado. Performance cultures where politics fester in every corner are common-place. Corporate bullies and psychopaths are all too common. Flame-thrower style management for short-term financial KPI achievement all to the detriment of sustained success. ‘Shareholder value’ touted as a euphemism for executive stock plan optimization. Lord Of The Flies meets Wall Street… it’s no way to live.

      Real leadership, on the other hand, is precious because it’s rare. There are many in leadership positions but only a few are great. Most live lives of discomfort when it comes to leading, wondering when the day will come that they will be found-out. I have a confession to make; I’m one of them. I’ve been leading teams and companies for decades and I’m not a natural leader; it’s been hard yards, working on myself – building from the inside-out. What is leadership and how do we become one worth following?

      Here is a great truth – leadership is an inside job. But within all of us is a labyrinth of complexity and we are the way we are for reasons we never fully understand. The first step on the road to success is to heed the advice of an ancient Greek aphorism: ‘Know thyself’. Here are my thoughts on the factors that contribute to the complexity of leadership and success.

      First of all, we inherit our intelligence, personality and family of origin. None of us were able to choose our parents or genes – these are the cards we are dealt. But intelligence and personality can be enhanced and altered if we choose to do so. Any weaknesses in all three of these foundational elements must be managed as we strive to be the best possible person we are capable of becoming.

      Upon the foundation of genetic IQ and personality our attitudes, beliefs and values build us into who we are. By the age of seven, our personality and values are largely formed and these are influenced heavily by our upbringing and environment (family and society). The Catholic Order of Jesuits is attributed with the saying: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man". There is much truth in this assertion but we are not robots, nor mere animals. We are uniquely endowed with the ability to laugh and cry, to dream and create, to choose appalling evil or breathtaking beauty, to plumb the depths of hell or reach for the stars. The hope for us all is that we can break the shackles of our past and redefine our futures.

      Attitudes, beliefs and values can therefore be rejected, adjusted or chosen. It is natural to question and challenge all three, especially as we grow through adolescence. My father was a committed atheist and I had no religious brainwashing as child at all; yet I chose faith as a teenager and I remain a believer today. Others are raised in loving religious homes and reject the values inculcated during their upbringing. Free will and free-thinking are what make us truly human.

      But all of this is below the surface – not visible to an observer. For most, it is the unseen baggage being carried while running the race of life. We are rarely held back by external factors, it is instead our inability to let go of limiting beliefs and behaviors that stymies us. Consider the illustration below as we now discuss the factors above the line.

      Here is the reality and the problem that most of us face in life. We can only have the outcomes, results and wealth we desire if we consistently and masterfully execute the right inputs, actions and behaviors. To have we must first do; but to do effectively we must be the person worthy of the success we seek. All of the factors ‘below the line’ in the illustration either enable or sabotage our efforts.

      The biggest mistake people make is seeking to manage by results rather than inputs. Jason Jordan taught me that you cannot manage revenue and he instead illuminates the path of focusing on activities that achieve objectives, that in turn create results. The only thing we truly have control of is our behaviour and actions to execute the inputs that create success. We cannot manage outcomes, results and prosperity or wealth; we can only have them as goals. We should relentlessly focus on what we do and being the person capable of executing masterfully.

      It’s not enough to project a persona, we need to actually be the authentic person worth following. Anthony Howard is a business mentor and he taught me that there is no such thing as authentic leaders, just authentic people in leadership roles. He coined the term ‘human-centered leadership’ and he is worth following. The very best motivation for leadership comes from changing the lives of people by believing in them. Service of a noble cause for the benefit of people (customers and staff) is what drives the very best leaders.

      So as you consider what really drives you and what baggage you need to let go of to be truly successful, here is my list of ten elements for success.

      1. IQ and EQ. Intelligence and self-awareness are both essential. One without the other is not enough. Read and be committed to life-long learning. Become an expert. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
      2. Mission and purpose. In professional selling I teach people to lead with 'why?'… it is equally important for leadership. Your why, and the why of your organization must be meaningful. Money, trinkets, and status are not enough.
      3. Passion and belief. Our why is what needs to drive us but we also need to be true believers in our cause and those with whom we work. The power of believing in another person is never to be under-estimated.
      4. Values and culture. The culture of an organization is the behaviour of the leaders, plain and simple. Are you values worth following and to they drive the right behavior? Culture is the signature of the leader.
      5. People and relationships. Nothing great can be achieved without the support of a team. Relationships with the right people are everything in any endeavor – people of integrity and genuine power.
      6. Numbers and discipline. Never neglect profit or cash-flow. Holding people to account is essential for any leader, yet proactively manage the right numbers – the KPIs which create ultimate results.
      7. Results and managing risk. This is language of leadership – delivering outcomes and navigating the challenges. Stay focused on the prize and be positively paranoid about what could blind-side you.
      8. Activity and attitude. Work-ethic is essential for success. Work hard and smart but realize that attitude is the biggest differentiator.
      9. Gravitas and humility. This may seem paradoxical but the combination is compelling. Powerful people listen much and talk little.
      10. Legacy and philanthropy. We all want to make a lasting difference and the very best leaders care about doing something worthwhile and improving the lives of others, especially those denied the opportunities afforded to the privileged.

      Do the difficult work on the inside in addressing all of these issues. Read, dream, and challenge your own assumptions about yourself. None of us lives long enough to learn all the necessary lessons from our own mistakes. It is therefore important to learn from others. Jim Collins’ book, Good To Great, remains a seminal work. There are many others and we must carefully choose who we follow. Who are they in your life? Here is another related article I wrote concerning what I've learned about personal leadership.

      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: MilitaryHealth


          Overcoming Rejection

          "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt

          Sales is a journey of failing forward, even at the most highly compensated levels. You need to make rejection a game and if you're mistreated, kill them with kindness. People having a bad day may take it out on you but it's never personal. Your attitude is one of the few things that you can control. As Jack Canfield puts it: "New responses create new outcomes."

          One of the great challenges in a people-oriented profession is cultivating your love of people. When you interact with so many, you'll often experience the best and worst side of human nature. Seek to love them anyway, always seek to transform their business wholeheartedly. As a sales thought leader recently commented on my post: "Fall in love with your customers." Strong words, I know. It's because it's all about orienting your mind to the positive experiences you're having throughout your selling day.

          The human memory is problematic in that what we tend to dwell-on and remember is predominantly trauma and bad luck; things with high emotional resonance. We all have war stories from the field about when everything went wrong. The time we flew to the client and they canceled last minute, we got sick or had a flat tire, or the slide projector melted down and sparked. Maybe the time we hit the send button too early. Ironically, much of humor and the joy of life owes itself to our negative experiences, the backdrop of pain in contrast to joy in the foreground. The opposite of pleasure is not pain, it's actually ennui. So a big part of this post is a call to align your professional purpose to your aspirations and goal setting in sales.

          It's a self discipline to focus on the good. I promote that sales people start writing on LinkedIn Publisher and even that's an experience where your writing and viewpoints can be picked apart, dissected, disagreed with and occasionally subject to being trounced. I say this because it's a brave new world of self expression as we become micro-marketers who are sharpening our pen, experimenting with SME content and putting ourselves out there. But keep in mind that for years, you've been sharing your vision and value propositions directly with clients, writing reams of insightful emails, holding discovery calls and leaving thoughtful messages. All you're doing here is transitioning these enablement initiatives to a public forum. Yes, that is daunting! The payoff is so worth it because you can concretely move from servicing demand to creating it.

          You may be thinking, how can I develop a thicker skin? We weren't all born at 11, Type A and immune. When management places you under severe revenue pressure, when a key sale in your pipeline goes to a competitor, when a customer doesn't like us and randomly complains or an outcome is suboptimal; my philosophy is that as long as you gave it your all with integrity as you strived for excellence in execution, you can feel good about yourself and your effort. Sleep well knowing that often, it's not you.

          "Without courage all other virtues lose their meaning," is how Churchill explained this phenomenon of the valiant living of life to the fullest in all seasons. Maya Angelou explored the concept with: "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage." And Mandela, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

          I chose the proud brave lion, king of the jungle as the photo for this post and also because of all the controversy in the LinkedIn-osphere lately around whether one should be a LinkedIn Open Networker. Love them or hate them, LIONs are a courageous bunch of trailblazers who have been putting themselves out there unabashedly for years in this forum, which I do respect. I have noticed a sea change from five years ago when executives would respond to an invite with "I only connect with people that I know" to the current state of LinkedIn where by dint of my writings, I pull in dozens of new connections every week. It will be interesting to see where these "open profile" trends take us this year and if some new acronym emerges like LAMA - LinkedIn Ambient Marketing Activator. I digress...

          Courageousness and overcoming rejection are what being a successful seller is all about. Top sellers develop the strategic chuckle. This comes under the heading of Guy Kawasaki's "art of beguiling." They shrug it off with a wry smile because they're amused inwardly. They respond to harshness with self-deprecating wit and humble acceptance. Like water off a duck, the vibe they put out is that simple.

          It's been said and studied that people buy on emotion and justify with pure logic but it's critical not to allow your passion to override your good sense. Being overly sensitive to friction and noise from the buyer or buying organization can become a severe impediment to positive momentum. There's no room for luggage on the sales superhighway so leave it at the door. If you are fully there and concentrating on them, your problems fall away and you will not accumulate psychological debris or jet-lag from the journey.

          Ultimately, in strategic selling you're helping an organization change from the status quo. Change management is very painful so anticipate growing pains. There can often be political machinations and infighting rippling under the surface of the red taped glassy lake that is corporate bureaucracy. Sometimes people in the buying organization feel that they've been shown to be wrong or they've been exposed for a mistake in choosing a specific solution provider. Honestly, executives are frequently trying to cover their own back and not get fired. Many say that the role of procurement is simply to 'prevent a mistake'.

          Can you be a loving, caring and empathetic person and still embody theChallenger persona that hiring managers seek? Yes, you can. Because challenging convention and teaching with new insight does not require any erosion of respect and integrity. Harness your inner confidence. Be certain in your solution and intent on helping and serving the customer and you won't go wrong. Even if you slightly miss the mark, that intention shines through. We all know the sellers who sell for monetary gain alone and their tenure is predestined to be short-lived. When you run into noxious or vexatious executives who treat you poorly or their subordinates, take the high road and set the tone of leadership. Integrity in the face of cruelty dissolves it like the sunlight. I would term this as strategic good karma. I read an article once about social aikido in which we're encouraged to harness any available energies and leverage them as a force for good in human interactions to stay Switzerland, above the fray. This supplies a novel definition of "empowerment" in sales strategy as, "drawing from all available power."

          No one makes ten calls and closes ten sales. If you close three perhaps you are a hero. Though why not set a more realistic expectation? Enjoy peeling the onion, actively listening and collaboratively solving complex problems. Why not be amused by irritable people who are black clouds in the workplace? Chuckle inwardly at the circus of it all and feel grateful that's not you. If it is you, make the change right now. Take pride in uncovering the true problems lurking beneath the perceived symptoms that everyone is fussing about. Remember the thrilled customer who left you a wonderful testimonial or LinkedIn recommendation. Repeat that in your head as the mantra a hundred times a day. Do it for her! Don't sweat the small stuff or the small minded: we truly must not 'major in the minors'.

          In new business development especially, if you're doing it right, you'll almost certainly turn up the volume to such a degree where you get a couple of complaints. An experienced manager will understand this and give you leeway, as long as you're carrying yourself with decorum. You can't just not prospect in order to avoid the inevitable bumping into of misanthropes that hate their job and are ecstatic to recoil and spit venom at you. Rejection is par for the course in B2B selling so embrace it and even learn to thrive on it. Many feel like a bull in a china shop when they are hunting for new business or hunting in named accounts. After decades in the field, it's still the natural order of paradise, creation spiked with destruction. Old ideas need fall away in a controlled burn to make way for the new. Get used to a bit of chaos, be the "solver" and ride that next wave.

          A huge reason sales people hate cold calling is the pent up fear of rejection as well as the actual rejection itself. Most executives you call on are relatively gracious or will make sure to screen through an executive assistant. So there really isn't that much to be afraid of. Jack Canfield defines fear as: "Future Events Appearing Real." Much anxiety about nothing! Legend has it that one of Sir Winston Churchill's heroes died an extremely old man, and on his deathbed he divulged: "I didn't need to worry about 99% of the things I worried about because they didn't come to pass."

          I can see the argument against cold calling with less than 3% resulting in anything positive; and it's just as bad for cold emailing. But fortune still favors the bold! You're going to need to reach out cold in social media channels if there is no-one in your network to provide a warm introduction. Do this boldly and confidently but with an informed insight that demonstrates you've taken the time to understand an executive's business. Even securing a referral takes courage and is not to be dismissed as 'easy'. Executives are "crazy busy" as Jill Konrath eloquently puts it so you're going to have to make an extremely relevant, compelling business case to even get a warm intro. Reciprocity will help you here – quid pro quo. We must inspire others to make time for us by making time for them.

          Fear of rejection is really just a crisis of confidence. I think of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' and many a 'vapor-ware' startup company that really didn't help anyone. I think these folks do have a reason to fear rejection because perhaps they have something to hide, or nothing to really show. Here are four steps to building your confidence bedrock:

          • Step one: Carefully select your employer by picking a solution, company, executive team, board members, and C-Suite you believe in. Hang your hat in an organization that embodies integrity that has a rock-solid engineering culture and places customers first with a world class suite of products you can stand behind fully.
          • Step two: Familiarize yourself with the success stories, case studies and YouTube videos. These testimonials are your armor. Know how to personally tell the stories and bring them to life with passion and conviction. As Mike Weinberg shares in New Sales Simplified: "It's critical to develop your sales story." What I mean by story is not an exaggeration but the truth about how you're helping transform the lives of your customers and even more importantly, their customer. B to B to C! C for customer and C for Compelling. Most importantly, learn to lead with 'why?'
          • Step three: I do believe in the idea of practicing, drilling and rehearsing. We've all sat through endless mind-numbing sales kickoff role-plays and often retained little. An ongoing scenario that does work is to meet with a mentor or colleague and run through a warm email outreach, discovery call, pitch deck or presentation and let them critique you. I've been in several meeting that started with a CXO arriving late, arms crossed alerting me that I have "ten minutes" that have gone on for an hour and a half after practicing active listening and delivering "unexpected value." Repetition is the mother of skill as preparation is the father of execution so being prepared having read their annual report, a book they wrote or watched a set of YouTube videos from conference keynotes they gave, made the difference. The selling experience itself becomes the core differentiator.
          • Step four: Some folks will dive about ten feet deep, it's your opportunity to dive to the bottom of the ocean to know everything about the people you're going to be working with. God gave us two ears and one mouth and I would even endorse talking 25% of the time.

          It's difficult to worry about something or feel rejected by it, when you've planned for the full spectrum of eventualities that can occur. Preparation overcomes fear.

          We weren't all immaculately conceived as sports stars or born into this world as kings, outgoing and blissfully winning. Many of us are struggling for a seat on the bench. Lord knows many a confident soul is simply masking insecurities, so don't automatically envy number one. We will never know the internal struggle and prejudging people is a dangerous business. Ian Maclaren put it best, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

          The best way to become a champion is to get out of your own shell and take positive risks. I guarantee you, changing your attitude is the biggest X factor that can change the rest of your life and improve your chances of a sustainable and successful sales career. There are comments that sting, they sting for life, they ring in your ears... if we allow them to. But search yourself for the grain of truth and love yourself because only you can let those in.

          We train and condition our customers how to treat us and we can only be hurt by behavior that we allow to affect us. I'll close in saying that some of the most reclusive, introverted and sensitive people in the world have become top sellers, visionary founders, CEOs and multimillionaires. They drew it out of themselves with sheer will! This whole notion of needing to be "born with it" is balderdash. Give me someone willing to learn with a good attitude and I'll turn them into a sales champion much faster than an eagle who "knows it all."

          There's a part in the hero's journey where she goes through a rites of passage, comes into her own and believes in herself. Once you make this transformation silkworm to butterfly, once you truly believe strongly enough in yourself, others will too and you will become an unstoppable life-enhancing force, carving through rock like water to realize your vision. And your vision is realized paradoxically by focusing on the customer's. I call this the Ziglar paradox, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." It's a profound secret: selflessness.

          You may be selling someone else's vision and that's okay. That is a distinction worthy of calling out. Because some sellers are so incredibly entrepreneurial, they can't stand being number two. If this is the case, I suggest you go start your own company and sell from the helm.

          If product ideation is something you're comfortable in handing off to a technical team and you love helping companies build strategic business solutions, leading a sales team or being a part of a high growth sales function may be a fit for you. When helping powerful minds solve pressing problems and diagnosing / prescribing innovative solutions are highly enjoyable facets of the diamond life, welcome to a mission beyond money. Focus on authenticity in your leadership and helping customers; profitable revenue will follow.

          I've spoken often in these posts about mastering yourself. Accepting and loving yourself for your strengths, playing to your greatest gifts and focusing on them in your fostering direct reports (as Marcus Buckingham endorses in coaching) requires coming to terms with your weaknesses. Acceptance is a powerful jumping off point for both personal and professional growth. This is how you can make yourself bullet proof in the field from rejection – a super duck swimming up river against the current of mediocrity toward vast hidden opportunities. Public speaking becomes an open door, presentation is facile and political navigation, negotiation and conflict resolution become second nature. Thoreau believed, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." Sun Tzu believed, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized."

          So what are you waiting for? Wouldn't right now be a good time to get outside of your comfort zone, carpe diem "seize the day." Go reach out to that contact just out of reach. Here are 13 totally unorthodox out-of-the box ways to "open" with C-Suite executives and get in. Request a referral to penetrate that account that would at last change your stars. Go network at that event where you know you can rub elbows with whom you seek. Perhaps she is seeking you and your solution! If you don't take the risk, how will you ever know? Gretzky it - "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

          If it were easy, it would not be rewarding – it all starts and ends with 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: Tambako The Jaguar

          Before Challenging – Focus On Ideation

          The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson from the Corporate Executive Board has been with us for a few years now. It’s a great book and recommended reading for anyone in complex B2B selling. It’s been controversial not only because it claims to be new and groundbreaking, but because it pushes sales people to provocatively challenge customers. I’ve reviewed Challenger Selling and I think the book is brilliant but the concepts are extremely difficult to implement.

          Matt and Brent are to be applauded rather than criticized and anyone who thinks that Challenger is about the ‘hard sell’ is missing the point. Hard selling, push selling, arrogant selling, telling is selling; all fails, especially in Asia where I am as I write this. Causing your prospective customer to lose face as you tell them that they could be doing things better in Asia is kamikaze sales behavior. So is bullishly breaking china with your peacock-chested lecturing; it may be a winning persona at the sales kickoff but it alienates old school CXOs everywhere else. Instead, humility with gravitas goes a long way in all cultures.

          The concepts of Challenger Selling are not new. For proof, see page 82 of The Challenger Sale book and you’ll find Neil Rackham’s SAFE:BOLD framework. Challenger is an iteration of Insight Selling which was built on Value Selling which was built on Solution Selling. Lots of great minds evolving strategic B2B selling practice over the years and kudos to Neil Rackham, Jim Holden, Keith Eades, Bob Miller, Steve Heiman and many others. In some ways the strategic selling labels are just semantics – engage and develop the right relationships by leading with insight, then focus on value and build trust. In the background; have a strategy, overcome the competition, map the political power-base, and understand their evaluation, selection and procurement processes. My meta-framework for strategic selling is exactly this and I published before Challenger.

          Don’t misunderstand me, there is huge value in The Challenger concepts but in the hands of the naïve it can manifest as pushy 1980s ‘telling is selling’ behavior in the eyes of prospective clients. For Challenger to work, you must go deep, bottom of the ocean deep, and that’s not easy or cheap. Challenger goes beyond a sales persona, it’s an organizational capability. Sales, marketing and management must all come together and be 100% committed to transformational change in the way you define customer value and go to market. It’s scary stuff; do your research and don't under-invest. For most sales organizations Challenger will be another transient fad – ‘yeah, we tried that but our sales people weren’t able to execute.’

          However, if you would like to adopt a practical and pragmatic approach and take the best concepts from Challenger Selling, here is my advice. Focus on ideationand innovation for your clients. Stop thinking about what you can sell them and instead obsess about their markets and their barriers to faster revenue growth and profitability. There is real magic in going beyond B2B and instead thinking B2B2C. How can you help your clients better serve their markets and customers? This approach allows the value of your content to be the basis of attraction and engagement, rather than betting everything on the caliber of your ‘challenger super-heroes’ within the sales team.

          Here’s why ideation is so important. At the end of the day, in professional selling, it’s all about the conversations that sales people have with the right people inside the customer organization – conversations that create or progress opportunities. We must obsess about what the conversation is going to be about? There is no point securing a meeting and then failing to engage and progress. Relentlessly ask yourself and your team: ‘What is it that can earn a meeting and drive a conversation to create an opportunity based on value for the customer?’ The approach sure as hell must not be about you and what you do…. no-one cares! They care about themselves, their problems and their customers, staff and stakeholders.

          We need a big idea, a reason to meet, something worthwhile and intriguing to discuss. This is where the concept of ideation and Design Thinking delivers in a practical way. Design Thinking is a framework for ideation and has been with us for years. It’s an excellent way of harnessing a team’s creative juices to brainstorm and develop ideas and strategies for value and differentiation. Create a cross-functional team of your best minds and ensure the group is heavily weighted with those who know your customers intimately… why not include some of your best customer contacts in the team? Run a process where youidentify their thorniest problems, the wicked ones that stymie them. Incorporate the following steps:

          1. Identify and define the issues, then prioritize them and agree who in the customer organization is impacted most and who really cares about resolution. Who owns the problem and the budget internally and will need to approve the investment?
          2. Research, research, research. How has this been tackled in the past? Why is it important? What has worked and what has failed? What do analysts and thought leaders think? Create a body of data from which you will be able to draw insights and evidence.
          3. Brainstorm and ideate. Generate as many ideas as possible. Don't judge, debate or dive down rabbit holes. Have one conversation at a time and record all ideas. Nothing should be rejected or criticized.
          4. Agree and then develop a short-list of ideas. Refine and test assumptions. Create working models, mock-ups, process-flows… anything that creates tangible representation of your ideas. Seek feedback and refine, adjust and keep going.
          5. Select the best. Rapidly iterate, refine and evolve. Assess against the problem-solving or solutioning objective. Collaborate but avoid group-think to select the most powerful ideas. Everyone must be committed to the cause of the group, rather than being wedded to their own ideas.
          6. Execute and implement. Transition to project management mode. Assign task owners, dates and KPIs. Have deliverables with deadlines. How will you communicate the concepts and evidence the rationale and approach?
          7. Review and learn. Debrief and seek feedback. Document everything. Push it through a new iteration cycle if appropriate. Celebrate success, learn from failure. How can you improve or innovate further?

          When all of this is done, then think like a publisher. Create provocative headlines and editorial content. Also create white papers and videos. Your marketing team can execute as a thought leader, exactly as recommended in The Challenger Sale without risk because they are not confronting an individual prospective customer. But remember that people are best motivated by reasons that they themselves discover… help your clients on their journey of discovery rather than preach at them. Quality content-meets-context based marketing is the key in a Social Selling 3.0 world, and the face of the content should be the person who will be executing the meetings with customer CXOs. Lock those individuals in to your company and build their brand as industry experts – it’s a brave new world for employers.

          Never forget that for a sales person to execute Challenger concepts they must know what the conversation is going to be about, and it must something deeply and provocatively relevant for the customer and their world. This is why it’s so vital that you segment your business based on verticals. Challenger sales people must, by definition, be [customer] industry domain experts.

          With all this in place, here is a way of leading and securing meaningful engagements with customers. The most senior people within your potential customers care about evidence-based research that identifies the trends driving change within their industry and markets. This is what you need to make the conversation about! You have something they don’t… you work with their competitors and maybe some of their customers, and you know what ‘best practice’ looks like in their industry. Or perhaps you have seen how technology or innovation is being applied in other industries and how they could adapt it to gain competitive advantage? Never divulge a customer’s secrets to their competitor; that’s a huge breach of trust. Be the sage oracle – the trusted advisor, not the gimmicky provocateur.

          I believe in Challenger with a twist – do all the work suggested by The Corporate Executive Board, Matt and Brent; but then go to market with attraction rather than projection, insight rather than provocation. The content and insight should be provocative, not the sales person. There is an English proverb: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Attraction selling, based on insight and value, is the best approach to early engagement in complex B2B enterprises. Bring a perspective that makes you intriguing and never forget that people buy from those they know, like and trust, and who continuously create value. Understand the way that CEOs think and talk their language. Understand the customer’s mode of business and remember that only the customer is qualified to define value.

          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:

          Please purchase the book at this link: The Challenger Sale 

          Main Image Photo © 2015 Matt Dixon & Brent Adamson

          Quest for The Holy Grail of Sales Enablement

          There I was, standing in a large corner office on the 42nd floor of a city high-rise waiting for my weekly Monday morning ‘proctology examination’… euphemistically described by the CEO as the forecast review. I had all my CRM reports, key opportunity summaries and various notes ready to discuss any number of issues within the sales organization. I was ready but as I looked out the window at the city below I reflected on what my flying instructor taught me concerning the word confidence: “The feeling you have just before you understand the situation.”

          I was Sales Director for a public corporation and the CEO was typical of others in his role – frustrated with his ‘black box’ sales division. In his opinion, no-one really knew how it worked but he poured huge sums of money into the sales machine only to have it deliver unpredictable results. Forecast dates were a crap-shoot with large deals often slipping. By contrast, the finance department ran with predictability and so did support, service, marketing and operations. Manufacturing could deliver predictably even with the complex inter-dependencies of the supply chain – but why was this not the case with many sales operations?

          We sold high-end complex software solutions to large enterprise and government markets. Long sales cycles, marginal business cases built on compliance and productivity, many stakeholders to cover and in a market sector that was rapidly commoditizing. It was in this environment that he hired me to 'sort out the sales operation' with the right strategies focused on differentiated value while driving disciplined execution. He imparted great wisdom in our first meeting: “Instead of employing sales magicians, build a great machine – good execution is usually the best strategy.” He was right.

          This situation was very real and in my 30 years of selling and leading sales teams, and then companies, I’ve come to understand what it takes to be successful in complex business-to-business (B2B) selling. Even though professional selling is evolving faster than ever before, there are universal and timeless truths that can guide us through turbulent and changing times.

          Buyers today are better equipped than ever to drive suppliers toward commoditization. Information is no longer power – it’s freely available. Insight is the new currency of differentiation and sellers need to elevate their conversations and their level of business acumen and professionalism. Instead of being clichés, 'strategy' and 'value' need to become the obsessive focus of the sales and marketing teams, recognizing that relationships alone are no longer enough.

          The cost of making the sale is rising, margins are shrinking, and value is being defined differently. The era of the ‘professional visitor’ is passing and more than one-third of B2B field sales people won’t have jobs five years from now… relationship sales people need to evolve or they will become extinct. Relationships PLUS insight, value and partnership are what's needed today in complex enterprise selling.

          In 1955 the average lifespan of Fortune 500 corporations was 80 years, nearly 60 years later the average life is just 18 years! Professor Richard Foster from Yale University estimates that by 2020 more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we haven’t heard of yet.

          The barrier to entry for new competitors has never been lower; and the process of switching suppliers for customers has never been easier. What’s the secret to prosperity in rapidly changing markets and a globally competitive economy? It’s the same as it always been – innovation and great customer service combined with flawless execution of well-conceived strategy, driven by leaders with good values.

          Most businesses do a good job in segmenting their markets, customers and products but what is often missed is the insidious impact of commoditization. Every product or service becomes a commodity over time as features that once differentiated drift back to parity as competitors catch up. According to Corporate Executive Board research, 86% of the time that sellers pitch their ‘compelling value,’ buyers perceive it as neither unique or compelling but merely features also offered by other suppliers. Every business needs to look at itself from the outside – how do customers really view us comparatively? If you sell a commodity, then face the awful truth rather than cling to expensive sales models where customers are unwilling to pay for the low value and high costs associated with a field sales force.

          Sales people need to fund themselves from the value they create rather than from the margins that the product or service delivers. There is no such thing as a high margin commodity and the value they offer must stem from insight and wisdom rather than mere information and service. The first law of selling is that people buy from those they like and trust. They then seek best value and lowest risk. The key for every seller is to understand that‘value’ and ‘risk’ are all defined by the customer. In selling, we are delegated down to people we sound like and this means that salespeople need to learn the language of leadership if they want to engage at senior levels. They need to be equipped to discuss the business case, delivering outcomes and managing risk.

          If a product or service is a commodity then the sales model should be engineered accordingly; make it easy for the customer to obtain information, become convinced and then transact in a way that’s easiest for them including web, phone or channels. For products and services that actually are high value solutions then force the field sales team toward value through insight. Support them in developing domain expertise, genuine insights and business acumen to enable them to operate at a higher level. Product marketing needs to focus on differentiating what is being sold; and sales people need to differentiate by how they sell.

          With all this in mind, what are the critical elements of sales enablement? How do you create a framework for effective sales execution? There are three essential ingredients plus the catalyst of sales management leadership. The three ingredients are sales methodology, sales process and technology platform.

          Few people can articulate the difference between methodologies and process yet these elements are distinctly different in complex B2B selling.

          Methodology is the framework for formulating strategy and tactics to win; it’s also how you create your competitive deal strategy, identify risks, cover the political power base within the relationship map, and identify the best way to create compelling value for the buyer. But which methodology should you use? There are a number of well-proven methodologies including TAS, Miller Heiman, RSVPselling, and others. Success with methodology does not depend on which one you select but simply on how well you use it for opportunity coaching with the team.

          Process is how you build a sales funnel and execute the sale; it’s how you qualify opportunities and progress through the deal stages with discovery, proposal, demonstration, closing, contracting, on-boarding and then doing win/loss reviews and case studies. Process steps need to be supported by the right tools such as a call planner, qualification tool, discovery questionnaire, proposal templates, win/loss review forms, and territory and account plan templates.

          Platform is the technology you use to enable and automate your sales methodology and sales process. It is where you have a single source of truth about customers and opportunities. It must also be your coaching platform where there is transparency concerning pipeline depth and opportunity quality. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is the ideal platform but CRM needs to be a strategy, not just a technology and reporting tool. To be implemented successfully, it must go beyond the mere functions of accounts, opportunities, pipeline and forecasting; it must instead enable the mapping of relationships and force discipline in deal stage progression with qualification scoring and action tracking. It must also include close plans with customer validation of critical dates. Finally, CRM needs to incorporate tight integration with both marketing, social (such as LinkedIn) and after sales support to provide a single view of the entire customer lifecycle from targeting, marketing, lead nurturing and selling through to account management, support, service, satisfaction and upselling.

          This approach uses CRM to place customers at the heart of everything you do and provides the platform for being truly customer-centric. It also delivers transparency with deal quality and revenue predictability. It’s where sales people manage their opportunities and the tool that sales managers use to coach their people. This approach is designed to serve the sales people in improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Because it provides them with value and enables their manager to coach for improved win rates, they actually populate the systems with accurate and useful information.

          When CRM is implemented with customers and sales people as the priority, and when it’s the platform for deal coaching and the enabler for sales process; then system success is assured. The synergistic outcome for management is accurate reporting and revenue predictability. The corollary of this is that CRM failurecomes from implementing it as a reporting tool with poor alignment to sales methodology and sales processes. Many CRM implementation fail and it has nothing to do with the technology provider; here are the critical success factors for successful CRM:

          • Obsessively focus on the system serving sales and customer support staff
          • Integrate with social platforms such as LinkedIn and InsideView (for easy sales research and insight into Trigger Events)
          • Integrate with marketing for lead nurturing (to build sales pipeline)
          • Create a single view of customers and prospects (to be informed)
          • Embed methodology and process coaching (qualify, call plan, close plan, etc.)
          • Simplify reports and KPIs which can actually be managed (activities)
          • Support customer lifecycle post sale (cases, complaints, renewals, etc.)

          With accurate data in a CRM the next issue to decide is what metrics provide meaningful reporting. A common mistake made by management at all levels is to seek to manage by results. Jason Jordan writes insightfully on this topic in his book, Cracking The Sales Management Code, highlighting that only 17% of the 300+ possible sales metrics measured are actually manageable. As an example,you cannot manage revenue, but you can manage the activities that create it. Rather than command sales people to bring in more revenue, they need to be guided in which activities are most likely to create the type of revenue you are seeking. Managing activities is the key to delivering the right results and this leads us to the catalyst that brings methodology, process and platform technology together for successful sales enablement – the sales manager.

          Sales management is without doubt the most important link in the revenue chain for any organization. The right sales manager creates emotional commitment and belief within their team, they coach and mentor for sales success, they develop the right strategies to focus effort where the team can competitively win and they drive the right conversations with the right roles within the right targeted prospects. They also create organizational alignment with upstream marketing and downstream delivery, support and service to build a business with quality customers.

          Sales management leadership is the catalyst that brings it all together: people, process and technology within the right strategy and a culture of excellence in execution. The type of person capable of delivering all this is an engineer rather than a warrior, they have empathy yet hold people to account. But the best sales manager in the world cannot be successful if their boss has them endlessly in internal meetings and reporting up. The sales manager needs to be a coach rather than an administrator. She needs to spend more time in the field than in the office, and more time strategizing and reviewing opportunities with sales people than managing reports. A great coach does not jump in and take over, nor do they do the sales person’s job for them. They don’t feel the need to rescue people and instead understand that people are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. They focus on planning and debriefing to create constant improvement.

          Here are the seven sins of sales management to be avoided:
          1. Hiring or retaining the wrong people
          2. Managing by results rather than activities
          3. Failing to utilize the right methodology and driving sales process
          4. CRM implemented as a reporting tool to manage up
          5. Lack of strategy and a disconnect from marketing
          6. Allowing field sales people to transact commodities rather than sell value
          7. Failing to invest the majority of their time in the field with their sales team, coaching and mentoring

          The Holy Grail of sales enablement is the seamless integration of the right methodology, efficient sales process, all enabled by Social Selling 3.0 and CRM technology used to coach sales people by an effective sales leader focused on strategy, execution and building a positive team culture.

          The very best sales operations bring people, process and technology together to be obsessively customer-centric. The truth about CRM is that you cannot be efficient or customer-centric without one, yet implementing CRM is one of the most difficult projects an organization can undertake.

          Choose the right partner, appoint the right leader internally, and consider the whole picture – technology is the easy stuff! CRM is a business application rather than IT infrastructure and therefore needs to be owned and controlled by the sales leadership in partnership with marketing and customer service to support the entire customer life-cycle and drive all aspects of the sales machine.

          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: CucombreLibre

          Why Market Leaders Lose Deals – Case Study

          In my last corporate role I was the regional Managing Director of a global CRM software company and I inherited a wonderful customer who had bought from my predecessor about a year earlier. I quickly took the time to understand why they selected us. Many wrongly focus on loss reviews but I’m a big believer in win reviews because they are the key to identifying trigger events to help drive new business revenue. More on this later but first let me tell you a true story, a case study if you will, about why being the market leader can hurt you.

          The customer is in the financial services sector with offices in more than 50 countries. They wanted to buy Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and had a well-defined set of requirements and selection criteria. The CIO himself was the project manager and he personally led the evaluation and selection process. He had done all the right things to successfully implement a CRM initiative including an absolute focus on customer experience, strong buy-in from internal stakeholders and users, and the commitment of the CEO. They knew why they were implementing and adopted a ‘less is more’ approach. The CRM was to be the single source of truth about their end-customers and partner agents. The CIO subscribed very much to the principles of CRM success and was addressing change management with a simple phased approach to role-based functionality designed to enable their customer-centric processes.

          The CIO did his homework and invited three vendors to participate in a closed tender process. It was completely transparent and fair. There was however a preference (there always is) and for one of the parties it was their deal to lose, but not for us – we were neither incumbent nor the favoured solution. But we weren't just making up the numbers either. We had been invited for good reason. The CIO and his team had researched online and they had talked to a number of organizations who had already implemented various CRM solutions – with mixed results. The CIO was wise and humble enough to learn from the failure and success of others. This highlights why Social Selling 3.0 is so important – when buyers do their research, you want them to find you for all the right reasons.

          Each of the shortlisted providers was very different in their philosophy to software development and delivery (open source, proprietary, cloud, hosted, on-premise, etc.). The correct assumption from the customer was that all of the providers could meet the product feature and function requirements. The issue was who could differentiate for best value and lowest risk in their eyes. CRM projects can be high risk and many fail – not on this CIOs watch, he knew exactly what he was looking for and what was needed to best manage risk.

          The CIO provided unfettered access to people and information for all who were competing. He understood that risk comes from not knowing what you don't know, and although he had researched thoroughly, he was very open to new information and ideas from the various sellers. But here is where he was rigid: “Don't try to expand the scope of what we’re doing. Phase one and phase two are very clear. In your demonstration to the stakeholders you will have 2 hours only and you must stick to the script.” All providers were given as much time as they needed to prepare their live software demo.

          The vendor who self-immolated themselves in the deal shall remain nameless and they have a fine CRM product which is a market leader, but here is where they went wrong. They made the assumption that the client viewed vendors in the top right corner of the Gartner Magic Quadrant (IT industry analyst report) as being lowest risk. This analyst quadrant rated vendors on their ‘ability to execute’ on one axis and ‘visionary’ on the other. The vendor told their prospective customer that their ranking made them lowest risk and it seems a reasonable assertion. But ‘telling is not selling’ and only the customer is really qualified to define and assess value and risk.

          To contrast this, the person leading the sale on our side took the time to ask the CIO where he saw the risks in implementation and long-term success for the initiative. He asked what was important beyond the information in the tender document: What were they seeking to achieve and what business results needed to be delivered? Here’s the surprising piece of information that helped earn the business. The customer saw risk in dealing with a monolithic market leader where they [the customer] would have no real influence in product development or in the escalation of any issues during implementation and ongoing support.

          We therefore positioned as being ‘in the Goldilocks zone’ – big enough to deliver but small enough for them to be an important customer. We introduced our Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to their CIO and they built a positive relationship. We also built trust by ensuring that we listened and responded exactly as they requested – no arrogance, no seeking to change the rules or agenda, no circumventing their process. We were the good guys, the ones who were easy to work with, the ones who were transparent and could fit in with their culture and be trusted to deliver on time and on budget. When presentation day came, we made it all about the customer and what they were seeking to achieve. We worked on helping them fall in love with our people, rather than our software. We explained how our solution could work for them and how we would work with them to manage risk and deliver – it was about cultural fit.

          The self-destructive vendor, on the other hand, turned up to the presentation phase with people from another country who were flown in just for the demo. They then took almost an hour, half their allotted time, to present numerous slides about themselves and why they thought they were market leader. Then they proceeded to demo in a way that ignored the script and instead diverted attention to other ‘joys and wonders’ within their feature-rich system. The CIO stopped them and suspended the demo. He asked them to come back 4 hours later with a demo that was “as per the script”… they couldn’t do it – game over. Then there were two.

          Here is the unintended message they sent to the potential customer. 1) We know better than you and that’s why we’re showing you what you really need to see… all these features that will confuse your staff and not enable your business objectives. 2) We don't have anyone here locally who knows how to demo the product so we’ve had to fly people in from another country... good luck with local support during implementation. 3) We have no idea what’s really important to you in your evaluation and selection process so we’ll just bang on about ourselves for half of the time we’ve got available in the hope that something resonates. 4) We don’t respect you or really care and that’s why we didn't listen to you or ask the right questions; it’s also why we chose to ignore your process. The vendor did not consciously think any of these things, perhaps they thought they were ‘challenging’ the client, resetting the agenda, elevating the vision for what could be achieved.

          There is a time for challenging and there is a time for working within the customer’s process. Challenger Selling is valid but just as with any strategic selling framework, it usually requires early engagement to execute successfully. This deal required sellers to respect and work with the buyers' well-conceived and thoroughly researched process.

          In selling enterprise software solutions, you take your life into your hands every time you demo. Software can hang or be slow. Too many features and functions can confuse or create concerns about price or complexity of implementation and support. The context of what’s being shown can be lost and the evaluators in the room can easily become confused. In my opinion, anyone who leads with demos to create interest is making a huge mistake in complex B2B enterprise software sales. Instead focus on the problems you’re solving for the customer and the specific use-cases for defined roles.

          My predecessor, the person who won this account, was Doug Erickson. He did a masterful job and built a genuine enduring relationship with the CIO that extended beyond working their professional contact. Doug understands that people buy from those they know, like and trust. He seeks alignment with buyers – people he likes and he took the time to listen carefully, to confirm his understanding, and then to provide a solution that exactly met their needs. He also made sure that his team rehearsed the demo and that it followed their script while also highlighting important strengths. Responsive, flexible, genuine, professional – selling really is that simple.

          Winning is more about great execution than strategy but Doug also did something very smart. He positioned as being in the Goldilocks zone – big enough to deliver, small enough for them to be important. Even if you're a huge multi-national market leader, position your division as being nimble, or your reseller or partner as being local and agile. Noone wants to be a tiny, unimportant customer. They instead want to know that they will have a voice and that you’ll be there when there are problems or challenges. Many companies do an excellent job of this, make sure you do too.

          But I promised you more on why win reviews are more important than loss reviews. My friends Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto wrote a brilliant book, Shift, and it’s about trigger event selling. Here is an incredible insight they reveal: Most companies focus on loss reviews to figure out why they didn’t win, and it helps improve win rates when competing in future deals. That’s fair enough and loss reviews are not a waste of time. But win reviews uncover something much more valuable. They help you understand why the customer went to market to buy something in the first place, what happened inside their organization or market that drove them to purchase. Yes, they’ll share why you were comparatively better and why they bought from you over the competition; but the real gold is in knowing what trigger events caused them to buy anything at all. Now you have something to look for in the marketplace as indicators of opportunity. Now you understand what problem or circumstance actually creates opportunity.

          Know what an ideal customer looks like. What are their organizational characteristics, technical attributes, market dynamics, and what do they need to believe to fit your ideal profile? Seek alignment in how you build a pipeline and sell – it’s much more efficient and effective than being an evangelist or pioneer. When you find the right prospective customer, build a relationship of trust and value that earns the right to challenge and set an agenda.

          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: Nic Redhead

              Natural Born Sales Talent Is A Myth

              Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline. It's been said that we come into this world endowed with 'talents' and 'gifts'. Talents are something we apply our blood, sweat and tears to in order to become excellent and achieve self-mastery. It's hard, so we go for it. We crave the challenge that makes the endeavor attractive. In contrast, God-given gifts are so second-nature that we often overlook them for an entire lifetime because we fail to recognize or cherish them hiding in plain sight.

              Are we a product of our selling environment; is it sales nature or lead nurture? (Pun intended!)

              Nobody starts at the top although most Gen-Y people expect to. Nobody enters the world invincible with all their faculties fully developed. There's a myth that's worthy of that you must hire natural born sales leaders, born with that champion DNA, the inherent attitude and aptitude, the will to win and the thrill of the hunt.

              But I just would like to debunk that myth with a series of empirical stories and archetypes of sales legends I have witnessed that broke the mold. Please keep in mind, I'm not endorsing all these behaviors as many are counter-intuitive and may cause collateral damage. I'm simply sharing these stories because I find them to be amusing archetypes that many of you may relate to who manage people or work in a lively salesforce. I share them to prove a simple point about the core factor governing sales ability:

              • The strong, silent type: This person doesn't say much. Often a former star athlete, they're extremely focused on the catch and pass or block and tackle aspects of sales. They're often laser focused on managing KPIs. They listen more than they talk and they manage a massive book of business or wide open, greenfield frontier territories with aplomb. Dressed in a humble yet ubiquitous beige twill blazer, their explanation is simple: "You think too much. Keep it simple, look them in the eye and simply say, we're going to transform your business."
              • The sweet, sensitive empathetic relator: Omnipresent at company events, church functions, community gatherings, Instagram blaring, culture committee; this person lives to be around others and thrives in seeing them do well and win. This is a 'relationship builder' who breaks the mold, that sells the lights out regardless of becoming out of vogue with the advent of The Challenger Sale.
              • The radically funny, loud-mouth uncouth non-PC practical joker:He cracks inappropriate jokes in front of your largest client making you cringe but executives absolutely love him. Riddle me that! He's easy going, a family man and makes it all look easy with a wry sense of humor. Working remotely, he's fixing a tile floor by hand at his son's school gym, while you're on a conference call for a client hand-off or internal knowledge transfer session. He doesn't care and he is a disarming force to be reckoned with because he has non-hunger in front of customers and it attracts people. Non-hunger and humor are his irresistible, innate weapons!
              • The complete techno head introvert who never picks up the phone: This rep has mastered LinkedIn and Twitter and built networks of 50,000+. She blogs, ghostwrites, lives on multiple time-zones and is constantly teeing up qualification discovery calls. She has huge social mediagame, she's a one-woman-marketing-machine, supporting the entire company with fresh pipeline based on trigger event research, leveraging various listening platforms and marketing automation. Because of her, you don't even need a CMO. She's a bookworm who writes and reads voraciously, kind of shy, and blows peoples' minds in social. Social media extrovert, phone introvert. But she's the best of old school writing meets new schoolsSocial Selling 3.0.
              • The delegator manager: Comfortable making less income than the best in her salesforce, she always asks: 'How's life?' But she actually means it so it cuts-through. She naturally delegates to such an extent she's in at 9 and out at 5 and got more presentations out than you (and tailored); massively productive, rarely ever getting stuck with busy work. She rapidly moves up through management with her ability to organize and apply the 80/20 principle. Yep, she's now the COO because she doesn't care who gets then credit so long as the great results are achieved.
              • The engineer who now sells: Buried in a Kindle, he's rapidly building flow-charts and Gantt charts, beautiful Tableau Domo dashboards (there's one within the linked post) on an iPad while listening intently, challenging CTOs and CIOs and constantly in demand. Nicknamed "The Professor," dressed in Trunk Club hipster outfits, he's always one step ahead of the technology curve. Not necessarily likeable or personal, but he's the backbone, lifeblood of the company. Everyone wants to bring him in on sales calls because he nails it in product demos and is indefatigable in his ability to execute as a sales engineer. You can stand him up at the head of a twelve executive RFI gauntlet and he'll school the entire group. Several people will surreptitiously attempt to hire him after the lunch workshop adjourns.
              • The awesome parent who whittles wood and is hyper-active on Chatter & Yammer: This guy is the group oracle, helps everyone, multi-tasks like crazy (is always spending quality time with his kids I might add), is flown-in with all key clients, existing clients and gets dialed by the CEO. Yep, the one with bodyguards nobody has met yet. He boomeranged back from a small start-up and now appears to be everywhere at once. Constantly closing seven figure deals, loves his job, is amiable and helps everyone with a grin to match his permanent unassuming plaid.
              • The whiz kid party animal: Showed up late to the QBR during the on-site in Vegas. Built a PowerPoint so rock solid, it floored the regional VP with its precision, even built screenshots of software only hypothetically developed that in-turn floored the VP of Engineering. Woozy in presenting, made it look all too easy. The kicker is, he reduces friction and anxiety over implementation risk and makes it 'look easy' for the customers, too. Yahtzee! But don't let him sell vaporware to clients, it will come back to bite you!
              • The disciplined anal-retentive former restaurant manager: Process, process, process. Salesforce dashboards and accountability are his stock in trade. He walks the halls with a putter and shakes your hand with a wry smile, reminding you that your numbers ought to be better in the far territory. He's always wise-cracking and throwing popcorn to try to land it in another executive's mouth. He has managed hundreds if people over the years and watches everyone like a hawk. His ability to micro-manage inspires fear and loyalty. The team can't wait to execute for him meticulously. He can rely on his team for execution and set for auto-pilot while his generals drive massive success. He's your best friend when compensation plans get recalibrated and territories redrawn.
              • The fitness pro turned mattress salesman turned club promoter turned top sales person three years running: He sends the paperwork confidently so the customer can fill it out. Years later, colleagues are still wondering how he can close the biggest deals without ever leveraging a presentation deck. It seems like an impossible breach of sales-cycle protocol but clients trust his unorthodox method and it simply works. He's so good at his job, his largest retail or client is at the bar with him and his colleagues are asking who the new team member is? That's how embedded he is in the client's business. Ultra-conservative banking clients love him, go figure.
              • The old school phone magician: She's rarely on a computer, still uses a day-timer, may even have a "brick phone" or pager, prefers face-to-face, phone calls and on-sites over doodads and gadgetry and doesn't even use Facebook. She's carrying the team number quarter over quarter. An iconoclast by being so old school, she talks to people, builds trust and moves the most contracts, generating impressive new bookings.
              • The anger case: Literally takes offense when customers don't buy but they ironically appreciate the heat of passion and typically don't mind a bit of positive sales pressure because everyone else is trying to win them over with smarmy charm. This is a paradoxical character that gets offended when customers don't buy. Emails from her often read: "Status report." She is a Challenger persona and loves tension, especially with those who get in her way internally.
              • The air traffic controller, monotone, emotionless: Talks to clients as if he's guiding an Airbus A380 in a crisis. Quiet and devoid of emotion, this matter of fact, Department of Motor Vehicles mumbler, sends a signal of urgency and causes a magnetic pull to buy. The anti-sellers can't figure-out why these sales assassins get chased by elephants. It's a Bermuda Triangle effect similar to dogs smelling fear.
              • The loud one with the boisterous cackle [could even be sinister], blustering, breathing heavily and causes clients to turn down the volume on conference calls: Incredibly confident, speaking loudly, always getting up to do karaoke at the company party. Sweats his collar and unravels the tie. He tends to hang-out with key customers, even go on international flights with them. He watches boxing and is a sports fanatic, a shouter; this person is gregarious and the volume goes up to 11. Oddly, they have the ability to whistle in a half dozen ways and it's always the loudest ones. No fingers even needed! Annoying but amazing.
              • The organizational analyst: Risk-averse, this planner grows existing business with aplomb. They have a deep affinity for the Excel spreadsheet, pivot tables, macros and chart fireworks. Softly spoken, she'll listen for forty minutes on a forty-five minute call without saying a word, taking crystalline Evernotes in presentation-quality. She most likely won an award in college for organizational management excellence and will do everything possible to go deeper in fewer accounts. Clients love her attention to detail and the outputs she produces, always right on the money.
              • The Project Manager who sees everything in selling as Project Management: This unique breed of seller builds ingenious account planning maps and locks-in clients for every appointment all weeks in advance and has all the QBRs set six-months out. They approach sales like building software and bring the respective technology and executives teams to the table to get sign-off early. They leverage spreadsheets, calendar software and even virtual assistants to run their diary like a Swiss watch with meticulous pre-planned closes. They love to talk Six Sigma and rave about how easy it all is. They buy you a book on Project Management and suggest you become a PMP. Their close-plans can be trusted, their forecast accuracy is phenomenal.
              • The prognosticator of doom: Reading passages from their prospect's annual report they've printed out, he warns that "things look grim" if you don't change from the status quo. Every insight they share supports a thesis of 'dinosaur thinking' and being obsoleted by competition. "It's clear your numbers are down and your business may be facing extinction." Extremes of black and white, full suit, they show you how your competitors are lapping you. Frankly, they scare the crap out of any prospect that will listen, and CEOs love it because it's the first sales person in ages to truly give a wake-up call which is what inspired them to take the job and turnaround the company with disruptive thinking. They embrace Challenger thinking so persistently it's to such an extent that customers actually start to agree it's high time for sea change.
              • The yes man who references Pumping Iron, Generation Iron and Navy Seal Training: A political genius, everyone could get canned and he'd still get promoted. This manager makes everyone feel like gold, apologizes easily, forgives, is the ultimate repository of 80's movie trivia and writes in acronyms he seems to magically make up as opposed to well known ones. He creates sales awards out of kitchen items and is a mensch. Glengarry Glen Ross DVDs are distributed at sales kickoffs and awards abound for pure irony. He will invest in a major laugh and always lifts spirits.
              • The spiritual guru: Quotes Coach John Wooden or Coach Wayne Bennett after meditation; is "mostly into" positive psychology, Wayne Dyer meets Deepak Chopra, high fives Tony Robbins in the aisle at Dreamforce and spends all day visualizing 'the close' and doing affirmations. He's at a TEDx conference giving an ad-hoc slam poetry speech when he meets his counterpart in the buying organization, invites him to indoor rock climbing followed by yum-cha in China Town and almost always magically closes a deal through his socially conscious network in the eleventh hour.
              • The most competitive human ever: Constantly casting FUD on competitors, she hosts a FUD social stream in the company chatter. "Crushing it" is the cornerstone of her vocabulary, "failure is not an option." This sales giant is so fiercely competitive she'll relish losing a deal just to ensure her competitor lost it too. Fantasy sports champion, she will have a dance-off in the hallway and challenge clients to a rousing game of tennis, even armwrestling on the spot. Instant camaraderie and rapport is built and customers know if she'll fight this hard in all areas of life, she'll do the same to drive success of her solution within the buying organization.
              • Story-time: She been to 50 countries with 50 stories a piece, regales colleagues and clientele with her (mis)-adventures and weaves them back into a business lesson gestalt triggering the right hemisphere of the brain which executives emotionally relate to. She needs her own publishing company to keep up with the volume of content she generates, starting most sentences with "Remember that time when..." even on the second time you've met her.
              • The den mother group therapist: Asking how you're 'really doing,' getting to the bottom of the issues, holding court at the water cooler, mediating arguments, airing out the space. He's even solving inter-office politics within the customer's company. Loves to listen with the patience of a doctor, gets to the root of the problems and grows key deals.

              So witness this motley crew of top performers and the diversity of personalities and profiles. What is the through-line to all these idiosyncratic styles? It's further proof that sales people are not necessarily born with 'it'. There's no 'it' factor or even X factor. Almost like anthropomorphism, we'd all love to proclaim and endow those we choose for winning, even by luck or chance, with these lofty traits.People that are authentically themselves, confident and comfortable in their own skin, sell better.

              Customers relate to the humanizing qualities of your corporation and they build trusted advisor relationships with those stakeholders that are even quaintly flawed. Each of these archetypes, typically all did something remarkable in their own right. Echoing what they are most passionate about, they cut through the hype and the formality. Many hated their job and may even be searching for a new one as we speak, hopping around in that nether region of sales leader attrition circa 18 months... but that's beside the point.

              Much like psychological learning styles, a seasoned manager must learn to pull out the best in her people. The one area you can coach consistently is bringing out each individual contributor's signature style. Help your people become the best version of themselves and come into their own. Create a constructive agile learning environment where each team member can thrive in their own sweet way. Some may be visual learners or present with amazing SlideShare imagery. Others are skeptical, analytical, cynical, rebellious, humorous, gregarious or even super negative. Teach them all to play to their strengths, flatten your organization and learn as much from them as they can from you.

              Do you believe that sales talent is innate or that it's a function of environment? Who are some of the bizarre and outrageous personalities you've encountered in your selling journey that may not even be house broken or even manageable? Please leave some comments with your amusing stories from the field. I personally advocate one hundred percent integrity in sales. Authenticity is the new litmus test for success. As the jazz standard goes: There'll never be another you. May we all achieve greatness by being truly us because... we can. Food for thought!

              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: Francisco Osorio

              Love Versus Greed. What's Your Corporate Culture?

              Within every person is an innate desire to go beyond making a living to make a difference. We should all seek meaning and purpose in what we do but can a career also be a calling? Can we do well and also do good? Do nice people always come last? Are most rich and successful people crooked in some way? Can an organization’s culture go beyond the posters espousing mission, vision and values; to instead be the living behaviors of the leaders, cascading down throughout the entire enterprise? I’ll answer all these questions with two contrasting case studies that will blow your mind.

              If within our lifetime, the average lifespan of a class of people in society had dropped from 80 years to 18 years, we would think there was something seriously wrong... yet this is exactly what has happened in the USA. In 1955 the average lifespan of Fortune 500 corporations was 80 years, nearly 60 years later the average life is just 18 years! Professor Richard Foster from Yale University estimates that by 2020 more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we haven’t heard of yet.

              Here are some other interesting facts: Average tenure of employees is dropping dramatically and only 7 of the top 500 public companies in America have average tenure of more than 10 years! When you consider that it costs between $15,000 and $25,000 per employee every time there is churn, it’s a massive issue. But not at Google and Amazon; right? Google’s average tenure is just 1 year and Amazon is not much better at 1.1 years.

              Today in the workplace we face the rise of narcissism – from Gen-Y (all about me) to Millenials (instant everything). Millenials are 30% of workforce and 81% think they should set their own schedule and almost one-third would leave their job if they got a better offer. ‘Loyalty’ and ‘values’ seem to be ill-defined commodities for many.

              So what’s needed? What should organizations do to overcome this problem? Every organization needs fully engaged employees and they should have documented vision, mission and values to set the tone.

              But statements up on the wall are not enough. I’m reminded of the manager who catches his employee wandering into work late again for the third time in a single week and collars him as they stand in the office foyer. He says to the employee: “Is it ignorance or apathy that’s the reason for you turning up for work late almost every day?” The response was laconic: “I don’t know; and I don’t care.”

              I help companies create these leadership documents and I often see that the concepts are poorly understood. Here’s my take on what they should mean:

              • Vision for our aspirational place in the world and markets within which we operate.
              • Mission for the difference we want to make in the lives of others – our purpose and cause.
              • Values for how we operate – the behaviors we expect from everyone in our team.

              A recent client I worked with had these as their values in an employment contract: Zest for people, inspirational customer experience, thirst for knowledge. I’m not sure what you think about these but let me tell you a true story of a company that changed the world. Their four values were chiseled into marble in the main lobby of HQ: Communication, Excellence, Respect, Integrity.

              This company impacted the lives of almost everyone in the USA and many others around the globe – yet they didn’t manufacture technology and they weren’t a media company. The chairman was Ken Lay and his company’s vision was “To be the world’s leading company; achieved by the relentless pursuit of shareholder value through free markets and innovation.” The company was hailed as a ‘leader of the new economy’. On their way to this lofty goal they became the 7th largest corporation in America with a market capitalization of $70 billion.

              It took the company 16 years to grow from $10 billion in assets to $65 billion but it took just 24 days for them to go bankrupt. It was the largest ever corporate collapse globally... the corporation was Enron and they were on a quest to become the dominant ‘new economy energy company’. We’re going to contrast two corporate cultures and the positive case study is breathtakingly counter-intuitive; but let’s consider Enron first.

              Enron was unbelievable. Pure fraud at many levels and they also applied an obscure and dubious accounting practice called ‘marked to market.’ The concept was to book future hypothetical revenues based on ideas they had with unproven contracts to recognize it in their books as profit and, believe it or not, cash-flow without the actual money being generated!

              For one contract with Blockbuster Video, they signed a 20-year agreement to introduce on-demand entertainment to various U.S. cities by year-end. After several pilot projects, Enron recognized estimated profits of more than $110 million from the deal, even though analysts questioned the technical viability and market demand of the service. When the network failed to work, Blockbuster withdrew from the contract but Enron continued to recognize future profits even though the deal resulted in a loss.

              Enron ended-up buying the electricity assets from The State of California, and then created a futures trading exchange that they manipulated to make hundreds of millions of dollars by ordering power stations to go off-line for ‘unscheduled maintenance’ to deliberately create black-outs and panic. The Governor of California lost the next election and Arnold Schwarzenegger came to power (note that ‘Arnie’ was not complicit with Enron’s activities).

              Here are some of the staggering facts:

              • $1 billion ($1,000,000,000) was pulled out by executives using insider trading and just as it went bankrupt, top executives were paid bonuses totaling $55 million and also cashed-in $116 million in stock options.
              • 20,000 Enron employees lost their jobs and medical insurance.
              • $2 billion in pension / superannuation funds instantly disappeared.
              • The biggest accounting firm in the world, Arthur Anderson (also America’s oldest) was put out of business and 29,000 people also lost their jobs. Shareholders sued for $20 billion.

              So what was Enron’s leadership model and who did they look for inspiration and guidance? The CEO, Jeff Skilling, reported to Ken Lay and he was a big fan of Richard Dawkins’, The Selfish Gene. They subscribed to evolutionary greed and competition – survival of the smartest. The words chiseled into marble in the main lobby (Communication, Excellence, Respect, Integrity) were meaningless and mere marketing spin. Whether you’ve seen the movie Wolf of Wall Street or watched the movie Margin Call, they both show the real life consequences of failing to be anchored to the right values.

              Culture in any organization boils down to just one thing…. the behavior of the leaders. Culture is how we treat each other, it’s how be behave and it’s what we do. Leadership is not a position, it’s who we are. How we behave matters and we’ve seen the devastating consequences of poor values from leaders in business, sport (Lance Armstrong), politics and even churches. Make no mistake, when people in positions of power lose their moral authority, it’s over for them even if they remain in their role for awhile – it’s just a matter of time before the fall.

              Enron was a precursor to the 2008 GFC and in my opinion it wasn’t a financialcrisis, it was instead a values crisis resulting in financial carnage – it should have been called the GVC. You might think that these kinds of things don’t happen today… oh, yes they do. The human condition is an ever-present problem. We’re all wired for addictions, fear and greed, and to lie and cheat. It’s our commitment to the right values that insulates us from the worst of ourselves.

              Enough negativity; you probably already know about Enron, so what’s the corollary and how can we positively lead? I want to tell you an amazing true story about a company that did something completely ‘out there’, the opposite of Enron. They ended-up being featured on the television program Undercover Boss and the episode garnered the highest rating of the year with 18 million people watching it.

              The company is Herschend Family Entertainment (HFC) and Joel Manby is the CEO. He had much in common with Ken Lay from Enron. They both had very poor childhoods and were raised in religious Christian homes. Ken Lay’s father was in fact a Baptist Minister. Both saw education as the way to create better futures and both went to Harvard Business School. But they made very different choices concerning their values.

              Joel had a brilliant career. He took over Saab in North American and did a spectacular turn-around. The reward was that they added South America and Asia-Pacific to his workload. He was in Australia on a trip well into his new expanded global role when he had a tough call with his wife. He was away for two-thirds of the year; their marriage was struggling, his kids hardly knew him, he was stressed and tired most of the time; and he didn’t like who he was becoming. He asked his boss if he could pull-back to just running North America… the answer was a resounding ‘no’.

              He quit to join a technology start-up but then the bust came… he had 90 days to save the company and that meant firing a lot of people. He went through very difficult times; his work was defining him in ways he didn’t like and he wasn’t happy – professionally or personally.

              It was then that he was asked to apply for the CEO role at Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), the world’s largest private theme park operator with 10,000 employees in 26 locations.

              Imagine being in a boardroom of a company with 10,000 employees and you ask the question of the chairman of the board: “How would you define the culture here?”

              The answer from the founder’s of HFE, Jack and Peter Herschend, was difficult to fathom: “Love; and leadership by being a servant of others.”

              Joel understood what was behind the words. He writes in his book, Love Works: “I wanted to work somewhere that rejected the false dichotomy between profit and people, or profit and principles. I wanted, in short, to be the same person all the time: at work, with my family, at my church, and when I was alone.”

              He joined HFE and embraced their culture. He had been in the role for a few years when the GFC hit and here is an astounding fact. Although they had to retrench many staff, they received the highest ever employee satisfaction ratings during and after the down-sizing process! This is because junior, middle and senior managers all decided to defer capital programs to buy time, supervisors and managers alike also asked if they could take pay cuts to fund staffing levels. Even those who were ‘let go’ were given 3 months on full pay to find another job and had all of the company’s resources available to help them transition.

              The culture of HFE is encapsulated by two principles: 1) Servant-based leadership, and 2) Love as defined by patience, kindness, trust, unselfishness, truthfulness, forgiveness, and dedication. It’s their paraphrase of I Corinthians 13:4-8 in The Bible. You may be thinking WTF and I agree… Wow, That’s Fantastic! But it’s delivered for them in amazingly positive ways, both with profit and people. Their staff have purpose in what they do and are truly engaged at every level.

              Television is a cynical place and HFE took a big risk allowing Undercover Boss to make an episode with hundreds of hours of footage that was edited down to what the producers thought would pull the biggest ratings.

              Joel says in his book, Love Works: “When your personal values match your work values, you stand the best chance of being content.” He’s been head-hunted many times but loves who he works with and the opportunity to live an authentic life.

              HFE is not the first company to create this kind of culture. 250 years ago a company was started by an Irish man who wanted to help people having their lives ruined by potato-based spirits which were rotting stomachs and causing terrible alcoholism. His name was Arthur Guinness and his drink was brewed for high nutrition and relatively low alcohol content…. He showed you can make money and make a difference, that you can do well and do good, that you can even serve humanity being a factory worker brewing beer. 100 years ago Guinness was providing free medical and dental care for employees, they paid for funerals, helped employees with housing, gave huge sums away to charity… and free beer every day! Unlike modern companies who offer some of these perks to attract the best talent, they did it because it was how they could live their values.

              Values are everything in leadership and for managing people and teams. Values-alignment is usually labelled as ‘cultural fit’ but HFE measure values together with performance. Great results are not rewarded unless accompanied with the right behaviours. Their managers must consistently live in accordance with the organization’s values. Personas and facades don't cut it at HFE. Only competent, authentic people can sustain leadership positions. Everyone’s performance appraisal process is based on the tool below (adapted from the matrix in Love Works, page 158).

              HFE understand an important truth: We must be the person worthy of the success we seek. Our behavior matters in achieving results and that’s because people matter, both customers and staff.

              The greatest risk to any business is not on the balance sheet, it’s the values within the people of power inside the organization and those who represent the brand. Do you really know what your values are? Do you know what you stand for? Are you and your team truly driven by your mission and purpose, personally and corporately?

              Leadership is an inside job. We cannot achieve and possess wealth unless we do, and we can’t do unless we are. We need to be the person worthy of the success we seek, otherwise success will be temporary or a mere illusion. The opposite of love is not hate, it is fear. Are you brave enough to love your staff and customers?

              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: Chris van Dyck

              The Tao of Vietnamese Selling

              I write this at 30,000 feet heading back to Sydney from Vietnam. I’ve had two weeks with my family on a wonderful vacation. What an amazing country with beautiful people. Vietnam is a nation with an incredible past – relentless war and bombing by the French, Chinese, Japanese and the Americans (with Australia). They secured their independence about 40 years ago but almost three times more bombs were dropped on Indochina (Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia) in the 60's and 70's than during all of World War II. Millions dead, millions more suffering from post war land mine explosions, Agent Orange poisoning, cancer and birth defects – it’s still leaking into their ground water supplies near multiple ex-US Air Force bases. Kudos to Hillary Clinton for visiting and driving support to clean it up.

              They have a form of communist capitalism that works well for them. They vote, freely surf the internet, can own real estate and go into business. There is a huge middle class and they have a safe and peaceful society – all religions are accepted so long as they are not violent or seek to meddle in affairs of state. Their only blight is corruption.

              The central government in North Vietnam has sought to revise history and all the guides in Hanoi were very keen to educate us about “The American War.” We visited the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison where US airmen were kept prisoner until the end of the war in the mid 1970's. Early in my selling career in the 1980's I’d seenCaptain Gerald Coffee speak at a conference and I bought his book and tapes – he is an inspiration. He was flying a reconnaissance mission from the Kittyhawk and was shot down. He managed to survive in a tiny concrete cell barely big enough to lay straight. To see the prison he had been kept in was sobering. I also saw photos of John McCain when he was captured, imprisoned and then of him returning many years later as a ‘tourist’. Vietnam and the USA are now friends despite the horrendous atrocities and carnage of the past – the world changes.

              Here’s what a learned in the land where traffic lights are mere suggestions and the road extends to embrace all of the footpath; where lane markings serve as runway centre-lines for drivers to straddle; where riders don't look as they enter traffic, where the horn is used for Morse code rather than abuse. Where an elegant chaos seems to just work – everyone assertively pushing in and taking the path of least resistance while avoiding collisions. Crossing the road as a pedestrian was always an adventure – just step out in faith, advancing with predicable cadence, never taking a backward step and never running – everyone on wheels seems to avoid killing you; amazing. Boarding a plane is a similar experience… I think everyone is worried the plane will depart without them or that someone will steal their seat.

              There were not many dogs and I they never chase cars or show aggression to humans; they instead just look nervous – dinner maybe. Much like the New Zealand farmer’s favourite sheep – same-same, different. I think only Kiwis will get the joke. I eventually worked-up the courage to go and get a massage to deal with a neck and back that spends too much time with my computer. I seek inflicted pain rather than a happy ending but communication is always a challenge in Asian countries. Vietnam is a moral place; I need not have been concerned. No overt prostitution or immorality anywhere. This is a family destination and highly recommended. It’s especially a ‘must see’ for Western first-world teenagers to understand the evils of war and the power of a forward-looking demeanour – no hatred, no bitterness, just tolerance. But they never forget their past; their nationhood came at a price possibly higher than any other nation on the face of the planet.

              It’s the people that define the experience in visiting any destination. Sandy beaches with resorts are a dime a dozen all over the world, Vietnam included. Differentiation is all about the experience created for customers through people. Here is what I learned about the Tao (way) of selling in Vietnam.

              Mash-ups rule. They embrace all religions with harmony and everyone is free to practice their faith without restriction. The only thing they do not tolerate is any religion with violent intolerance. They’ve also blended communism with capitalism but with far greater freedom than China and with local representatives elected through open and ethical voting. Social Selling 3.0 is all about mash-ups, taking the best within your own meta-framework for selling.

              Same, same, different. They know they need to differentiate and it’s incredibly difficult in a market where everyone seems to be selling the same stuff. They do their best with how they sell rather than what they sell. This is another important ingredient for the best sellers in the west – focus on how you sell rather that what you sell. Leading with insight, building trust and creating value remain important for winning in competitive markets.

              Build a relationship. Vietnam is filled with push sellers. Everywhere you go you are confronted or coerced. The smartest sellers however engage you in conversation to build rapport. Relationships are the basis of all sales success – we buy from those we like and trust.

              Provide value. On several occasions people started offering assistance with directions and provide helpful advice. You feel obligated to buy something when they’ve helped you. In Social Selling 3.0, quality content is king, queen, president and prime minister. Provide insight and helpful information; be a thought leader and people will come to you. At the very least they will respond to your approach once they’ve done their homework on you.

              Genuine service. A genuine smile and sincere friendliness goes a long way and in Vietnam a tip is usually not expected. Be wholeheartedly generous of spirit in how you serve others – they will notice and show their appreciation.

              Impeccable manners. Politeness overcomes language barriers and often manners serve as the best communication. We know what please and thank you are even when we don't know the language – good manners is the beginning of overcoming any cultural difference. We should show good manners when we engage in social; don't let volume kill quality or shorthand create the wrong impression. Never forget the importance of old school as you engage in new school mediums.

              Provide a great experience. Our tour operator was focused on providing a customer experience that created wonderful memories. They confirmed every pick-up and flight and removed any uncertainty or stress. We all need to focus on the customer experience rather than ourselves and what we do. We need to obsess about their needs and timing rather than our own.

              Have a world-view that creates a successful life. My sister and her husband happened to be holidaying in Indochina around the same time as us and in e-mail exchanges we both commented on how happy people can be with so little. Western society can learn much from the east concerning contentment. She shared with me the seven rules for a happy life that their guide bestowed upon them:

              1. Never hate
              2. Don't worry
              3. Live simple
              4. Expect a little
              5. Give a lot
              6. Always smile
              7. Have good friends

              Thanks Tracy Hughes for contribution.

              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: Lucas Jans