Getting Out of Your Own Way

Securing new customers is never easy. The best salespeople increase their revenue by breaking down the self-perpetuated roadblocks and barriers that can make selling tough. In short, they hit their sales plans by getting out of their own way.

Consider these examples of salespeople that are getting in their own way when it comes to increasing sales:

A sales rep at a software company is having a great month. So great, in fact, that finding time to cold call ­— a reality in his business — is tough. Cold calling is no fun, and since he’s busy anyway, he accidentally on purpose forgets to remember to do it. His next month’s sales tank because he let his funnel run dry.

A major account manager at an electrical wholesaler is busy, too. He has five quotes for large orders out in buyers’ hands. He is not a fan of the company’s CRM software, so he doesn’t log them into his dashboard. A few weeks go by and one slips through the cracks — not the largest, but a solid deal from a regular customer. That customer wonders why the account manager did not follow up and places the order with his competitor instead.

In both of these instances, the salespeople got in their own way. They are busy, hardworking and well-meaning folks. But they committed a few easily avoidable sales errors that made their lives unnecessarily difficult.

Getting out of your own way as a salesperson means doing what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it. If you follow this approach, 90% of the challenges related to reaching your sales goals will vanish.

Here are some easy things to do to get out of your own way…

  • Create written plans for sales meetings: Want to hold a sales meeting twice? Don’t do a written agenda for the first go ‘round. You’ll be bound to miss something and have to reconvene. Doubling back like this kills your sales velocity and pushes revenue into the next quarter when you need it in this quarter.
  • Make appointments with yourself to do the tough stuff: Cold calling and the like are tasks that only the heartiest sellers enjoy. Book a meeting in your calendar to do this stuff and keep those meetings. Finding time to do the fun stuff will take care of itself.
  • Stay on top of your administrative duties: What is more depressing than a pile of overdue admin work staring you in the face? Do your expense reports regularly. Hand in your activity reports on time. Doing so saves time and displays your respect for the recipients. 
  • Prepare the big stuff early: You know Last-Minute Larry. He’s the one scrambling around the office, yelling at his computer and cursing the printer. He leaves the prep work for important meetings until the day before. He is stressed. He is not making sales. He is not having fun. Don’t be a Larry.

Sales is a stream that runs downhill. When excess debris piles up, damming and pooling occurs. The flow stops. Getting out of your own way means moving what needs to be moved to allow the flow to be maintained.

The Holiday Contagion

From a November point of view, many salespeople anticipate December as a tough sales month, what with the impending holidays. Why is it, then, that some salespeople are able to make it a great month while these salespeople flounder? Those who succeed know that December is an opportune time to get a “yes” to their deals. They know the secret of contagious Holiday emotions.

In his seminal book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman talks about the contagious nature of emotions. For the full month of December, your buyer is awash in a Petri dish of positive emotions. Holiday advertising, party planning, and in-office decorations are all around. Astute salespeople use this naturally-occurring phenomenon to help set the stage for a great January. They employ this simple strategy to move their deals forward:

  • Be diligent in mailing out personalized holiday cards (non-denominational ones are best) early, so they land on buyers’ desks for December 1st. Most salespeople send out holiday cards anyway, but doing it early gets you pleasantly top of mind with your buyers.
  • Next, consider the buyer[s] you want to meet with and ask yourself, “Would this person prefer an off-site ‘eggnog’ meeting or holiday lunch, or is December a busy time for them, in which case a 15-minute ‘to-the-point’ meeting would be best?”
  • Then call in the first few days of the month to request a December meeting with each buyer.
  • Position the meeting based on each buyer’s anticipated preference. This sounds like “December is a nice time to get out of the office for an eggnog latte,” or “I know you are swamped in December; I think we can accomplish what we need to in 15 minutes or so.”
  • During the meeting, focus only on securing a “yes” to moving the deal forward to the next logical place in the sales process, and no further.
  • To maintain momentum, book a next meeting for January (for many buyers this is back-to-business time) to iron out the more intricate details around implementing or moving the deal forward.
  • If time allows, settle in and use the rest of the meeting to build your personal relationship with that buyer.

Buyers hesitate to meet, and buy, in December because it is a bad month to implement anything new. Wise salespeople address this hesitation by proposing a limited agenda when requesting buyer meetings. In fact, they break the sale into two parts.

They say, “I know December is a tough time to implement new things. Can we talk about what moving forward might look like in general terms? We can set a follow-up meeting in January to discuss the fine-detail stuff.”

In other words, they suggest dealing with the easy part (the decision to buy) now, and the harder part (implementation details) later. And, they make this request when their buyers are in the splash zone of contagious holiday emotions.

December is a fun time to maintain sales momentum. Remember, a great December sales month looks like a fully booked January!

You Are Your Ideas

It’s a simple fact of your life as a sales professional life that your contacts see several of “you” every day—so many, in fact, that one blends into the next. Only rarely does one sales professional rise to the top and stand out above the rest. This individual wins more deals, sells more, and has stronger relationships with their buyers. What have you done lately to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd?

Your brain, and what is in it, is your key differentiator. You are your ideas. They are singularly unique, powerful, and highly desired by your buyers. Engage your creativity and you will be two steps ahead of other sellers.

Astute buyers recognize that you have a deeper expertise regarding the myriad applications of your products and services than they do. Think of the dental implant salesperson who sits chairside, advising the oral surgeon as she places the implant in a patient’s mouth. Despite their years of training, these surgeons still seek out and value the input of an expert on a specific product. 

You may feel you are not the creative type—many salespeople don’t. But creativity is not limited to artistic expression. Analyzing a problem to remedy buyer Pain or attain desired Gains is creativity in action. If you prepare to have idea-generation conversations with your buyers, creativity will happen quite naturally.

Try this approach…

Clear your desk and think through your customer list. Pick one who you uses your products and services already

Ask yourself, “What Pains exist in this buyer’s world that my company can help them with? What Gains might they desire that I can help them realize?” You will likely find a couple of each.

For each Pain and Gain identified, brainstorm a non-obvious/creative application of your products and services that could help them. Wrack your brains on this one. You will definitely generate some great ideas.

Book a meeting with your buyer, saying “I want to meet to ensure that I am doing all I can to help you. I have some ideas I would like to share with you.”

Conduct the meeting, using questions to guide your buyer through your thought process. Your goal is to learn whether they see their situation as you see it, and if pursuing your problem-solving ideas is worthwhile.

Even if none of your ideas fly, you will have advanced your standing by virtue of having held this meeting. While other salespeople are busy trying to sell something, you are trying to help. Your buyer will know the difference. 

The Path to Mastery

In his book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell proffers that those who achieve mastery in their endeavour of choice do so by investing at least 10,000 hours honing their craft.  How are you doing on your path to sales mastery?

Gladwell points out that it is not necessarily those most naturally gifted that succeed splendidly.  He argues that the thing that distinguishes top performers is how hard they work.  That’s it.  He states “the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.”

Here are a few ways from easiest to hardest that you can work smart while working harder to attain mastery in sales;

Easiest:  Before every sales interaction write down [yes, old school pen and paper] what your measurable goals are for that meeting.  Ensure these goals are things that will move your sale forward.  Immediately after the call measure your success.  Did you attain your sales call goal?  If yes, how did you do it.  If not, why not?  This simple action, if done religiously for every sales call, will make you a better sales person. 

Moderate:  Every selling day identify one specific sales skill to focus on and practice.  In every sales interaction that day be mindful of doing that one thing better and better.  For instance, if you want to improve your listening skills make that the focus of the day.  Then in each call bite your tongue, button your lip, or do whatever you have to in order to stay quiet and let the other party do the talking.  Score yourself out of 10 for each sales call to measure your improvement.  This approach to improvement will sharpen your selling skills.

Hardest:  Practice your selling skills with a peer.  Have a big sales meeting coming up?  Sit with a colleague and run your planned approach by them.  Ask them to give you tough love feedback around where your strategy is strong and where it is weak.  Then, role play, [yes, role play!], the call with them.  Sound goofy?  Where would you rather practice, in front of the buyer with a deal at stake or in front of a peer where nothing except your continued improvement is at stake?  Your choice.

Hardest Part II:  Ask a peer or manager you respect to be a sales coach for you.  Meet with them every week to do the above mentioned practice work.  Treat this meeting as sacrosanct.  Make it a point to never miss it.  Tough?  Yes.  Effective?  You bet.

Sales success is predicated on good sales habits.  You don’t develop good sales habits by continually repeating bad ones.  You develop them by identifying your good habits and making them strengths, and identifying bad habits and dumping them.  This takes time and practice, and working smart while working hard.

Be a Top Performer

Top performers want to know how their sales progress is measuring up to their sales goals, and how it compares to that of their colleagues. Poor performers want to hide under a rock. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you how you are doing this month. Be a top performer.

Top performers exercise great initiative to learn exactly where their sales results lie. They regularly perform a few simple analyses that serve as their sales success barometer. In doing so, they position themselves to have more powerful sales coaching conversations with their managers than their teammates. Why is this so?

They don’t burn valuable sales coaching time trying to figure out where their sales results lie. They arrive with the analytical heavy lifting — their “homework” — done, which allows them and their Sales Coach to get right down to business, creating sales strategies and plans to close deals. This is both effective and efficient. Time with your sales sage is golden and hard to come by. This approach makes the most of each available minute.

Sales progress measurement for most salespeople consists of knowing their percent to sales plan and year over year sales. Up your game by performing a few uncommon assessments before your next sales coaching session: 

  • Born-On Date: Use the date you first touched each sales lead to calculate the length of time you have been working on closing it. Express this in days, displayed prominently within your sales tracker. Start your coaching conversation with “this lead is X days old as of today.” Looking at the start date for a lead is common. Expressing it in days and focusing on it acutely is uncommon. It develops a healthy sense of urgency to do something immediately to move it forward to closure.
  • Buyer Commitments To Date: Sales activities do not move deals to closure. Sales activities plus buyer commitments do. Listing what your buyer has committed to so far in a sale — e.g., sharing sensitive data, bringing in other key buying influences and senior executives, etc. — gives you a gauge of their current level of commitment to considering your deal. Low commitment = low likelihood of closure. Recognizing this early allows for strategy creation now, rather than later when the deal is stale or flat-lining.
  • Why This Buyer Might Say No: Confront the brutal reality by listing objections your buyer may be harbouring that will sabotage your deal. Wrack your brains and make this list exhaustive. Then, create strategies to minimize or eliminate each one. Doing this before objections are raised prepares you for any eventuality, and increases your effectiveness in managing them should they arise.

Great sales strategies are best created with more than one mind tackling the challenge. A sales coaching session is an opportune chance to create such synergies. A few minutes of focused planning prior to your sales coaching session will contribute to solid sales results, and inclusion in your company’s ranks of top performers.