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How the Best Salespeople Sell – Part One

I almost never go more than a few days without receiving a tweet or message asking for tips on starting out in sales. It’s an easy question to answer.

It’s easy because unlike so many areas of life, sales, or more accurately, professional selling, has clearly defined right and wrong ways of going about it. If you go about it the right way, you succeed. If you go about it the wrong way, you don’t. Period!

Before I begin I should remind you of my definition of success. You can appear to succeed by lying and cheating but real success must be earned honestly. If you cheated and lied your way to the top then you might be wealthy but you’re not a success. You’re most certainly not a professional salesperson.

Okay, here’s how the best salespeople sell…

They have a defined, repeatable selling process. They always know where in the process they are and what is required to move to the next step of the process. I prefer a sales process that is designed to mirror the emotional buying process that humans go through. Dale Carnegie’s sales process is designed to do just that. I teach a proprietary sales process that is built on many of the same principles. 

I tell salespeople all the time that there are two ways to sell, by process or by accident. If you’re not using a process then how will you know what “worked” and what didn’t? How will you determine if you’re making progress with the customer? How will you know why they purchased from you and why they didn’t? 

If you can’t state, with great specificity, why you lost the last five prospects who didn’t buy from you then you’re likely not using a process. If you can’t state, with even greater specificity, why you’re last five customers purchased from you then you’re likely selling by accident.

You’re odds of long-term sales success go way, way up if you use a well defined sales process. 

Despite what you may have heard, the best salespeople do not always ask for the order. They only ask for the order after they have earned the right to do so. They earn that right by determining if and how their product or service will help their prospect achieve their desired goals and objectives. Once they have earned the right then they indeed always ask for the order. 

Keep in mind that we are talking about professional salespeople so even when they haven’t earned the right to ask for the order they still ask for something. They ask for something that will move the sales process forward; maybe it’s a product demonstration, perhaps an introduction to someone else within the account, maybe it’s a referral. But it is always something. 

If you’re wasting your time and your customer’s time by not moving the sales process forward then you’re likely just a professional visitor, not a professional salesperson. Professional salespeople use their time exceedingly well and are always respectful of the time their customers invest with them.

In Part Two later this week we’ll look at some of the specific skills that the best salespeople are always working on to improve. 

The Rules for Starting Over

If this post didn’t contain a single word other than the title that would still pretty well sum up the rules for starting over. 

There are no rules for starting over.

No requirements. No limitations. No reason you can’t. There is no right way or wrong way. There is just your way. You can start over whenever and however you want.

You may think you’re “too old” to begin again but consider these people who had the same thing said about them: 

Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some “experts” told him it was too late to begin.

Phyllis Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was “too old” to become a success.

Julia Child didn’t even learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t launch her popular show until she was 50.

Harlan Sanders, the Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, was 66 when he began to promote his style of cooking and create an empire.

Each of these individuals had three things in common: they wanted more out of life than they were getting. They believed in themselves when others might have had doubts. They made a decision to begin again. 

Anyone who can make a decision can start anew! 

All that it takes is a decision that says my life is not heading in the direction that I thought it would so I’ll change directions now. It takes a decision and a commitment to do something different than you are doing now. 

This much is certain; if you want tomorrow to produce a different result than the one you have now then you’re going to have to do something different. You need to know and acknowledge that “different” requires change and it will likely be a moment by moment fight to accept the change. 

Here are just a few thoughts if you’re thinking you would like to steer yourself in another direction.

To start over you may need to admit your role in getting yourself where you are today. Until you accept responsibility for what you have, where you are, and why you made the decisions you did it will be very difficult to do anything differently. 

Consider what and who has held you back and decide immediately to eliminate or lesson their impact and influence on your life. Be honest with yourself, not every “friend” is truly a friend. Future success is not just about what you start doing, it may well be even more about what you stop doing.

Take some time to plan and strategize. Decide what you’re willing to invest and when you’re thinking investment don’t just think about money, think about time too. Change takes time, learning new habits takes time. Don’t underestimate the importance of budgeting time to eliminate old habits and replace them with new ones.

Dreams have no age limits but our minds often do. If you think you’re too old the first thing you need to change is your mind. 

Once you do that anything is possible. 

Procrastinators Have Too Much Patience

Successful people know the difference between procrastination and patience. One simply wastes time and one provides the opportunity to think, reflect, plan, and adjust. 

Patience can be productive, procrastination can’t. If procrastination doesn’t kill your chances for success today then it most certainly will tomorrow or perhaps the next day. But it will get you sooner or later.

Despite popular opinion procrastination is not only a lazy person’s problem. Some very busy people struggle with it too. In fact, one of the very reasons they struggle with it is the fact they are too busy. They attempt to do more than is possible and overload their calendars day in and day out. Their calendars  get so full they have no idea where to start, so they frequently don’t actually get started. 

There has never been a time in history when more “tools” were available to help with the scourge of procrastination. You likely have one of those tools in your pocket… or your hand, this very moment. Yes, the very thing that “helps” us procrastinate, our smartphone, can help us stop. 

There are 100′s of apps available to help us be more productive. I’ve tried many of them but my current app of choice is the native “reminders” app on my iphone. It syncs with my laptop and iPad so I have pings and dings and little red numbers popping up all over. It’s annoying but it also has really helped.

I avoid any app that looks like a simple to-do list. I don’t know a single highly productive person that would go near a to-do list. If you use a to-do list and you think you’re highly productive then  I would tell you you’ll be much more productive when you ditch that liar of a tool. 

I call a to-do list a liar because it fools us into thinking that our “busyness” is the same as productivity. We check something off a to-do list and feel good about getting something done. The question is, should we have done it at all. Maybe and maybe not.

I highly recommend any app that allows you to create a Daily Prioritized Task List. This takes your to-do list to a whole new level. You now do things in order of their importance. That requires thought on how you will use your limited hours in a day. You must decide which of the many things you have “to-do” will provide you the biggest payback and force yourself to follow the prioritization. It may even require you to stop doing some less productive things.

Of course there are a couple of problems with all these apps: I can simply turn off my smartphone (highly unlikely) or just choose to ignore it. (highly likely) I’d bet most people reading this are a lot like me.

That’s why the very best tool to help you with your procrastinating tendencies is a tool that’s been around forever. The “tool” is called a mentor. These days some people call it a coach. 

No one climbs a mountain without a climbing partner and for many people climbing a mountain would be easier than overcoming procrastination. So find a coach or mentor and ask them to help you climb the mountain of procrastination. Share your prioritized daily task list and ask them to hold you accountable to tackle each task in order of it’s importance. 

Virtually every person I’ve ever met could accomplish more than they thought they could and virtually every person I’ve met needed someone to help them do it. The right mentor will remind you of the vast difference between procrastination and patience and never allow you to substitute busy for productive. 

Apps are great but they still can’t replace interaction with a human that has the capacity to care enough about you to truly hold you accountable. I hope they never will.

Did Anybody Really Hear You?

I have certain expectations of individuals who have the audacity to describe themselves as leaders. One of the key expectations is that they be very effective communicators. 

Effective communicators know that what they say matters little when compared to what was heard. They also know that what was heard matters even less when compared to what was understood.

The words you speak may be as elegant as Socrates’ and the words you write my flow like Mark Twain’s but none of it matters if your intended audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying.

As I travel around speaking about leadership virtually nothing causes more discussion than when I say that leaders are 100% responsible for how their “message” is received. 

There will likely always be someone who just can’t accept or understand your message. But if you’re not willing to accept 100% responsibility for how and if your message is received then you’re going to have a whole lot of “someones” in your organization.

Here are what I believe to be just a few of the “keys” to effective communication.

Great communicators understand that words only create 7% of the impact they make when communicating, whether it be one on one or in front of a large audience. Voice tone – varying the volume, pace and pitch of their voice, punctuating the important words and pausing actually contribute 38%. And, body language, making decisive gestures, great eye contact and your energy make up a whopping 55% of how you impact and influence others.

Great communicators never talk “to” people, they talk “with” them. It makes no difference if you’re having a quiet coffee with an individual or speaking in front of thousands, you’ll never connect with someone by talking to them. If you’re going to talk with someone you had best keep in mind one of Dale Carnegie’s principles from “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s the principle that says: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. People tend to care a lot more about what you think when they first know that you care about what they think.

Great communicators have passion. They care about what they are saying and it shows. This is particularly important when speaking to groups. It is vital when attempting to motivate others. There is perhaps nothing more important in determining how your message will be received then whether or not it was presented with passion. 

Authentic leaders invest the time to make certain their words will be heard as intended. They accept responsibility for the acceptance of their message. They know that once something is said it’s stays said so they are thoughtful in their choice of words.

Authentic leaders also write exactly as they speak. They don’t count their words, they weigh them. They never write ten words when their point can be made with nine. They don’t use big words to impress, they use the right words to inform and influence. 

Here’s a question for all leaders to ponder: If nobody heard what you said was there really any point to saying it? Great communicators prepare to communicate well. 

Do You?

Authentic Leadership Doesn’t Pigeon Hole People

Authentic Leadership is a balancing act. 

An authentic leader must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people. They must make judgments about their people and make certain that they are giving their people the best chance to succeed. 

It’s a balancing act because authentic leaders can’t afford to be judgmental while making the judgments required to help their people succeed. Authentic leaders know better than to apply their own life’s circumstances and values to the situations and decisions of their people. Authentic leaders accept most everything at face value. 

Authentic leaders know that judging a person does more to define themselves than it does the person they judge. They also know that every person is in someway unique and gifted. Authentic leaders invest the time to discover what those gifts are and find a way to put them to use.

Authentic leaders are realists and they are fair. There will always be a person or persons who a leader “prefers” working with but that preference shouldn’t mean “extra” benefits or opportunities for that “preferred” person. Rules and policies apply equally or they don’t really apply at all.

Most of all, a leader should never pigeon hole their people.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term “pigeon hole” it means to decide that someone or something belongs to a particular type or group, especially without knowing much about them.

This is where authentic leaders really separate themselves from the more common leader: They know their people. They know what motivates them, they know their challenges and goals. They see their people as PEOPLE and not merely a resource to be allocated. 

They invest the time everyday, yes everyday, to understand them as people. They work to understand their environment, backgrounds, past successes and failures. They can make judgments without being judgmental because they know where their people are coming from. 

If you’re a leader who believes (accurately) that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people then don’t judge what you don’t know. If you’re a leader who believes that your organization’s greatest asset is it’s people then invest your time with your greatest asset. 

People want to matter and when they know that they matter to you then and only then will you have the opportunity to truly lead.

The Murderous Nature of The Status Quo

Are you a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of leader? Do you believe in “leaving well enough alone?” Have you ever looked at your organization, your team or your processes and said confidently “we’re good, no need to reinvent the wheel?”

Consider that last statement for a moment. Imagine if the wheel really had never been reinvented. History tells us that the first wheels were apparently made from stone. They were as round as they could make them but I’ve yet to see an image of a perfectly round wheel from the days of the first wheels.

Think about a brand new shiny car with GPS and bluetooth and all the comforts of home… with stone wheels. I’ll bet that would do a number on the gas mileage, not to mention how it could kill the drive though business at Starbucks. Can you imagine trying to drink a hot cup of coffee while riding around on “almost” round stone wheels.

Now aren’t we glad that somebody ignored the advice and actually did reinvent the wheel!

Nothing kills progress like the status quo. Leaders who are satisfied with the “as is” will never experience the accomplishment of achieving the “should be.” Authentic leaders are constantly looking for a better way. Their goal isn’t necessarily perfection; it’s simply to be better tomorrow than they are today. It has nothing to do with how good they are, even the best are always striving to be better.

Being better tomorrow than you are today will require change. Improvement and growth requires that someone or something change. The reason that some leaders get comfortable with the status quo is that change also comes with risk and some leaders will do anything to avoid risk.

The problem is that businesses that attempt to avoid all risks likely avoid continued success at the same time. Leaders of any type of organization who are too risk adverse lose the opportunity to achieve all that they could.

In their attempt to avoid risk and keep everything just as it is they almost guarantee that what they have they won’t have for long. If you disagree with that then just travel to Canada and talk with the well-meaning team at Blackberry. Blackberry, formerly known as Research in Motion, is the perfect case study of an organization hanging on to the “as is” at the expense of the “should be.”

The world today allows no person and no organization seeking continued success to sit still.  A business satisfied with the status quo most likely has stakeholders that aren’t satisfied at all.

As a leader it is imperative that you know that if you’re not moving up then you’re most assuredly moving down.

The status quo is a murderer; it kills progress while providing the illusion of comfort and success. Don’t however, attempt to hold the status quo accountable for the death of your success, the status quo means no harm, death is just it’s nature.

Leaders who consort with the status quo and hold it dear, well now, their accountability for the death of success is a whole different matter.

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 


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