There are loads of books out there about sales. I was fortunate last year to have breakfast with the author of the best selling sales book of all time, Jeff Gitomer, who wrote ‘The Little Red Book of Selling‘. Jeff has an awesome ego, as one might expect, and was wonderful company. He cooked me a mean breakfast, and took the mickey out of me because I took milk in my coffee. He was exactly as I had expected, multiplied by six (as Megamind might say.)
Books on how to sell – there are a plenty. But there are few books on how to manage sales people inside a business. The best of these is Mark Wilensky’s 2006 ‘Inside Sales Management‘. Wilensky’s techniques explain how best to manage the sales manager, the team, and how they should respond to clients. Much of it is formed from the study of psychology.
Mark’s main point is that you need to grow your sales team to grow sales. Training in this never stops.
We start with a premise that we have three states – Parent, Adult or Child. We flit between these in nano seconds, and how we respond in various situations is governed (and explained) by which ‘state’ we are in.
- Parents say things like ‘you should‘
- Adults say ‘I think’
- Children say ‘I feel‘
You don’t want your sales people to be in the child state. A child can either be rebellious (manipulative, shrewd), natural (wants to play) or adapted (changes behaviour to fit in).
Nurturing parents are liked, but don’t close many sales.
The best sales managers know when to use their ‘critical parent’, ‘adult’, and their ‘nurturing parent’ state. If you want your sales team to grow, stay out of the ‘critical parent’.
Example – a client makes your sales person feel threatened, that sales person may fall into their ‘child’ state. It’s important the sales person stays in the adult, as the child can get stressed, whereas the adult skilfully navigates the otherwise stressful situation. There’s no such thing as a stressful situation, says Wilensky, there are only stressful or non stressful reactions.
The worst sales person blames the outside world (the economy, the competitor, the client…). It’s a childlike response. It’s commonplace. The best sales people realise they can affect change. When talking to a stressed out sales person, make the conversation adult to adult. What do you think? Keep away from emotions (child), stay rational (adult). If they get defensive, they are in their child, so snap them out of it. If they notice you getting critical (parent), then they must stop you!
Giving away discounts too easily smacks of need for approval (nurturing parent). Help them move together. Fear of cold calling is akin to a child’s fear of strangers, so reward them after they have done their cold calling. Take the emotion (fear) away.
Managing your ‘child’ sales people is a matter of identifying who is who. The ‘rebellious child’ is creative and manipulative. You can have fun with them, but there’s a limit. They are after short term wins, and will bend the rules. They could be playing you. It’s the most challenging personality type to manage. But they can get great results, although rarely long term.
Generally, a nurturing parent is better than a critical one, and a rebellious child is better than an adaptive one.
There’s a continuum from being too weak (wimp) in sales and going too far (overly aggressive, putting off clients and sales). On this continuum, you want your sales team to be nudging the ‘going too far‘ end of the spectrum, without going over the line. What seems ‘too far’ today may be perfectly normal tomorrow. Moving to the ‘too far’ end is the direction you should be taking them. Remember what you were doing 5 years ago, and where you were? What about 5 years before that? Could you have imagined 10 years ago where you’d be 5 or 10 years on? You need to keep pushing to get progress, says Wilensky.
The client will always throw things back at your staff, and you can train them to give better answers so they retain their poise when, say, the price is objected to, or the disadvantages of your solution, or the strengths of a competitor or some misinformation about your own services. Spend time in workshops talking these through.
Excuses prevent growth.
Often the client will sell an excuse to the salesperson, who in turn sells it on to the sales manager, who then sells it to top management. Excuses come from the child, not the adult.
Example – the client says they do not have the budget. Your reply is then, ‘Imagine you had the budget, would you then buy the solution?‘. This takes the client out of their child and gets them firmly into adult (thinking). From there it’s a short step to ‘Well yes, of course I’d love to do it, if I had the budget’ and your reply ‘Well, if you see value in our solution, then it’s just a matter of finding the budget and we’re there.’ Reiterate the benefits, get them thinking about the purchase having been made, and the benefits that would accrue, and the growth they would enjoy as a result. Job done.
All growth takes place in the adult state. If you’re a child, you cannot grow. It’s recognising these states, making the change, and then the sale becomes easier. Stop taking excuses, they are outside your control and come from the child. Be firm.
Run through meetings your sales members had with clients. Ask them what they think happened. What went right and what went wrong? Ask why? (how do you know?) Keep them in the adult at all times. Thinking, not critical, no excuses, no judgement. Finish with lessons learned.
Practice this with the team, use role play. How can you deal with tough questions and stay calm? In the adult. Sales people will either show real signs of growth or fade. Poor ones need to be dropped if they can’t change and grow. Medium ones might be worth the investment and time. If the C & D performers can becomes Bs and maybe even As, then morale in the team and whole company improves.
Practice has to be brutal, they have to fail in front of you, almost fall apart, and then be put back together. It will make them better for the tougher questions and clients. Role playing has to be seen as preparing to win. Let’s learn together. It’s OK to be uncomfortable. That’s why we practice. Practice leads to success. (Most will never do this, consistently, so by doing it you are already way ahead of the norm.)
When you are recruiting new salespeople, you need to find someone who can take control, knows the market and product and can prospect. Before you hire, you have to gauge their mindset. They always bring their child with them. You need to find someone who can sell with their intellect (adult), and stays out of their feelings (child). Important characteristics will be poise, strength, can handle rejection, control, dealing with excuses, and is a logical presenter.
Your sales team must has SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-framed). These must be tracked, probably within a CRM on dashboards. We can all see them; there are the KPIs around activity (calls, meetings, proposals) and results (closes). If you don’t track or measure it, it won’t get done. Goals are about the future. Forget the past, it’s over!
The most important information you can glean from clients is why they buy from you.
Every time they buy, it’s because there is a gap between where they are now and where they want to be.
When a prospect does not see a gap, they do not buy. Salespeople solve problems, they fill these gaps. So they need to know where the client wants to be, where they are going, or planning, or are wishing to go.
The client has to have a problem (step 1), and they need to be sure that they believe this problem exists (step 2) and want to solve it (step 3).
Too many sales people rush to solve the problem, being the consultant, without establishing that the problem exists and ensuring the client wants to act.
Without steps 1 or 2, your proposal will fall on deaf ears.
Your sales calls and meetings should be all about finding these gaps, and then persuading the client to act to bridge them.
Adult to adult: (facts)
- what’s the biggest challenge you face at the moment?
- what’s your biggest opportunity to grow?
- who is responsible?
Nurturing parent to adult: (conversations)
- how does <this> affect your department?
- what impact would <this> have on your growth?
Nurturing parent to child: (feelings)
- if we implemented <this> how would it affect you?
- that’s an ambitious target, what happens if you don’t achieve it?
Parent to parent: (should, ought)
- how will top management view <this>?
- if you went for a cheaper option, would you still consider it?
You need to uncover the information in a few of these states, and the sales person does less talking than the client.
Ideally, the client asks for a proposal (you don’t ask to send them one), tells you clearly what their budget is, and when and who will be making the decision.
It’s easy to buy things. Anyone can go out and buy. And when they buy, usually all 3 ego states are used: Parent (we should buy this, it’s the responsible thing to do), Adult (it makes sense for our company) and Child (I like the idea of owning it).
When talking to buyers, it should be a dialogue (50:50 talking each) not a monologue (sales person 80 : 20 client). Often there is a trade off between price, quality and service. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get high quality, the best service and lowest price together. Find out which of these things are most important, so you can trade off the other. If your client says “I guess you get what you pay for” they are there. It’s much better than the salesperson saying it.
Why always drives what. The best salespeople uncovers the client’s why.
Prospecting never ends, and good sales people never stop topping up their pipeline. The rebellious child will put off cold calling, but the adult realises it’s the only way. And it’s not that bad really.
The ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) is one of the cold caller’s best lines. People may be busy, they’ve been interrupted, but can they really risk missing out on the information you might impart that could close the gap between where they want to be and where they are now?
Those on the end of line want to know 2 things
- What is this about?
- Can this benefit me (close any gaps)?
The answers you provide to these will determine whether they will spend the time with you (now or later). Don’t wimp out. Explain the benefits they would miss out on. Hone in on the gaps that will remain if they pass on this opportunity to learn more.
Don’t forget, some of your best prospects might be your existing clients. Have you provided them with all the benefits you can offer? Might there be some gaps here?
Good salespeople who operate from their adult are great at listening, not interrupting, and allow silences for thought. Child salespeople want to talk and talk, and interrupt the adult to get attention. Adult salespeople hear resistance from the client and listen, take it on board, and think. They do not try to score points, they determine what the issue is.
Resistance from prospects means they have either not understood the benefits, or something you’ve said, or are not OK with how you made your point or a combination of these. Good salespeople think ‘how did I allow this to happen?‘ and do not blame the client. They analyse what they said immediately before the objective arose, and their own body language and how they responded.
The worst thing to do is respond with ‘But’ or ‘However’. Rather than saying, “Yes, our price is high, however…” (which is telling the client they are wrong), you could respond with “Yes, our price is high, and I bet even if price was more in line with your expectations, there would be other reasons that stand in the way, would I be right?”
We’re not trying to prove the client wrong. The client has their own reasons, values and beliefs, which we need to uncover so we can direct our efforts better. The client will resist if you get argumentative, and will feel manipulated. So get on their side, be the nurturing parent in this case. The client may even open up a bit. Once you’ve dug down on the reasons, and answered those in an adult manner, perhaps the price now does not look so bad.
The final point Wilensky makes is that everyone is different, so don’t try the same lines on everyone. Some are more open that others, some are more direct than others.
- Bulls (closed/direct) – are domaneering types (critical parents), so keep things concise, on message, demonstrate bottom line results. If you have a 30 minute meeting, take no more than 27. Allow questions, listen. Don’t take any brusqueness personally. Lambs (not great salespeople) can’t sell to Bulls (big ego CEOs and C-suite types).
- Owls (closed/indirect) – are cautious and analytical, so be rational, don’t make sweeping generalisations, don’t touch anything on their desk (they’re private), give balance, don’t force a decision, give detail, it’s OK to say you don’t know (but find out the answer and provide it in a timely fashion). Tigers (usual sales types) find Owls (usual technical buyer types) hard to sell to.
- Lambs (open/indirect) – are nurturing parents, so listen patiently, empathise, provide solutions that don’t ‘rock the boat’, be soft in closing and indirect (‘your entire company will benefit‘), they may compliment but still not buy, they don’t like to say no. Tell them it’s OK to say no. There are a lot of lambs out there.
- Tigers (closed/direct) – are natural extroverts, so make conversation stimulating, they like to talk about themselves, so stories and name dropping works better than analytical reasoning. Allow them the glory of the solution, get them dreaming, but close quickly as their concentration is limited.
So, where are we?
From now on,
- Consider the psychology of your clients
- Never present the same way again to all
- Move people out of their states, as relevant
- Don’t fall into the wrong state yourself
- Practice, practice, practice
- Stop buying excuses
- Start coaching
- Set goals
- Turn sales meetings into psychological workshops
- Role play constantly, and, most of all
- Enjoy growing your sales people and your business.