In recent weeks, I’ve been putting together training to help clients and their teams through these very different times; for some, it’s a hugely challenging time whilst, for others, it’s a time of opportunity – much of it depends on your market sector, of course.
However, whichever sector we work in, all we can really do is to win market share. That’s true in times of plenty as well as more difficult times but, in the latter, we often lose sight of that simple truth.
To win more market share in unusual times, teams often have to realign their goals, refocus their energies and reboot their motivation. Though the current climate is even more extreme, I did lots of work in the tech sector during the credit crunch and it was all about keeping motivated by realising that all you can do is win the attention of the market and increase your percentage share of it. You can’t control when the market comes back but, when it does (and it’s when not if), you’ll have more contacts, a heightened awareness in the market and you’ll be best placed to win the same percentage (possibly more) in a much bigger market. In the meantime (ie. now), a training boost can give salespeople their mojo back so they’ll win more business in the near future too.
Of course, I’d be delighted to speak to anyone who’s interested in how we can help your salespeople right now. But, whether you speak to us or another sales training expert or whether you’d prefer to do it in-house, don’t just leave your sales team to ‘get on with it’. Give them some support right now – it will get you through these tough times and put you in a MUCH BETTER position on the other side.
Take the right steps now to give your sales teams the motivation, purpose and energy that will help immediately and sustain them into the New Year. Best wishes and here’s to renewed sales vigour!
The ‘golden hour’ is a term used in medicine that suggests every second of the first hour after a traumatic injury can mean the difference between life and death. In criminal investigations, the initial 48 hours are deemed critical to whether a case is solved or not. Action saves lives, solves investigations, and in the job world, can mean the difference between a candidate accepting a job offer or rejecting it.
Research by Becker, Connolly and Slaughter for Personnel Psychology in 2010 found that quick job offers resulted in a higher probability of acceptance. The longer a candidate was kept waiting, the less likely they were to accept. This research is a decade old and it wasn’t even new news then!
Studies on the subject date back to the 1970s and beyond. Good candidates are hard to find and offer acceptance isn’t guaranteed. That was true in the 1970s, true in 2019 and true today, even amid a global pandemic. Recent figures suggest that up to 85,000 UK jobs have been lost amid the Coronavirus pandemic so it would be easy to assume that good candidates are aplenty and, as it’s a job led market, they’re bound to accept your offer. That is not the case. Yes, there are more good candidates job hunting than there were in February. However, good people will have options. If you’re able to, now is a great time to recruit talent that wouldn’t normally be available. Don’t miss out on that talent, particularly at the offer stage, because your competitors beat you to it.
In late 2008 and only months away from running out of cash, Ford Motor Company faced a bleak future. The wider industry was in even worse shape and, while others took huge bailouts, Ford committed to saving itself. And save itself it did, catapulting from near bankruptcy to becoming the most profitable car maker in the world. The story of how that happened is a remarkable one, detailed in the book “American Icon” by Bryce G. Hoffman.
A key contributor in that colossal turnaround was Alan Mulally, former president of Boeing Company’s commercial aviation division and, as of 5th September 2006, CEO of Ford Motor Company. What’s interesting is that despite helping Boeing recover from the impact of the 9/11 attacks, senior executives at Ford were sceptical. Mulally’s credibility was repeatedly questioned because he was an outsider with no knowledge or experience of the motor industry. In one meeting, Ford’s Chief Technical Officer commented that “we appreciate you coming here from a company like Boeing but you’ve got to realise that this is a very, very capital-intensive business with long product-development lead times. The average car is made up of thousands of different parts and they all have to work together flawlessly.” Not one to be dismissed so easily, Mulally responded “That’s really interesting, the typical passenger jet has four million parts and if just one of them fails, the whole thing can fall out of the sky. So, I feel pretty comfortable with this.”
14 years on, relevant industry experience is an essential requirement for many companies. For some roles, it’s essential for good reason but for many, it’s not. So often those with the desired skills, attitude and aptitude are dismissed outright purely because they lack industry experience. Industry experience isn’t a skill, it’s knowledge. Knowledge can be taught but having the attitude and will to succeed is much more difficult. If an individual has the knowledge AND skills, attitudes and habits you seek – great, hire them! Where that isn’t the case, industry experience is often prioritised over and above other requirements as the perceived risk is lower. If that’s the case, the best person for the job isn’t always the one being hired. How damaging to business success is that?!
It’s positive to read that Ford had the foresight to hire for such a senior role based on skills and ability rather than industry experience. In doing so, Ford took a risk and, rather than detailing the demise of Ford, Hoffman’s narrative is one of success. Since then, Ford has continued to seek fresh eyes for top roles – current CEO Jim Hackett spent 30 years working for furniture manufacturer Steelcase and current CFO Tim Stone has a background in Tech. While only three examples can’t serve as 100% proof of the point, they do suggest that an outsider’s perspective paired with the right qualities, mindset and skillset can breathe life into companies that may otherwise stagnate.
Are attractive people more likely to be successful in sales? We all know the politically correct answer is ‘No’ but what does the evidence show?
I’ve thought about this point many times before and have even included modules on it within training sessions I’ve run over the years. It came back to the forefront of my mind when, after looking at the photos of all our podcast guests, I received an email request for a meeting from yet another salesperson at LinkedIn.
Whilst I’m not suggesting that all our podcast guests look like Hollywood superstars, I’d say they’re all nice-looking people. This isn’t just pure bone structure (well, not all cases) but a friendly face, nice smile and warm gestures with positive body language. I then received that LinkedIn message and, just like every previous salesperson from LinkedIn, the person’s profile contained a photo of a very attractive lady who could have been a Hollywood superstar, I suspect!
That is not coincidence – it’s a plan.
Now, of course, I’m not suggesting for one moment that just being attractive makes you successful in sales or in life. In sales, the service or product you sell needs to match the needs identified; the way in which you sell it should illustrate to the customer that the solution offered will help them achieve what they want; and the value represented needs to be reflected in the price. I’m not disputing any of those points; I’m just questioning whether a good salesperson who’s attractive will beat a good salesperson who’s not, all other things being equal. I suspect the answer is yes, however shallow that may seem.
You see, the essence of this argument about looks is captured in 2 names, I think: Mark McCormack and Robert Cialdini.
Mark McCormack was the CEO of International Management Group (IMG), one of the world’s biggest celebrity management companies before any of us really knew what celebrity management was (they started with golfers and moved onto tennis, fashion and film stars). Talking of how to do business well, McCormack said:
“All things being equal, people will do business with those they like; all things being unequal, people will still do business with those they like.”
Whilst his words were based on anecdotal experience, they were the words of a man who enjoyed huge success in his field of expertise. I suspect his words are true because, as I think we’d all agree, we buy from those we trust and we are more likely to trust someone we like. It’s very rare we trust someone we don’t like. All other caveats apply re service vs need etc but we’ll still buy from those we like and trust whenever possible.
Moving on from anecdote to evidence takes us back to our second name: Dr Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is a psychologist and his international bestseller – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion – is the best book written on persuasion in the last 20 years. Most books written since then on the same subject are largely based on Cialdini’s theories around the 6 Weapons of Influence. These are 6 methods of communication that we humans have developed over centuries to persuade those around us. One of those 6 weapons is likeability – a quality broken down by social scientists into 5 factors:
Regular contact and cooperation – we like those with whom we have regular contact and with whom we co-operate
Association – we like those we associate with positive things (a great holiday, a fun day out)
Similarity – we like people who are similar to us (upbringing, philosophy, interests)
Compliments – we like people who pay us compliments (even if the compliments are untrue!)
And, of course….. Attractiveness – we like those people we find attractive
As you’d expect from a psychologist, Cialdini gives plenty of evidence (from his own research and from other respected people in his field) to back this up: US politicians who’ve been more successful due to looks; senior executives who’ve won jobs when they were not the best candidate (other than in their looks). If you’re interested in this idea – or you simply don’t believe it – I highly recommend you buy Cialdini’s book and read about it yourself. It amazed me when I read it several years ago.
If we accept that good looks help, what can you do with this information? Well, maybe not very much. I didn’t say I’d have an overarching point! I’m just asking the question of whether you agree that good looks help in sales. However, I believe we can all help ourselves, not by changing our bone structure, but ensuring we look the best we can: that people see us and experience a warm, friendly, approachable face not a cold, intimidating and untrustworthy one. This helps people warm to us, whether that’s in a sales meeting, a job interview or a social interaction away from work.
Bearing this point about looks in mind, I fancy some people on LinkedIn should revisit their profile photos and change them from an attempt to be a moody fashion model to an honest, open smile to which we’re all more likely to warm. I reckon there are some salespeople at LinkedIn who can show you how it’s done!
You don’t need to list everything you’ve ever done, every module you’ve ever studied, every duty you had whilst doing temp work in an office / shop / warehouse. Employers and recruiters know what a shop assistant does and what an English degree is. They don’t need an explanatory list.
2. GIVE ME HEADLINES
A CV is an introduction, an invitation to find out more, not a life story. Turn it into a marketing document, a sales pitch. Make it interesting, intriguing even, with facts, figures, highlights that raise an eyebrow and pique curiosity. Make them want to find out more. That’s the point of a CV!
3. GRAB ME…AND BE QUICK ABOUT IT
If your most impressive achievement is, for example, representing your country at international athletics events as a junior, tell them that in the first line or two of the CV. Don’t hide it under the ‘Hobbies & Interests’ section at the end – they might not get that far.
4. MAKE IT AN EASY READ
Whilst intrigue is great, employers don’t want to have to read your CV several times, piecing together information that is badly presented and difficult to follow. Present it to them in a way they can read easily and understand immediately. Always include dates and don’t leave gaps. They’re suspicious.
5. WHO ARE YOU?!
Don’t forget to show your passions, your interests and your hobbies. They say a lot about you. And give detail. ‘Reading, socialising and sport’ is meaningless. If these are your passions, show some enthusiasm and describe them in a way that illustrates your personality – that’s what sells.
6. TAILOR IT. PLEASE
Employers recognise that you’re not only applying to them but at least show them the respect to tailor your CV to them and to their sector. Easily done by changing a few words in your introduction or summary, it speaks volumes about your commitment and attention to detail. (If you can’t find ways to match yourself to their market, why are you applying?)
7. A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
A controversial one here for some people but we like a photograph on CVs. Yes, of you. You don’t need film star looks – or even soap opera star looks – but it gives humanity and warmth to what can be charmless, and literally faceless, document. Again, it’s showing people who you are.
8. LOSE THE HUMILITY
There are times for humility and times to fly your flag confidently without fear of sounding too big for your boots. A CV is not the time for humility and, no, that doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant. There’s a middle way that shows your skills, your achievements, your potential and makes employers excited about you. If you can’t sell yourself well, why give you a sales job?
9. CHECK IT. THEN AGAIN
When employers find mistakes in CVs, it’s not that they think you are unsuitable because you’re capable of making mistakes – that would count us all out. It raises other, more serious, questions: “Why didn’t you check this, especially when Word can do most of it? Why didn’t you get someone else to check it? How serious are you about this role?”
10. CLEAR, SIMPLE ENGLISH
There are no prizes – and no sales jobs – for using long, complex words and grammar on your CV. Employers are looking for effective communicators who can put across ideas in simple, easy-to understand language. Short sentences. Simple language. Both are winners.
A little while ago, I was buying some milk at Marks & Spencer’s on the way to work in central London. In store, I spotted what is thankfully a rare sight: a man with a plastic bag which he was filling with food and drinks from the store’s shelves. I immediately wondered why this man was not using the perfectly accessible and useful shopping baskets available on entry? I smelt a rat (I know, I’m sharp).
Being a true Londoner I didn’t challenge the man myself but resolved to express my concern to a member of staff.
“I suspect,” my introduction to the checkout guy began, “that someone over by the fridge is stealing from you right now.” How bold I felt playing such a pivotal part in the apprehension of this criminal mastermind. “He has an empty bag and he’s filling it with food and drinks.”
Our eyes met (the checkout guy and me, not the criminal mastermind). He was obviously thinking of a plan and at the same time marvelling at my courage and the manner in which I’d shared this information without alerting the thief. He said nothing. Perhaps his mind wasn’t as quick as I’d expected.
“Sorry, sir, did you say something?” Oh dear, not quite going to plan. I repeated myself. He asked where the man was, I said I didn’t know as I wasn’t actually tracking him, he said nothing, I said that the guy would probably not hang around for long, he gave me my change and receipt with a sense of urgency I understood to mean he was off the catch the felon then he said… “Next please”. He served the next customer!
I left the store (yes, looking out for the thief) and thought, “Wow! The check-out guy really doesn’t care that his store is being robbed.”
My mind raced on. What else happens here that shouldn’t but goes undetected or detected and ignored. And what damage does that do? What about all the other companies with staff that don’t care – how does that affect their performance? And how does that feel to go to work each day and feel so little affinity to your job and your company that, no matter what goes on around you, you don’t care enough to do anything about it? Pretty miserable, I reckon.
About every 2 years, a new Gallup survey assesses Employee Engagement in the UK. The results always fall broadly into three categories: 1. Actively engaged in their work; 2. Neither engaged nor disengaged; 3. Actively disengaged. Before you read on, have a guess at the percentages that fell into each in the most recent survey I read.
18% of employees were actively engaged. That’s depressing! 61% were neither engaged nor disengaged and 21% were actively disengaged. 82% of British employees are not actively engaged in their work – they don’t really care. They go to work. They perform the work they have to do but little more. The effects of that on a business are frightening (never mind the human cost). I saw one effect as I bought my milk and if you have staff that don’t care, I guarantee there will be similar effects in your company. Mistakes overlooked. Customers ignored. Transactions lost.
Now of course there are two sides to this disengagement and it is not just the fault of the employee. Still too many employers care too little for their staff and this level of disengagement is the result.
So, what’s my point? Bearing in mind the unquantifiable financial and human cost to disengaged staff that don’t care what happens at work, I urge you to do everything in your power as a business leader to firstly hire people that do care and then treat them in a way that fosters that care rather than kills it.
“May you live in interesting times” is a phrase often quoted as a Chinese proverb though, apparently, there’s no trace of it in Chinese. Whatever its source, it’s a wish that’s certainly being fulfilled in our world right now.
At this time of big change, I’m reminded of a dinner conversation I regularly had at exhibition weekends across the world in my days in the international property market. “If you could go back to any time in history to see what life was like, which era would you choose and why?” I had a few different answers and could never quite settle on one but the most interesting comment from a colleague was about the days of cavemen and women (someone at the table elected that era).
“I think we’d be surprised how similar to ours the day-to-day life for the cavemen was.” Initially that appears a ridiculous assertion but, on reflection, I think not. Cave dwellers needed to eat and drink. They needed warmth. They needed rest. They needed to reproduce (and protect offspring to preserve their bloodline). And they would have sought relaxation / sport / leisure of some sort.
Our essential human needs and desires are no different – we just have easier means to access all those things though we are also helped considerably by not having to fight for life on a regular basis (none of you reading this anyway).
“So what?” I hear you say.
As we reflect on the changes we see in our society, we may neglect what hasn’t changed, such as the needs of our clients. As ever, clients want value. They want transparency. They want to trust the people with whom they do business. They’re happy to spend their money but they won’t spend it unless they see that value, that transparency, that belief that they can trust you. No matter that we all now find each other online, check each other out online, complain or praise each other online, we have the same needs. We just receive and send our thoughts in different formats.
Spend a little time this week making sure your old-fashioned message (which is also wonderfully up to date) of value, transparency and trust is communicated in every single interaction clients and potential clients have with your company. From your website home page to the recorded answer on your voicemail – online and offline – it’s all building or destroying the value your clients seek whether you’re consciously planning that or not.
I called my 13-year-old today to see if we could meet on our respective commutes home.
“Hi Alfie. It’s Dad!” I said, in a surprised and excited tone as he hardly ever answers his phone.
“Hi Dad. Why are you calling me?” he replied in a tone that suggested neither excitement nor pleasant surprise.
“Hi Dad! How are you?! How nice of you call me! is what you meant to say surely, Alfie?” I replied.
“Yeah, that too. Anyway….why ARE you calling me?”
Kids just say it the way it comes to mind, of course, but this was an example of what we all really think when someone calls us, even someone we know. We might tolerate a ‘How are you?’ though I rarely welcome the question – you don’t really care how I am and I don’t care to discuss it. Are you a doctor? Could you make me better?
Some of us may even allow a little preamble of social chat that is directly proportionate not to how much time we have but to how much we like the person calling or the perceived benefit we expect to get from the call. However, it’s rarely beneficial or interesting to either party if we’re really honest.
Ultimately we’re really thinking, “Why are you calling me?”
You may ask for the same level of social interaction with your close friends and family as I did with my son but, when making business calls, cut to the chase. Pay your respect to those you call by answering the number one question as quickly and clearly as we can: Why are you calling them? Please, for their sake and yours, don’t waste time asking after their health, their enjoyment of the day’s weather or their plans for the weekend.
A few years ago, I was involved in a training session in Bangalore and had a problem with attendees coming back late from breaks. Late arrivals cause timing issues and can also lead to disengagement in the room because others read their tardiness as inconsiderate or indicative of a lack of interest. It’s not easy to solve. As this session was a pilot for a Global Programme for one of the world’s biggest technology companies, it had to work. I came up with an idea.
“For many reasons, it’s important we all come back on time. At the end of our next break, I will close the door to the training room. If you return after this time, do come in but please stay at the front of the room. The last one to arrive back late will stand at the front of the room and sing a song to us all.”
Nobody was late again. The pilot was a success. More than 15,000 employees worldwide have been trained in that programme since.
Story-telling is one of the most powerful ways to sell and is too rarely used by salespeople.
Why are they so powerful? And why have I told my Bangalore story so many times?
Human beings love stories. We grow up being read them by our parents, watching them on TV and telling them to each other. There’s a familiarity to them and we like familiarity. It relaxes people and we listen better when we’re relaxed. This relaxation is particularly helpful in sales conversations where our target audience probably listens with a degree of scepticism. Taking down that guard is a big step forward.
Stories are also easy to tell, particularly if they’re true and happened to you. You’re just recounting an experience and it’s easy to picture that experience in your mind and recreate it for others. Additionally, it’s a way to connect easily with a prospective client, something done well with a bit of humour or a story which shows you as being just like them.
Finally, and most importantly, stories put across sales messages in a more subtle way than telling people a benefit of your service or product. There are times to explain the benefit and give an example of that but that isn’t always the best way. You can sow seeds in people’s minds through stories, you can highlight problems or worries that they might have but are not willing to share with you and show how you’ve helped others get over them (and they never need to admit to having this worry themselves!).
So, familiarity, relaxation of audience, ease of telling and subtler messaging are all benefits of stories as sales tools. All of these make your stories, and you, memorable which is also pretty helpful.
And why have I told my Bangalore story so many times?
It’s easy to listen to and an easy story to tell – it’s real, it’s short, it has simple story format: Challenge faced – Solution found – Result achieved (happy ending). Incidentally, that’s the format of just about every story told (yes, think of the films you watch, the books you read and that’s the format). It’s also funny, amusing at least, and people like that – it always raises a smile.
Finally, the subtle messages beneath the surface are magical. I’m telling the audience that my training is credible and used by the best (one of world’s leading tech companies – £250k deal). I’m telling them that my company does Customer Service training not just the sales training for which we’re best known (this has won us deals!). I’m highlighting that we deliver training all over the world. I’m telling them that I have the presence of mind and the confidence to assess an unexpected problem and, without prior planning, to come up with a solution that quickly solves that problem. Clients like that.
All that powerful messaging is woven into what seems, on the surface, to be a story about people getting back late from a break in training. That’s actually the least important part of it all.
A client called me recently to talk through a problem. Her fast-growing sales team has been doing well but her most senior person was floundering a little by his own high standards. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
I paraphrase a little: “His duties haven’t changed that much and he has more support with a team of people around him but his sales performance is suffering. He just has to focus them in the mornings, check on the important calls they all have to make, offer help to anyone struggling to close a deal, make sure everyone hits their numbers of sales calls each day and report any relevant information back to me. Apart from that, he just needs to make his sales calls and yet his numbers of sales calls each day are the lowest of anyone and he’s not closing the deals he was.”
So he’s now the Sales Manager and remains, potentially, your most successful and experienced salesperson? “Yes.” How much training has he been given as a Sales Manager? “Er, well.. he hasn’t actually had any training in how to manage the team.” Has he ever managed a team before? “No, never.”
This is a classic mistake and, yes, I’ve made it myself several times. A Sales Manager role, one in which you’re also expected to make sales as well as manage the team is one of the most difficult jobs in business. Really it is.
The job of anybody leading a team or running a company is to help your people understand what they need to do each day in order to be successful. What activities should they be doing and how should they structure their day? What levers are they able to use and when should they use them?
Some salespeople take well to managing a team but my experience tells me that they’re the exception. If you are not personally able to help your Sales Manager understand what they need to do each day then it is your responsibility to find another way to help them (which will help you too of course).
So, after my basic questioning and my client’s slow unravelling of unpreparedness, what were my tips on the leading salesperson who was losing their way as a Sales Manager? For any boss facing this problem, my tips are the same.
First, if you support the member of staff (she does) and believe in their ability, then tell them that you’re behind them and admit that you have let them down with the lack of support.
Second, recognise that if you give them additional duties (motivating team, checking activity, coaching on calls), their call time and call numbers will go down. This will probably see their sales go down too. This, I know, is blindingly obvious but many overlook it because, I think, lots of the extra jobs are ones that ‘only take a minute and that makes no difference’. It does for two reasons. The odd minutes add up over a day. And, it’s not just the minute offering advice, it’s the 3 minutes tuning back into whatever you were doing before. Or the one minute lead into a conversation about something else. In short, it dilutes focus and that has a cost.
Third, give them some training for goodness sake! If you’re good, then do it yourself. If you’re not, then hire someone that is.
Finally, if you can’t afford to lose their sales success then think very carefully about whether you want to make them Sales Manager at all. If you still decide to promote them, give them as little extra administration as possible. For small teams, the best managers are those that lead by example through their own sales activity and sales performance but then they’re Sales Leaders and not Sales Managers. And that’s a whole other article!