The Illusion of Humble Sales Leadership

I’ve been on a journey the past several years to better understand humility.  It’s personal.

Seems we’ve always been drawn to people who are vocal and physical about their pride.  We praise the government leader who takes a stand for something we believe in.  We cheer the athlete who celebrates after leading her team to victory.  We look up to the charismatic speaker who whips the audience into a frenzy.  If pride was a beer it would be a heavily hopped IPA from the pacific northwest.  Humility?  Maybe a lager.

People who are boastfully proud exhibit confidence and strength.  They command attention.  They have a presence.   This influences us.  None of these traits are by definition negative or evil.  Most of us want to be led, and to follow we must be inspired.  But like all of us, the prideful person is inherently flawed, albeit in his/her own unique way.

The Wall St. Journal recently ran a story saying that the best bosses are humble bosses.  They have data to prove it.  Studies show that humble bosses inspire better teamwork and faster learning.  Their humility encourages others to share opinions and be more transparent thereby improving communication.   By contrast, the prideful boss shuts down communication and puts a drag on higher performance.

Here’s the illusion of being humble.  Humility connotes softness, gentleness, being meek, being weak, maybe indecisive.  If you’re humble you can’t be competitive.  You can’t possibly be firm with someone and you’re certainly likely to put up with sub-par or even toxic behavior on your teams.  Right?

I’ve witnessed the opposite.  I’ve seen humble leaders put others in their place.  I’ve seen humble leaders put reps on performance improvement plans (PIPS).  I’ve seen humble leaders fire people that have become a necessary ending.  Strong leadership and coaching doesn’t have to have an ego-based center.

What’s it take to be a more humble leader of your salespeople?  For one, listen more and listen hard.  That means you have to ask questions.  It means you need to be open to what you hear.

Two, seek feedback.  Ask your direct reports what part of your coaching is connecting with them and what’s not.  Ask your peers to give you honest assessments of what they see in you and your behavior.

Three, admit your mistakes.

Four, practice saying I’m sorry.

It’s possible that humility could be one of those business concept hot stars that shines so bright but then burns out so fast.  I could imagine every MBA program in the country soon offering courses in humility.  I hope it does get legs and runs like Forrest Gump forever.

Though it might fade in popularity I’m convinced that humility in business and sales leadership has a long life ahead.  People are drawn to humble leaders.  The connection is refreshingly real, honest.  However, I won’t be surprised if it eventually gets moved from page 1 to the lifestyle section.  But humility will be ok with that.  It’s never sought the spotlight.  It’ll be just fine.

Bartender, pour me a pint of that lager, please.

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power as a Top Ten Best Book to Read

Author of upcoming book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Managing Partner and Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance, a sales training, coaching and consulting company

Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Over my 20 plus year sales training and coaching career, I have been privy to a fascinating view – I listen to sales managers have coaching conversations with their salespeople.

It’s a privileged perch to sit on, thanks to the many clients that have hired me to listen to and then coach their managers on how to make those conversations more effective.

In these 1:1 calls everyone dials in –  the manager, the salesperson, and me.  I say nothing.  I take lots of notes.  Then the manager and I debrief after the call.  Usually I will sit in on one manager’s several calls over a day.  Patterns and habits emerge.

One of the discoveries I’ve made is that managers consistently commit behaviors that they are unware they commit, and these behaviors prevent them from delivering effective coaching and developing stronger relationships with their salespeople. I call this phenomena blindspots.

Unfortunately, these blindspots are one cause of salespeople underperforming.  The manager’s blindspot behavior prevents getting the most from the salesperson.  It’s similar to a sports coach not getting the most out of his or her players.   What’s worse is when these blindspots cause the relationship between manager and salesperson to be so bad the salesperson leaves to work for someone else.

After several years of listening to the coaching conversations and processing what these blindspots mean for the profession, I decided to write a book about it.

The book is called Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching.  We are targeting a Q1 2019 release for the book.

I wasn’t gifted with some natural ability to coach sales managers about their blindspots.  I knew a poor coaching conversation when I heard one, but it took me a while to be able to deconstruct it and lead a conversation about what and why it happened.  I poured through my personal notes of 600 coaching conversations and saw patterns.  The patterns led to insights and the insights led to developing frameworks for coaching that I’ve applied to thousands of sessions since.

Before you think that I think I’m somehow immune from this same phenomenon, the biggest factor in my being able to write Blindspots is because of dealing with my own, both professional and personal.

Over the next several months I will blog about blindspots.  I hope you find value in this.  Since I’ve had (and still have) my share of blindspots I know you will likely be challenged too in acknowledging your own.  I challenge you to remain open to the possibilities and most of all to have faith in the purpose of the suffering that you must endure to authentically become better.

Stay tuned!

Mark Sellers

Author of The Funnel Principle

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (due out in Q1 2019)

A Sales Managers’ Toughest Duty – Necessary Endings

One of the challenging parts of a sales manager’s job is to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em when it comes to retaining or firing a salesperson.

In Henry Cloud’s wonderful book Necessary Endings, he talks about the need to prune even the live branches of a rose bush for the healthier, live branches to thrive.  Sometimes the best thing a manager can do for not only her region but also for the salesperson is to let that salesperson go.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says in his poem Elegiac Verse ‘great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.’

This metaphor applies to our personal lives too. We all have necessary endings that we must prune.  Habits we’ve fallen into, patterns of thinking that have become toxic, malaise, prejudices and biases that we’ve allowed to creep into our thinking, pride taking over, etc.

Here are 3 things to consider when going through the challenge of deciding if you’ve reached a necessary ending with one of your salespeople.

One – Is she coachable?

Maybe this is highest on the list.  When someone is open to coaching it shows several characteristics including humility and an acknowledgement of weaknesses.  Being coachable means he’s open to feedback and to getting better. This is a darned good start.

 

Two – Does she give a shit?

If a salesperson comes off as lacking the drive to make changes and to be open to feedback she could be missing the fundamental need to have the energy to change.  I’ve seen ‘veteran’ salespeople who are sort of mailing it in, not willing to do what’s being asked by the manager to adopt a sales process.  This is passive resistance.  I’ve seen stubborn salespeople who resist taking the manager’s coaching because they think they know what’s best for themselves.  This is active resistance.

In our Funnel Audit process we can see more clearly if a salesperson lacks give a shit.  We still need to get under that to understand the motives.

 

Three – is he capable?

In the end sales managers need salespeople who are capable in the job.  For example, sometimes the sales manager needs more hunting activity than farming activity. If a salesperson doesn’t show capability in doing more hunting that doesn’t bode well for the rep.  If they show willingness to be coached or show give a shit energy sometimes those can compensate for deficits in capability.

Underperforming salespeople deserve a thorough and objective assessment of the reasons for their performance.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Sales Managers Tend Your Coaching Conversations

I am blessed to have a wonderful perch in the world of sales coaching.  Clients pay me to listen to their sales managers’ coaching conversations with their salespeople.  I then debrief with the managers on what went well and what might be improved.

One of the behaviors I’ve observed in some sales managers is a lack of ‘tending’ the conversation.  Meaning, the sales manager fails to actively contribute to a healthy conversation.

Since these are all by phone or video conference the effect is pronounced because of delays inherent in the technology.

Let me explain.  Can you think of someone with whom you find it difficult to have a conversation?  Specifically, when you talk with this person there’s often too much dead space and it feels like you two don’t easily play off of each other to create a healthy banter?  The conversation feels strained.

One of my sales manager clients in the past consistently did the following on his coaching calls.  The rep would say something as simple as ‘we got the business at ‘x’!’  The manager’s reply would be first, silence, pause, and then often he would ask some question.  Buzz kill!  Instead, how about saying ‘great job!  That’s awesome!’  I don’t mean to pejoratively criticize.  It’s something we worked on.

Several years ago Mike Bosworth, the Solution Selling creator, told me about ‘tending’ conversations as a key to good story telling. When the listener is locked into what the other person is saying, and when he or she actively displays that, in whatever way, the listener is tending the conversation.  The person talking feels it and feels a stronger emotional connection.

In contrast, when the listener is not listening well, is perhaps thinking of what his reply is going to be, or is just distracted or bored, the person telling feels that too.  There’s little emotional connection going on.

Net net – if you don’t tend your reps’ part of the conversations your coaching will suffer.

The next time you’re having a coaching conversation with a salesperson, especially over the phone, make it clear you’re listening. Occasionally acknowledge what she’s saying.  Provide brief affirmations when appropriate.  Give confirming phrases.  Let them know you’re still there.

Another way to tend the conversation is to ask questions. If she says “I’m heading over to see ‘x’ tomorrow to discuss the rebate program”, you might say “Good.  Can you walk me through your call plan?”   If he says “I need to pivot to spend more time with ‘x’ accounts over the next couple of months”, you might quickly say “That sounds like a change in strategy. Can you walk me through your thinking?”

Tending the conversation is an effective way to get a salesperson back on track or to move on necessarily to another part of the conversation.  If she’s spending too much time on a topic you might interject “This has been helpful. Thanks for sharing this.  Let’s shift to talking about ‘x’.” 

Finally, another way to tend effectively is to limit your distractions.  If you’re on a conference call minimize or even close applications on your screen that tempt your attention.  Don’t think they can’t tell when you’re checked out.

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

How to Leverage 80/20 for Sales Success

You’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule.  Also called Pareto’s Rule.  It’s one of the simplest, hardest principles to consistently apply. But boy does it pay off!

Take a quick test.  Look at your reps’ weekly or monthly to do list.  How many times do they fail to completely finish it?  How does that make them feel?  Are they finishing the goals that will make the biggest impact on their quotas and their lives?

Do your salespeople a favor and help them apply 80/20. Here are some ideas.

One – work on selling deeper into their existing customers before letting them pick ‘x’ new customer targets.

Often I see salespeople that aren’t getting more share of their existing customer business.  They either don’t target getting more share or they assume that the customer that buys from another company wouldn’t consider buying more from them. But these are great ‘Stage 0’ conversations to proactively engage with the customer.  It might sound as simple as this:

“I’d enjoy the opportunity to learn more about your total business needs and how we might better serve you. Can we get together to discuss?”   

Two – consider firing some of their existing customers.

Who would walk away from existing business?  I have a client that does this through its ‘product line simplification’ process.  It’s in their DNA to do this.  They spot low volume, low margin products that hurt the bottom line. Not only do these products return low margin but they also gobble up production time that could be spent producing and selling higher margin products.

Three – practice saying ‘no’.

This might be the hardest for many salespeople.  They love the hunt right?  But getting better at saying no to business that will cost more to service and with customers that offer little potential for growth and volume is often good business practice.

What happens when your salespeople exercise any of these strategies is they are forced to double down on existing customers and those with truly attractive potential for longer term growth and volumes.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Think of Rebounding When Coaching Salespeople to Prospect

How do you help salespeople prospect when they struggle to do so?

As a sales manager you may have that rep (or more) who struggles to add new early stage opportunities to their sales funnel.  Sometimes it’s a ‘farmer’ type who you’re trying to get to ‘hunt’ more.

During our clients’ Funnel Audits each month we inevitably discuss how to prospect to build healthier sales funnels.  It takes only a few cycles of Funnel Audits for us to know if a rep is generally more or generally less naturally inclined, and therefore competent, to prospect.

I realize this topic is a monster of possibilities but here I offer some of the simple ways we help our clients with this vital function.

A Qualifier

Many of my clients are SMBs that don’t have staff or know-how for running email marketing campaigns or lead nurture programs. Therefore much of the job of lead gen falls to salespeople.  You see why this can be a problem.

Here are ways we tackle this challenge.

Identify The Main Issue

I try to dumb down the prospecting challenge by asking the rep and manager these two questions:

Is your challenge more about getting access to the stakeholders in companies you have identified to call on, or

Is your challenge more about finding companies to call on? 

When the challenge is getting access we focus on these tasks:

1 – Are you targeting the right stakeholders?

2 – Is your message compelling enough to get their attention?

3 – Are you being persistent enough?

 

When the challenge is finding more companies to call on we focus on this:

1 – Are you sure you’re getting as much share of current customers’ business as you could be?

2 – Are there divisions or business units or lines of business within current customers that you could be referred to?

3 – Do you have a vetted target account list of potential companies?

4  – Are you being persistent enough?

 

See what’s similar? Again, I realize there’s more complexity to this challenge, but we have to start somewhere.  Often I find in my coaching that salespeople lack the persistence element.

Finding more companies sometimes means the rep needs to have ‘shorter term memory’.  They’ll say they don’t call on ‘x’ because ‘x’ turned them down the last time they pitched some business, or ‘x’ has been buying from competitor ‘y’ forever.  This may be true but it’s also defeatist.  Sales managers have to encourage reps to get back up to the plate again, take another shot, and keep trying, albeit with different creative approaches.

I think prospecting is a bit like rebounding in basketball.  Several years ago I taught my son’s 4thgrade team how to box out.  But in the games the boys who grabbed the rebounds were typically the ones who wanted the ball more, not necessarily the ones that boxed out well.  College announcers comment all the time that the team that wins the battle of the boards are usually the teams that looked like they wanted it more.

Prospecting struggles often come back to how bad you want it.  If you give up after a few tries of trying to see someone or break into a new account you’re doomed.  In my experience highly persistent salespeople are often rewarded by a stakeholder who finally gives in or even feels bad for not returning the call.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Establish the Difference to Sell the Difference

A client of mine sells HVAC services to commercial, medical, and industrial facilities.  They’re in Houston, a hot market in more ways than one.

Their hourly rate for service calls can be 50% higher than the competition.  How do they compete with that?  In a strategy discussion I recently had with one of their salespeople I suggested 3 things, and in this order:

  • Establish the differences
  • Link the differences to ‘what matters’
  • Ask which company you’d prefer working with

Establish the differences – My Guy was about to meet with the customer’s finance person.  He’s already gotten a quote from a competitor.  My Guy’s rate is 50% higher than the competitor’s hourly rate.  On paper Mr Finance sees only one difference between the two companies – 50% in the hourly rate.

I told My Guy to establish the differences between the competitive company and his company.  Make sure Mr Finance knows what makes up the 50% rate delta.  Establishing the difference isn’t running through a list of features or credentials that you’re impressed with and hope that he’s impressed with.  Establishing the difference is also not the same as trying to convince Mr Finance that your difference is better.  Not yet. It’s just different.

My client is different in the process it follows for diagnosing the situation and recommending a solution.  For Mr Finance’s company my client’s process pinpointed the problem in half the time as the competitor and also found areas of attention and concern that could need addressing later.  The competitor did not uncover these issues.  It’s different but why is it important?  Here’s where it gets fun.

Link the difference to ‘what matters’ to the customer– Mr Finance doesn’t know HVAC, but he knows he spends a lot of money sometimes with HVAC companies.  He likely has three things that matter – and this is how he is evaluated.  Plan well, budget appropriately, and avoid financial surprises.  By alerting Mr Finance to potential problem issues My Guy has helped Mr Finance meet his three objectives.   My Guy has also given Mr Finance a reason to advocate for him.  Before, it was easy to look better paying a $90 rate instead of a $135 rate.  Now, he can look better by showing his boss that he’s planning and budgeting and avoiding surprises better, all important to running the business.

Has the competitor done that?  No.  Why not? Either they didn’t have the skillset to find the other issues or they found them and chose not to tell.   Which leads us to the final step.

Ask which company you’d prefer working with– I cautioned My Guy to not bring an attitude with this question, like it’s a rhetorical question with an obvious answer.  I said don’t be surprised if Mr Finance says he appreciates the differences but can’t pay for them.  If this is Mr Finance’s conclusion then he’s decided that that he prefers taking the higher risk with the competitor who doesn’t help him with planning and budgeting.  Politely he should say that’s too bad that we’re not a good fit.

Some customers and some deals are not a good fit.  I’m not a Harley guy.  I’m more of a BMW guy.  I prefer craft wheat beers to big production lagers and pilsners.  My Guy has to have the stomach to walk away – as long as he’s established the differences well.

Can’t wait to hear how this sales call goes.  I’ll let you know.

 

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle Named a Top Ten Sales Book by Selling Power

Author (soon to be released!) Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Created The BuyCycle Funnel

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance