Sales Leadership Lessons from the Movie “Elf”

Want to be a better sales leader?  Learn to deal with your “Elf”.

My family and I watched a favorite movie this Christmas, “Elf”, and while I knew it would make me laugh I didn’t know I would learn some leadership lessons from it.   Here’s lesson number 1:

 Denying your blindspots

You may know the plot. Buddy the Elf, played by Will Ferrell, finds out he has a father (James Caan’s character), so Buddy walks from the North Pole to New York City during Christmas to find him.   Caan is married, middle-aged, and the father of a 10-year old boy.  He’s also a workaholic executive in the children’s book publishing business.  Buddy finds him and that’s when Cann learns that Buddy is the outcome of a romantic relationship Cann had when he was much younger.

What’s Caan’s first blindspot behavior when he finds this out?  He denies it. A son he didn’t know he had?  An elf?  Gimme a break, he thinks.

Denying is what makes your blindspots flourish and your leadership weaker.  When you deny things that are true about yourself you keep yourself from yourself and prevent yourself from being the leader you could be.

This is a problem.  You don’t trust leaders who you think are phony do you?  So why should others follow you when you’re not fully true?

Denying sometimes looks like this.  Have you ever been asked to volunteer for something and said no because you were too busy or tired?  There’s no crime in saying no, but here’s the kicker: did you justify “no” by telling yourself it’s because you were busy, or by telling yourself you preferred busy to volunteering?

Or, have you said no to an invitation from friends to go out, and justified it by working late instead? It looks authentic doesn’t it, being busy, working late, being tired.  But how often does this happen? Are these honest reasons every time or are they your built-in excuses that you leverage?  Are you being honest with yourself?

Do you have someone on your team who you struggle to lead?  Someone you don’t connect with because he or she is very different from you? Does this person not take your coaching?  Do you get frustrated and impatient?  Maybe you’ve concluded that he’s the problem, not your coaching.  Is it possible that you’ve not found the right way to coach and lead him?  Are you being honest?

People ask me “how do I uncover my blindspots when I can’t see them?”  It seems impossible, but there is a right place to begin.  Start by being honest with yourself.  Take ownership of your beliefs and the actions that follow.  But – and this is critical – don’t judge yourself when you discover an unflattering behavior, or more.  If you judge yourself when you’re trying to discover yourself, your ego will come running to the rescue and convince you it’s not your fault.  You’re busy! You’re working late!  Your coaching is awesome – he just doesn’t get it!

Don’t let your ego win.  Instead, be honest. Surrender.  Discover.  And feel how liberating that is.  You’ll change how you see and lead people.  And people will notice.

To be a greater coach and leader you’ll have to confront your “Elf”, that is, the thing you are denying that prevents you from getting closer to you.


Good Selling,


Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling

Creator of the BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey sales model, the most time tested, proven customer buying journey model on the market

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Customer Buying Journey: Simple Trumps Complex Part 2

In my last blog I highlighted some reasons that using a customer buying journey model for selling makes good sense.

It’s simple.  It’s foundational.  It’s easy to coach to.  It’s true.

In this blog I want to suggest additional ways to leverage this sales model when qualifying and setting strategies for winning deals.

One of the most common mistakes we salespeople make is “over committing” relative to what the customer is committing during the sales process.

You know what I mean.  It’s when a salesperson agrees to work up a SOW without the customer agreeing to a sit down face to face or by phone to go through it.  It’s when a salesperson gives away too much “free consulting” and finds out the customer has used that information to buy from someone else.

Salespeople over commit their resources for many reasons.  They’re under the illusion that it’s the right thing to do.  They confuse being busy with being productive.  They think they’re engaging with the prospect.  They’re afraid that if they don’t do what the customer has asked then they’ll be out of the running.  I have these feelings from time to time too.

A customer buying journey model helps your salespeople avoid these common yet costly selling mistakes.  How? The model in effect lays out the customer’s journey.  It shows us what customers have to do when they are truly committed to buying something from someone.  So in a way it gives you markers that need to be crossed.  If they aren’t crossed then the customer isn’t progressing down its buying journey.  Your busyness by committing to something doesn’t make the deal further along.

One marker is the customer taking a proposal and acting on it.  Either accepting it or rejecting it.  Too often salespeople send proposals that then go into a black hole.  They then play catch me if you can with the customer, sending emails and phone messages.  “Hi it’s Mark, leaving you the 5th message about the same subject as the last 4…”

My clients are getting better at getting a quid pro quo when they submit proposals.  They’re getting the customer to commit to reviewing it.  This might not be a magic bullet but it sure disqualifies enough deals to save my clients a lot of time – they’re less likely to send a proposal that the customer doesn’t agree to review.

There’s another benefit – they lose a sale faster – they were likely to lose it anyway after sending the proposal, lose it to someone else with a lower price.  Why not walk away earlier and spend your time on other viable opportunities?

I realize that sometimes you have to go first with your committing something, like some resource or needs assessment or walking the site to work up an estimate, to get the customer to start committing.  But you are expecting – hoping for – a specific reaction from that commitment, eg the customer committing something in return.  If they don’t give it to you, then your commitment has accomplished it’s mission.  Before you commit to something else step back and ask why the customer hasn’t engaged.

Your time is valuable.  The customer needs to know that.  You can send that message professionally by not over committing your resources in the sales process.

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model of selling

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A Learning Culture for Sales

I want you to ask yourself this question at the end of each day this week.

Did I do my best today to promote a learning culture in my company?

If you’re a sales leader this is your responsibility, but not one from a place of guilt or some piously purposeful motive.  Do it because it’s what drives results.

How many times have sales training programs been met with skepticism or even mutiny?  How common is it for the first reaction to some kind of training is a negative or skeptical one?  Often it comes back to the leader and how he or she set it up.  Leaders that sold the idea of needing the training get more buy in than leaders that didn’t explain the “why”.  This latter, compliance leadership is usually short lived and falling short of potential.

Learning gets compromised when we don’t make time for it.  John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, was said to have enjoyed practices as much as games.  At his core he was a teacher.  He loved to see his players learn.  He decided the place to learn wasn’t during games as much as it was during practices. Game time versus practice time.  It’s hard for salespeople to make time for practice. Leaders have to find a way.

I read an interview this past week in the Wall St. Journal of the CEO of Snap, Inc. Evan Spiegel.   He came under fire last year for making some courageous leadership decisions about the app Snapchat.  He was driven by the long view.  Spiegel shared that his parents forbid him from watching television until he was a teenager.  His parents encouraged him to find things he was passionate about.  They never held it against him when he failed.

So there are two lessons here. One, encourage learning and growing. Two, don’t make failure a negative thing.  How does that hold up in your culture?  What are you doing about it?

Recently I made it safe to fail when coaching a salesperson. He was wondering which tactic he should take next in trying to make progress on a sales opportunity.  I offered up one tactic and he had a different one. Because he was having a stellar year, and because his sales funnel was very healthy, I suggested that he try his tactic for no other reason than to use it as a learning opportunity, a sort of sandbox for selling.

What can you do to “do your best today to promote a learning culture in your company?”  Be a learner yourself.  Be curious and ask more questions.

Show others that it’s ok to fail. This can’t be lip service.  If they see you fail and live to tell they’ll be more likely to give it a go.  If you tell them failing is ok but then whack the snot out of them for failing, that’s not strong leadership.  So put yourself out there and dance like no one’s watching.

Provide resources for learning. Blogs, books, videos, etc.  The world is overflowing with ideas for selling. Salespeople need the next greatest idea for selling a whole lot less than they need to be reminded of a practical sales idea that they can put to use right now.

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle, Named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best Book to Read

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance


Would you like these results for your sales team?  A client of ours for 5 years this company has delivered double digit top line and net income growth annually the past five years.  Another client increased sales 35% year over year thanks to our coaching and sales training program.  A third client increased the value of its sales funnel by 55% in 9 months.


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Blindspots of Public Figures

Blindspots, ironically, don’t discriminate.  Smart people have them.  Affluent people have them.  Highly educated people have them. People in power have them.  Good people have them.  You have them.

Several weeks ago Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau confessed to a “massive blindspot” – he was found to have worn a blackface outfit to a costume party when he was in his late twenties.

Obviously, this wasn’t clarity of judgment.  Blackface is offensive to African American people.  It is a form of theatrical makeup used mostly by white performers to represent a caricature of African American people.

I’ve never met the PM.  But I’m going to do something that I would do with just about anyone else in this pickle of a situation.  I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he meant no harm by his extremely poor judgment.  I have read comments by people who know Mr. Trudeau and they’re favorable.  They say he’s a decent guy with good values who wants what he thinks is best for all of the people of Canada.

To his credit the PM said this at his press conference responding to the calls for an explanation:

“I always acknowledged that I came from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that that privilege comes with a massive blindspot.”

The Prime Minister’s blindspot hijacked his clarity of thought and integrity of action.  Whether you choose to forgive him for his action is a personal choice.  I wouldn’t judge you either way.  Forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful act one can choose, even forgiving someone for something he cannot see.  He’s still responsible and must own up to it.

Blindspot episodes are opportunities to grow, and it takes a humble soul to trust that an embrace of the pain of the situation you caused will somehow lead to a better outcome.  Weak leaders will double down on their behaviors and defend it.  This makes their pain sort of go away, but only for a while, like when a bad hangover finally subsides.  A pattern of defending blindspot behaviors causes weak leaders to build up a pressure cooker of unhealthy, undesirable emotions like bitterness, anger, judgment, or self-righteousness, to name a few.

Look around your office.  Does someone you work with consistently exhibit blindspot behaviors that bother you?  Make you mad?  Frustrate you?  Hurt you?  You could try forgiving them for what they know not.  Then, if you have the courage, and I don’t say that lightly, consider how you might make this person aware of his or her blindspot.

Consider telling the person how you are choosing to respond to his or her behavior, and how that affects you.  This makes it partly about you, because you still control your choice.  The minute you give that up you’ve relinquished control.  Resist the urge to create an instant “aha” that will turn this person’s behavior around.  It normally doesn’t work that way.  Recently I found myself in a car ride to a downtown dinner event and asked the guy driving us, the senior most executive of the business I was consulting with, if he thought he sent signals to his staff about his wanting them to push back on him, to not be “yes men”, that were counter to his telling the staff to push back on him.  He paused and considered the possibility.  That’s progress.

Finally, turn the gaze inward and ask yourself what blindspots am I missing about me?  Trust me they’re there.


Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle, Named a Top Ten Best Book to Read by Selling power magazine

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model