Mirror, Mirror on the wall…Am I the Leader I Think I Am?

If you’re a leader at any level of the organization, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’s one thing that experts have been agreeing on for many years that is important to effective leadership – greater self-awareness.  It’s not an idea that’s hot today and cool tomorrow. Work on increasing your self-awareness.  It won’t go out of style.  Only good things can happen.

Pick up a copy of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence book published in 1998 and you’ll read him making the connection between higher self-awareness and effective leadership.  In fact he claims a link between self-awareness and financial performance.

Fast forward to 2009 and a study by Green Peak Partners, with Cornell University.  They found that among the 72 CEOs they studied a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

In his terrific book The Power of the Other (2016), Henry Cloud provides many examples of how leaders’ low self-awareness failed them.  People who didn’t see the need to seek advice, input, or accountability from anyone.   There are also stories of executives who knew better and who attribute their success to the people they surrounded themselves with.

See a pattern here?

As I coach the leaders of businesses, from CEOs to front line sales managers, to become better coaches and leaders we always start working on their self-awareness.

It’s usually eye-opening.  Tests my firm uses to help drive the self-awareness conversation always generate healthy dialogue.  Some clients might push back a little and claim “that’s not really who I am”, but mostly my clients are open to the message.

With Blindspots, everyone has a way to start or continue the journey of seeing things about themselves for the first time.

So how can you increase your self-awareness?

1 – First, you have to really want to get better at being you.  If you feel like you’re fine and everyone else is screwed up that’s like trying to enter China without a VISA.  You ain’t goin’ nowhere.

2 – Catch yourself being you.  This requires a journal and intention, but doesn’t take much time.  Yesterday it took me 4 minutes to jot down my reactions to six different things that happened to me.  Here are three.  I noted my reaction to my dogs taking a lot of time sniffing on our afternoon walk (impatient); I noticed my reaction to a minivan in my way taking a lot of time to park (judgment); I noticed my reaction to my son’s request for laptop troubleshooting (I was actually really patient on this one).

3 – No judgment to your reactions.  You can’t judge your reactions because if you do you’ll likely defend them, and you won’t learn something the moment has to teach you.  Game, set, match.  Put a fork in you.  When you don’t invite judgment you get closer to the you that is really you.

4 – Be brutally honest.  Like no judgment, honesty is key.  I asked a group of clients recently what they thought of someone being “phony”.  No surprise, no likey.  Then I said if they’ve ever not been 100% honest with themselves about a situation, maybe blaming someone else for a poor outcome when in fact they too were culpable, then they were actally being phony.  Hmmm.

Taking the time to see in yourself what others see more easily, being honest and vulnerable, and wanting to become a better version of you can steadily, significantly change how you behave.

Give it a try.

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

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

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

Forget Career Planning Vision – Leadership Lessons from the Girl Scouts

I love David Epstein’s book Range.  Read it.  Listen to it.  And then make time for reflection as to how the many lessons you read could be applied to your responsibility.

Or, let me save you some time.

In ch 7 Epstein tells us about the phenomenal leader that Francis Hesselbein became, eventually culminating in the position of CEO of the Girl Scouts.  Of the many fascinating facts about Hesselbein, was one that we don’t hear today when career planning is discussed – don’t plan for where your career will take you.  Just let it happen baby!  This is what Hesselbein trusted and followed.

Here are a few nuggets from the chapter and her professional life.

  1. Seize the moment you have in front of you.  Hesselbein had 4 professional positions, all CEOs, and never applied for any of them.  She kept getting asked to take on a responsibility, and sometimes reluctantly and eventually she agreed.  She always suggested that she wouldn’t stay in the post for long, until the organization found a “proper” replacement.  But she did stay much longer because she poured herself into the needs of the people.
  2. Be open to the possibilities.  As a planner I fight this.  I think my plan is well thought out and what I need to stick to.  Yet, some of my most spectacular experiences occurred outside of my plans.  I wouldn’t have ventured into sales training and coaching had I not been downsized.  If one of the couple of interviews I had had turned into a job I most likely would have taken it.  I had two kids under four and a new mortgage.  That doesn’t mean I no longer plan.  I’m getting better at being open to the possibilities.
  3. Carry a big basket to bring something home.  This Hesselbein heard a woman say  after Hesselbein attended a Girl Scouts training event and heard someone complain that she wasn’t learning anything.  Hesselbein chose a different view – there’s lots to learn, I need to keep looking for it, it’s there.  It’s tempting to rush through the day or the week and not leave room for learning.  That takes energy and vulnerability.
  4. Have the courage to be disruptive.  I might add, this isn’t a vote to be impulsive.  If you’ve given something critical thinking and you think you know which option would benefit the team or company or both, then have the courage to choose that disruptive option.  It’s often what organizations and teams need their leaders to do.


Epstein says that Hesselbein’s most popular preamble is the phrase “I never envisioned”. She had no long term professional plan.  She did what was interesting and needed at the moment. Her professional career which begun in her fifties, did not follow a straight line.  Thank goodness for that.  Think of what she would have missed.


Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

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

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website

Blindspots: Deadly Lessons from Challenger

In his excellent book Range, author David Epstein shows us just how powerful, and sometimes deadly, blindspots can be.

He tells the story of a business school case study called Carter Racing.  Students are told they are the owner of the race car and have to make a decision:  will they enter the car in the biggest race of the year, despite the car’s engine blowing up in seven of the last 24 races?

If Carter Racing enters and performs well, they’ll likely gain additional, significant sponsor money that propels the team to greater success.  If the engine blows up in such a high profile event, they could lose alot and jeopardize their future.

What students learn later after the exercise is over is that Carter Racing is really the story of the ill-fated Challenger shuttle tragedy of 1986.  The students, as owners of Carter Racing, were unknowingly playing the role of NASA engineers who made the fateful decision to launch.

Recall, the issue was booster rocket O-rings not performing properly due to colder temperatures that moved in the night before the launch.  The O-rings couldn’t seal properly, fuel leaked and caused the deadly explosion 73 seconds into launch.

So what were the deadly blindspots of the NASA engineers?

Epstein describes a NASA culture of unquestioned devotion to data.  Data is so revered there is a sign in the mission evaluation room in Houston that reads “In God we trust.  All others bring data.” Inarguably, this has served NASA pretty well for many years.  But for Challenger this devotion to data prevented NASA and Thiokol managers from acting on compelling information that was considered opinion, not data.

Due to the colder Florida temperatures on launch day, NASA and O-ring manufacturer Morton Thiokol engineers gathered to assess the situation.  They knew that when O-rings got cold they hardened and sometimes didn’t expand quickly enough to seal the expanding joint in the booster rocket.  However, data showed that this was never catastrophic.  They knew that on 2 previous launch occasions, one at low temperature (53) and one at 75 degrees F, O-rings were compromised but did not fail.

But a Thiokol engineer had photos of the performance of the O-rings at the two launches and they concerned him.  The photo of the launch at 53 degrees showed a line of black soot that suggested the O-ring at colder temperatures presented a heightened risk.  However, he didn’t have the data to prove this.  It was only one launch.  It was just a photo.  He did tell NASA that though he couldn’t quantify the risk his opinion led him to think it was too risky.  However, NASA’s data-driven culture would never allow any suggestion that wasn’t rigorously defendable, like this one.  NASA manager Larry Malloy said without a solid quantitative case – photos of two launches didn’t make a case – there’s no way he could have taken the case of ‘too risky to launch’ up the chain of command.  It wasn’t a reflection or failure on his judgment.  He was simply carrying the behavior of the culture.Despite strong feelings of concern, reason without numbers was not accepted.  Epstein says “In the face of an unfamiliar challenge, NASA managers failed to drop their familiar tools.”

This is a classic, and unfortunately tragic blindspot.  There is no one to blame.  Rather, it speaks to the power of blindspots.

Fortunately, sales coaching and leadership is not a life and death proposition.  Blindspots left untouched can have deep and lasting impact on people and their sales careers.


Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

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

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website




Improve Sales Coaching by Using the Customer Buying Journey

People in the sales trade from Gartner CEB to Hubspot, to Marketo, to Miller Heiman, to Pardot and others recommend defining your customers’ buying journey as a way to sell to them.  I’ve designed and implemented for clients my company’s BuyCycle Funnel customer buying journey model for selling for the past 20 years, so I couldn’t agree more.

But how does having a customer buying journey-based sales process improve sales coaching and leadership?
Here are 3 ways:

1) Focusing on customer buying journey creates “authentic” movement.

Too often I hear sales managers and their leaders say the “pipeline isn’t real”, or “deals aren’t moving.”  But when you talk to salespeople they can give the impression that they’ve been busy, busy, busy doing stuff.  The problem is, sales activity and busy-ness doesn’t define sales deal movement.  Rather, customer commitment defines movement.  No customer commitment in the buying journey, no movement.

Sales managers can use the customer buying journey to coach salespeople to seek customer commitment.  This could be as simple as asking a stakeholder to set up a meeting between your rep and another stakeholder.  It could be asking a stakeholder to collect information that builds the business case for change.  It could be getting help to set up a “top to top” executive meeting.  When customers commit through the buying journey, deals will move.

2) It gives the manager credibility with the salesperson. 

For a sales manager to have a coaching impact on his or her salespeople the manager needs to be seen as credible. This can be hard when the manager is new to the position or young in tenure.  “You’re going to tell me how to do this job I’ve been doing for 25 years?”, thinks the veteran rep.

What veteran reps don’t always see – and what new, young managers don’t always communicate well – is the customer buying journey is changing, and therefore selling needs to change too.  I can’t imagine an industry where buying hasn’t been dramatically affected even in the past 5 years, maybe due to technology, channel, product, regulation, geo-political, mergers, or many other influences.  The one thing that can be “neutral” ground for th4e manager and rep is the customer buying journey.  The most effective way to sell is to understand it and sell through it.  The veteran rep can’t pull the “you don’t know this business like I do” card, and the manager can stop trying to say “do what I’m telling you to do because I’m your manager.”

3) Provides a platform for asking, not telling.

With the customer buying journey as “true north” the manager can engage reps by asking questions, not telling.  Questions help the reps through discovery.  Questions challenge the assumptions the reps make about how a decision will be made, about the roles that stakeholders are playing, about who really has authority vs influence, and more.  Questions are a “teach to fish” approach, not a “here’s your dinner” approach, which can be used again and again by the rep.

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

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

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website


Are You a Dashboard Jockey Sales Manager?

Over the years (23 so far) that I’ve coached and trained thousands of salespeople and their managers, I’ve seen my share of unflattering, ineffective sales leadership. I don’t mean to be unnecessarily critical.  Rather, I want to make a difference.

In my book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales CoachingI list several profiles of the ineffective sales leader.  The Know it All Manager, The Super Salesman Manager, The Title Defender, The Process Preacher, The Activity Cop, the Laptop Leader. The sooner that you can identify the profile that you “default” to the closer you’ll get to the real you. Then you’ll know what you need to work on to become a better coach and leader.

Because you have blindspots, you’ll not likely see what may be obvious to others.  You’re just being you.  It’s very confusing.

In a recent podcast interview of me by Brian Burns (The Brutal Truth about Sales & Selling) Brian used a great phrase that describes a common sales manager profile today – “dashboard jockey”.

A dashboard jockey is a sales manager who hunkers down in the CRM bunker, surrounded by data and reports that “tell the story” of his reps sales performance.  After all, you can’t argue with data.   The data tells this manager that one salesperson’s funnel is weak in the early stages.  It tells him that she’s in the 43rdpercentile of reps making prospecting calls to generate new early stage opportunities.  It tells him another rep has a higher than average win rate but for the last 5 months has been behind plan.  It tells him another rep has a 3X funnel, but his close rate is in the 25thpercentile and he’s at 82% to plan for the year.

This data can certainly help the sales manager coach and lead.  But it was never intended to tell the whole story.  Yet, for many sales managers this is the new “recommending IBM stock for your portfolio”, as in nobody gets fired for recommending IBM stock (well, up until the past few years…).  Similarly, nobody gets fired for leaning heavily on the data in a salesperson’s CRM.

I knew a sales manager who was an absolute wizard with excel and spreadsheets.  She looked like an idiot savant.  She was amazing.  And she seldom got out in the field with her team.  She starved them of needed coaching, and they slowly died the death of a thousand cuts.  She was shown the door.

One reason that the slow but steady degradation of sales coaching has occurred, ironically, is because there’s more data.  Reps are expected to generate it, managers are expected to monitor it, and senior leaders are expected to justify the investment.  We need more reports!  I want more analysis!  I want more power users!

Believe it or not I’m not advocating a return to pre-automation days of 56K modem speeds and spiral bound notebooks.  I am offering a gentle reminder (or a wake up call if you need it) to remind you that your impact is felt most when you more fully understand your people and take the time to learn their full story.  For now, that’s not available in an app or downloadable report.


Good selling,


Mark Sellers


Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching Buy the book Blindspots here

and The Funnel Principle: What Every Salesperson Must Know About Selling Buy The Funnel Principle book here

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

Learn more about coaching and leading with short videos like this one on our website





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


Watch a short video on the customer buying journey

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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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