Why You Have Blindspots

In my new book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching I suggest that something I call your blindspots is killing your coaching and leadership.

In this blog I want to reveal why that’s happening so you can do something about it.

The main reason for your blindspots is explained with a paradox.  One of my favorite paradoxes is ‘to speed up sometimes you have to slow down’. Another one I like is ‘nothing succeeds like failure’.  These are paradoxes because the two things seem to be at odds with one another. Yet, within the paradox is the deeper meaning that reveals the connection.

You’ve probably heard of Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team.  I heard that Cuban was a mentor of sorts to former Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick during Kalanick’s early days with the company.  Kalanick left in 2017.

Cuban said of Kalanick, “The thing that’s impressive about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.  And the thing that’s troublesome about Travis is he’d run through a wall for you.”

How can both be true?

It’s a type of paradox I call the vice in the virtue.  Kalanick has some impressive virtues, eg some traits that have been instrumental in his success.  I don’t know and don’t need to know what those are to know that those same traits that helped him succeed have at times also betrayed him.

Here’s an example maybe you can relate to.  Do you know someone who is very disciplined?  I bet this discipline has helped this person in both his or her professional and personal life.  Discipline helps someone get things done, stay focused, and accomplish things.

But take a moment to consider how being disciplined can get this person into trouble.  Being disciplined usually takes having forethought and good planning skills.  If taken too far however, too much planning and forethought could mean missing out on important, maybe fun things happening right in front of her.  Taken too far and the disciplined person lacks valuable spontaneity that makes for a richer life.

In his thought-provoking book Range, author David Epstein tells the story of Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of The Girl Scouts.  Hesselbein had basically four professional positions her in her life,  a career that spanned six decades.  Each position sort of fell into her lap.  She apparently never sought out any of them.  This wouldn’t likely be at the top of someone’s career building advice but it certainly worked for her.

As  a planner I surely can relate.  My wife has taught me to ‘be open to the possibilities’, and it’s made a big difference in many aspects of my life.  The saying ‘life is what happens when you’re busy planning’ has a lot of truth to it.

Discipline usually comes with sacrifice because it means saying no to something to be able to say yes to something else.  The value of making sacrifices is not debatable, but again if taken too far then saying no to some things could be a bad decision.

The New York Times conservative columnist, and author David Brooks knows too well the vice in this discipline virtue.  He’s had a celebrated career.  He’s written several books.  He’s a sought after speaker on popular news programs.  He also has gone public the past few years with his personal struggles that culminated in a divorce after 27 years of marriage.  He confessed to being a workaholic who said for most of his life he “prized time over people and productivity over relationships.”  Sacrifice gone wild.

It takes courage to share that witness with the millions of people who know and follow him.

The question you should be asking is “what are my virtues, my impressive traits that are helping me succeed in my life?”  That will be an easy, quick exercise.  Your big challenge is in seeing the paradox of how those traits have and will continue to betray you.  Be honest and don’t judge yourself.

 

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Sales Managers Stop Asking These 3 Questions

In the pursuit of the truth, sales managers routinely set themselves up for not getting it, by asking these three questions:

1) What’s your confidence level on this deal? 2) Who’s the decision maker?  3) What’s your next step?

What’s your confidence level on this deal?

Sales managers ask this question when their funnel/pipeline stages have ‘confidence measures’ assigned to them.  Stage 2 might have a 30% measure of confidence in winning the deal.  Stage 5 might have 80% confidence.  The intent is to drive a logical, objective conclusion of the deal status which drives the manager’s coaching regarding next steps.

The problem is the confidence measures too often steer the manager away from the intended objective – what’s really going on?  They get squishy replies like ‘I have a good relationship’, or ‘they like our solution’. A manager confided in me not long ago that he lost count of the number of deals he ‘felt confident’ were going to close that didn’t.

Instead, managers should ask pointed, specific questions to inside the confidence measure. Questions about stakeholders and influence, about what matters and what doesn’t, about why they want to change and why change now.  Managers should seek ‘tangible evidence’ in the reps’ replies.  They should ask questions that challenge assumptions, especially about relationships.

Who’s the decision maker?

There are at least two problems with this question.  The first is that it’s not always clear what it means as therefore you’re handicapped in coaching to it.  Does it mean final approval?  Veto authority?  Does it mean the ability to disqualify your solution from further consideration?  When your rep Kyle says yes Mary’s the decision maker how do you coach Kyle to the next activity?  The second problem is this is the same question your reps will be asking the stakeholders they call on.  They will often get misleading or insufficient information.  They’ll ask someone in purchasing “Are you the decision maker?” and she says “Yes I am!”  And yet, as my clients have shown me the past 20 years that question too often misleads.

A better question to ask is around role in the buying process.  What role does the head of engineering play in this buying process? What role does the IT manager play? What role does the construction supervisor play?  You’re more likely to identify the stakeholder whose role is to deliver on a top line or bottom line objective, and that includes being able to make investments to achieve those objectives.

What’s your next step?

Every manager in a deal review discussion has jumped to the question “What’s your next step?” ‘What’s next’ is internally focused on the rep’s activity.

Problem here is this too often leads to busyness and busyness doesn’t always lead to effectiveness.

A better question is one that is based on the customer buying process.  Customers have to make commitments to buy something.  All of those commitments collectively make up the customer buying process.  So let’s trade ‘what’s next’ for ‘what does the customer need to do next?’

For example if a problem isn’t a priority then some stakeholder needs to take time (commitment) to make it a priority.  Or, if your salesperson knows the cost of the problem, then a stakeholder has to commit to acting on information.   Otherwise the deal is stalled or even dead.

 

Mark Sellers

Managing Partner, Breakthrough Sales Performance LLC

Sales training, coaching and consulting with businesses from 25M to 250M in revenue

Author The Funnel Principle – named a Top Sales Book to Read by Selling Power

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (to be released in 2019)

 

 

A Sales Manager’s Most Difficult Task

If you’re privileged to sit in the sales manager chair long enough you’ll experience the most difficult task a manager has – you’ll fire one of your salespeople.

I’ve had many conversations with my clients about people they are considering firing.  Some clients use me to pressure test their conclusions and some want a sanity check.  None of them have taken lightly the responsibility.

Firing a salesperson is difficult for at least the following reasons:

It’s personal. Someone’s livelihood and life is affected.  Their income stream is now cut off.  Their ego is likely injured.  They have to go home and tell the wife or husband.

You think you’ve failed.  All managers are affected by firing someone but some believe they have failed.  They think about what they have done, and what they have failed to do.  In the song These Days, Jackson Brown says “these days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do – for you.”  That’s a heavy burden to carry, so it’s reasonable that a manager would put it off.

You avoid conflict.  Some people are wired to avoid conflict and certainly firing somebody falls into that category.

You hang on with hope.   Let’s face it.  Deep down us sellers are heavily optimistic and romantically hopeful in our trade.  We resist purging our funnels of Plymouth Rock deals, and we often put too much stock in what a stakeholder tells us.  We like glasses colored rose.

The challenge is to know when you have a ‘necessary ending’ on your sales team.  In his wonderful book Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud gives us an entire field guide for understanding the complexity and necessity of endings.  He says we need to make them a normal part of life throughout our lives, instead of making them artificially unusual and often overly traumatic.

Anyone downsize lately? Yikes.  Anyone have that box (or boxes) of stuff in your basement that you haven’t opened in 12 years?  The ones that have survived 3 moves?

One way to know if you have a necessary ending on your team is to consider the following:

  • Is this butt in the right seat? People who aren’t an ideal fit for the sales job can still succeed in it.  However they might need to expend an enormous amount of energy.  Over time they can flame out. Can you afford to keep this person on?  Can you invest time and training in them?
  • Have they gotten your best effort to make them successful in the job? Be honest.
  • Have they repeatedly not taken the message of direction, strategy and what you need them to do? The scientific term for this is thick skull.
  • Do they show a pattern of not being coachable?

With such a dramatic outcome at stake it’s always a good idea to get another person’s opinion.

Finally, for those that need to go, this is your responsibility to your entire team.  You can’t shirk that duty.

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Companies in the range of 25M to 250M hire me to train, coach and consult around sales matters

Author of The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best book to Read

Author of the soon to be released book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

The Cure for the High Cost of Losing Customers

When you hear about businesses that have high turnover of customers you might be tempted to think there’s something wrong with the business.

After all, why do customers leave their suppliers?  Maybe it’s an operations issue like a product problem or delivery problem.  Maybe it’s a sales issue.  Isn’t sales supposed to retain customers?  Maybe the customer has outgrown the capabilities of their supplier. They need ‘y’ and the supplier can only provide ‘x’.

Before taking any course of action companies would do well to know how their customer attrition rate compares to that of competitors.  Maybe your competitors shouldn’t be the bar you set but falling behind is probably not optional.  You might even compare your attrition rate to other industries.

Customer attrition of any degree is another reason to have a sound funnel management process.  Reducing attrition gives you fewer lost customers to replace YOY but in the end you’re going to lose customers and you’ll have to replace them to get back to square one.

Build or test your funnel management process against the following 4 parts:

  • Do your people have a funnel? A funnel is simply a list of opportunities that are getting selling attention.  It doesn’t matter if the list is an excel spreadsheet (cost effective!) or a fancy CRM.  The list provides visibility to you and them.
  • Do you have a way to organize the list? The best way to organize the list is to define how qualified the opportunities are. We call these funnel or pipeline stages. Each stage has a definition of deals that belong there.  This is critical for communication and valuing the funnel.  Our clients organize their lists with our BuyCycle Funnel™ model.
  • Do you have a way to talk about the funnel? If you speak Italian and I speak Dutch we’re not going to communicate very well.  Or, if you’re the coach of a basketball team and you draw up plays to beat a press, and your plays look to your players like a 4 year old’s pre-school artwork, they won’t get your coaching.  Every funnel management process needs terms and phrases for things like stages, funnel value, win rate, and more to enable coaching and understanding.
  • Finally, do you have a funnel inspection process? Funnels need to be changing throughout the year.  If they’re not they’re not healthy.  If you’re not aware of how your reps’ funnels are not changing, you can’t coach to reality.  They’ll get behind and backed up and in a corner that you can’t pull them out of.

So how does your company’s funnel management process stack up against this framework?  If you have all four parts, you’re off to a good start. But – and I mean a big but – you still might have a long way to go.

For example, visibility is important but it’s not valuable if what’s visible is not real.  When it comes to funnels it’s GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

For example, if your funnel inspections are nothing more than going down the list of deals and asking ‘what’s next?’, you’re not coaching to the funnel.  That will eventually catch up to you and your reps.

And if your way of talking about the funnel isn’t focused on where the customer is in the buying process then you’re swinging a golf club with one arm.

No one said it’d be easy. But the payoff is worth it.

 

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Named a Top Ten Best Book to Read by Selling Power

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching available March 2019

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

 

 

 

 

A Life of Leadership

He was lovely.

This past week our 41stpresident of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. He was 94 years old.

Like most of you, I yearn to find those brief and random moments of civility as I scan the papers or scroll through the sound bites on my phone.  I was thrilled to read the tone of the reporting on the former president’s passing.  The New York Times reported that when James Baker, the former president’s secretary of state appeared at Mr. Bush’s side sometime during his final days Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert and asked “Bake, where are we going?”  Baker replied “We’re going to heaven.”  The president responded “That’s where I want to go.”

The Washington Post offered a wonderful reflection of Mr. Bush as a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.  Instead of choosing the security of Yale, he enlisted.  Before he was 19 years old he was assigned to fly torpedo bombers off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  On a sortee toward a Japanese island Bush’s plane was shot down.  He commanded his crew to eject before the plane crashed into the sea.  Miraculously Mr. Bush survived.  His two crew members died.

CBS’s Sunday Morning had a reporter who recalled the 1987 Newsweek cover story of George Bush that labeled Mr. Bush ‘a wimp’.  The reporter said man did we get it wrong.

This is the paradox of humility.  What looks like weakness is actually strength.  Thomas Merton might say when you’re humble you’re living a second half life, a fuller, richer and more meaningful life than the false impression that a first half life wants us to believe.

We applaud humility but would rather not wear those shoes ourselves.  It takes too much sacrifice, too much risk, too much vulnerability. We fear how we’ll be seen (weak). We fear being taken advantage of. We fear we’ll miss out on something. Which is true, but in an ironic way.

Another article highlighted the relationship that Mr. Bush nurtured with another former president, Bill Clinton.  With the game clock expired neither one had anything to do against the other so they joined forces.  They used their heavy weight influence to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charities.

It’s ok to think that it’s hard to be a strong leader today.  It probably seems that every day there are multiple forces working against you, some as simple as a flight delay to an important meeting and others complicated like a poorly functioning salesperson or manager.  It sure helps to have something to believe in, or maybe multiple things to believe in. Your strength needs a rock solid base.

Mr. Bush believed in country, family, friendship, God, service, the power of kindness, collaboration.

As for lovely comment, that came from Mr. Bush’s longtime friend Mr. Baker during the 60 Minutes interview.  Mr. Baker was emotional.

I watched the interview at our kitchen table with my wife Sunday evening and said to her “when was the last time you heard a man call another man lovely?”

Me neither.

How lovely.

 

 

Mark Sellers

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

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, available late Q1 2019

Sales trainer, coach and consultant

 

 

 

 

Your Blindspots Are Killing You – and Everyone Else

If you are a front line sales manager looking for ways to be a more effective coach, you need to get to root cause to better understand the underlying motives and factors that prevent you from becoming more fully the person and sales manager you can be.

You may have to go somewhere you have not before been.  You’ll need to be vulnerable.  You’ll need to trust the process.

Most of all you have to learn to confront your blindspots.

Before I explain what a blindspot is let me suggest that there’s something generally accepted, fundamental, and even pivotal to your salespeople achieving quota year after year.  They’re more likely to hit that quota when they are motivated to sell for you.  And they’re more likely to be motivated if you make emotional connections with them.

As it is with people in general you’ve probably found it easier to make an emotional connection with some salespeople.  The conversations with them seem to naturally flow.  The coaching you give seems to be more easily received.  For these people you seem to know what to say and how to say it to get the response you want.   There’s a connection.

Making an emotional connection with other sales people doesn’t effortlessly come.  Maybe they repeat the same behaviors that you’re constantly trying to change.  They repeat the habits you’re trying to break.  This frustrates you.  It might drive you crazy.

The problem is your blindspots are out to sabotage your ability to create emotional connections, build relationships with your salespeople and motivate them to succeed.

So, what exactly is a blindspot?

Blindspots are unflattering behavior that you don’t know you do that prevent you from emotionally connecting with your salespeople.  Blindspots can also be unflattering behavior that you are aware of doing but you just can’t stop from doing it.

Here’s an example.

Urban Meyer, the head football coach for Ohio State, unwittingly confessed to a blindspot.  In the wake of a personnel crisis in 2018 that became a PR disaster involving one his assistant coaches, and that resulted in a 3 game suspension for Meyer, he was asked in a press conference the day before his first game back from the suspension, if he thought members of his staff were reluctant to bring him negative information, such as information that contributed to the crisis.  He said he hoped not, but then added “That’s something that (athletic director) Gene (Smith) and I have talked about that I need to do. I always thought I had that atmosphere,” he said.  Meaning, he was unaware that his super intense, intimidating demeanor could actually keep people from coming to him with potential problems.  Classic blindspot.

What do blindspots look like for sales managers?  One is being judgmental toward a salesperson.  If you’ve ever struggled managing a salesperson who is a lot NOT like you, you’ve likely shown some judgment toward this person.  If she doesn’t work the territory like you would, or if she has a very different personality than you have, you might show signs of judgment.  Or let’s say you think you always have the right answer for something.  You likely don’t have much patience to let your salespeople arrive at their own discovery.  Instead you tell them what the deal is and you expect them to get it and move on.  When they don’t you are frustrated, even angry inside.

These aren’t healthy attitudes to build a coaching foundation on.

If it makes you feel better, every sales manager has blindspots.  The more you can discover and acknowledge yours the closer you’ll be to dealing effectively with them.

Stay tuned. In future blogs I’ll help you do that.

 

Mark Sellers

Author of The Funnel Principle

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

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