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Image by Andrea Kurucz
Paul C Burr,
“After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out…”
The Perseids: this shower of “shooting stars” does not peak until 12 August, activity is already underway. And it is a great year to observe the Perseids because moonlight will not interfere to drown them out.
As with all meteor showers, the meteors are produced when the Earth ploughs through a stream of dust left by a comet orbiting the Sun and they flare in our atmosphere.
They are called Perseids because, if you trace their streaks backwards, they appear to radiate from a point in the constellation of Perseus. This is an effect of perspective, like straight rail tracks converging to a distant point, and in fact the meteors are travelling on parallel paths.
The comet responsible for the Perseids was Swift-Tuttle. The dust particles in space, called meteoroids, and about the size of grains of sand, are now spread right along the swarm’s orbit. This means we see Perseids every August. They are a reliable shower, always rich in activity, although the numbers vary according to how dense the orbiting stream is at the point where we intersect.
The stream is broad too, with the first Perseids appearing in our skies in late July and the final stragglers falling well into the second half of August.
Where to look? The whole sky. The shooting stars will seem to come from the constellation Perseus, in the northeastern sky. But they may appear anywhere as quick streaks of light.
Where not to look? Do not look at the moon or anything bright. Your eyes need to get used to the dark. The full moon will cut down the number of meteors likely to be seen see. By dawn the moon will be low in the western sky so look east.
Where should I go? Anywhere dark with a nice expanse of open sky. Leave the cities if you can.
When to watch? Meteor showers are best after always best after midnight but because of the full moon it’s best to try the hour or two before dawn.
Top performers do three essential things to be at their peak.
1. Clarify your outcomes for the meeting in hand and how you want the relationship with the person to develop, meeting by meeting, one step at a time. Moderate performers focus less on the latter dimension.
2. Be mindful of the frame of the mind you want to be in and that any meeting (is hopefully a meeting of minds) is ultimately about helping everyone present to frame a congruent viewpoint of what needs to be done.
3. Prepare your strategy, primarily so that you allow yourself to get in the frame of mind you want to be.
Research I’ve come across and my own experience shows that the most important thing you take into a meeting is your frame of mind followed by being clear about the outcomes you seek. Having a strategy is important but, once the meeting has started, it’s factors ‘2’ and ‘1’ above (and in that order) that will determine most how you ‘handle any curve balls thrown your way’.
Paul C Burr
Most sales training I’ve come across focuses primarily on developing a salesperson’s skills or competencies, for example: opening, qualifying, questioning, advocating, presenting, negotiating and closing. The intention is that, over time with experience, the salesperson will get better and better at demonstrating these skills. It follows logically that they’ll become more confident in their sales approach and thus hopefully more motivated.
I haven’t seen much in the way of material that focuses on engendering an ongoing sense of curiosity, for example, how can I be the best, if not better, at what I sell?
The E=MC3 equation implies that an individual’s effectiveness is three parts mental and emotional (motivation, competence and curiosity) to one part intellectual (competence).
Let’s take a first pass at each of the qualities: motivation, confidence, competence and curiosity.
Most salespeople are motivated to win, especially when the selling is relatively easy. Likewise, most are motivated by earnings and win bonuses. Some are motivated by advancing their career.
What motivates top salespeople? The answers from my research fall into three categories:
1. “To be the best I can be” or “…recognised as the best salesperson there is” – not only the best in terms of results but the best at selling too (outcomes + journey).
2. “To deliver customer value above and beyond that expected.”
3. “To create a legacy so that I am renowned for the value I bring to customers and my organisation’s business.”
In all three categories, the top performers are motivated by being (and being seen as) excellent. ‘Moderates’ talk of winning and earnings but talk less of personal excellence.
I worked with a 26 year old CEO of a recruitment firm who had a good reputation for hiring confident as opposed to arrogant people. I was asked to model how he went about the task. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “How do you differentiate between a confident person and an arrogant one?”
CEO: “Well, I’m not sure; I just get a ‘feeling’.”
Me: “Describe that ‘feeling’.”
CEO: “Well you just sort of know, don’t you? It’s something you sense….. a gut feeling.”
Me: “Okay, imagine you have an arrogant person to your left and a confident to your right. What’s the difference between them?”
CEO: “The confident person asks questions; the arrogant person doesn’t. The confident person probes for where they feel they’ll bring value to the organisation. They look to find out if they will enjoy the role. They seek opportunities for themselves to grow in the role. The arrogant person takes a position that they have the knowledge and wisdom suitable for the job and makes no effort to see how well they’ll fit in.”
Top salespeople exude confidence by the quality of questions they ask as well as the articulacy by which they convey reassurance. (For a framework with which to construct quality sales questions, refer to the INCREASETM model in Number 1 of this series of business guides, Quick Guide – How Top Salespeople Sell.)
If you stacked all the sales training and development materials in the world on top of one another, you’d probably build a mountain higher than Mount Everest. So I’ll attempt to put a different slant on competence by giving you a customer’s perspective. (For completeness, Appendix 1 lists the skills and knowledge demonstrated by top salespeople at, and away from, the customer interface.)
A corporate salesperson spends, on average, 15% of their time speaking directly to a customer. Ergo, 85% of the time, they apply their skills and knowledge to researching, developing and planning; how to be more effective during the ‘15%’ customer interface window when the occasion arises.
Top performers prepare themselves, intellectually and psychologically, to be at their peak when speaking to the customer. They develop appropriate skills and knowledge (the intellectual exchange) and they also prepare themselves to be in the right frame of mind and body (the mental and emotional exchange) with the customer.
Being perceived as ‘competent’ by the customer requires you to be:
1. Prepared: with insightful questions to ask and have answers to potential customer questions, including facts, data and logic so that your proposals are visionary, ‘grounded in reality’ and hopefully compelling
2. Clear about the outcomes: What do you want to achieve in the meeting both in terms of the task-in-hand and your relationship with the customer (e.g. engender trust). It’s also being very clear about the outcomes the customer might want to achieve, in terms of their task-in-hand and from their relationship with a supplier like you.
Illustration: 4 Outcomes to a Meeting
Most of us prepare ‘box 1’ before a meeting. Many ‘moderates’ omit boxes 2 and 3 above from their preparatory work. Most salespeople miss out box 4 altogether – often because of a lack of self-belief and sometimes unconsciously. They don’t visualise themselves in a picture working closely with the customer.
3. In the right frame of mind: If you were to prioritise the three factors: Prepared, Clear Outcomes and Frame of Mind – which order would you place them?
Exercise: Allocate three weighting percentages (that add up to 100%) against Prepared, Clear Outcomes and Frame of Mind respectively – in terms of how important they are to being successful during (not before) a meeting.
The most important thing you take into a meeting is your frame of mind.
This statement often raises a few queries. It doesn’t say that you shouldn’t prepare diligently for a meeting. What it says instead is – the moment the meeting starts, the single most important factor that will determine your success is your frame of mind. You may well feel you have to do a significant amount of preparation to get yourself ‘centred’, for example. BUT it’s not the process the meeting follows that determines success the most; it’s you, your frame of mind and the thoughts that engender that frame of mind.
Specifically, whatever thought you process in your conscious mind passes straight into your unconscious mind and merges with any ‘subconscious programmes’ running there. The aggregate information is then passed directly to your DNA which vibrates at different rates in accord with your temperament. That is:
The vibe you put out determines your success.
I coached a very successful salesperson who never felt at her best in front of a CEO customer. It took a wee while for us to discover a subconscious programme she’d developed from her authoritarian parents, created by a ‘single significant emotional event’ when she was three years old. Once she ‘released’ this programme, her faith-in-self in front of CEO’s increased significantly. Her sales soared.
Research by scientists (e.g. The Biology of Belief, by Dr Bruce Lipton and The Genie in your Genes, by Dr Matthew Dawson) demonstrates the subliminal communicative functioning power of DNA between human beings which can be harmonious (I prefer the term, ‘resonant’) or out of tune (dissonant) – and at its extreme, disruptive.
Allow me to define ‘being competent’ as not only having the capability to demonstrate requisite skills and knowledge at the customer interface, it’s also about being competent at preparing yourself to be at your peak, to achieve the gravitas (sometimes called ‘traction’) you seek.
Author’s note: gravitas is something we can all achieve; it’s a result not a gift privy to a chosen few. Only 15% or so of salespeople achieve the ‘customer gravitas’ they seek, hence this book!
Let me add, the competence that customers attribute to you will also include an element of the perceived competence of the solutions you bring to the table, i.e. an acknowledgement of the potential of your solution’s value proposition. Put another way, if the customer has little faith in what you’re selling, even though they value your personal contribution, to what degree will you be invited to participate in the decision making process?
We’ve covered two of the three ‘Cs’ in the E=MC3 equation. A salesperson not only has to be competent in following ‘top sales processes’ (and have potentially ‘competent’ solutions); they need to be confident in their ability and motivated to follow those sales processes too. And still there’s one further factor that determines how effective you are (by seeing what’s really going on), a heightened sense of…
Top salespeople are unstintingly curious. For example, they love to be coached. They are very willing to learn how to become more effective at selling.
Top performers focus on working smarter, not harder, than ‘moderates’
You might ask, “Curious about what?” Answer: “Everything!”
Top salespeople probe below the surface of what’s going on – especially when forging business relationships. Like a metaphorical iceberg, they acknowledge that you only see about 15% above the surface; the obvious facts and logic by which a customer makes a decision. But they don’t stop there, they’re proactive to find the real passions and fears which will motivate or deter key stakeholders in the decision making process.
Curiosity is the sonar signal you emit to track changes on your ‘sales radar screen’. You track political, economic, sociological, technological and organisational developments as well as your competitors’ manoeuvres. At the deepest level, you’re tuning into changes in customers’ feelings, e.g. inspiration, motivation, confidence, sense of security, anger and most of all – trust and fear.
There’s more. You also need to be proactively curious about what might happen. I return to this later.
To summarise: selling is three parts mental/emotional to one part intellectual.
E=MC3, it’s not rocket science!
Paul C Burr
I’ve released a new page in this website devoted to the Quick Guides to Business I’m writing. It will contain links to extracts that you will hopefully find interesting and helpful.
Your feedback about Quick Guides to Business or any aspect of this site would be most welcome.
Paul C Burr
My latest booklet, Quick Guide III – How to Bridge the Pillars of Successful Relationships (QG3), focuses on complex, inter- and intra- corporate, many-people-to-many-people, business relationships.
There are sound, logical, rewarding, tangible and emotional reasons for building healthy relationships. These very same reasons apply equally to personal relationships.
Here’s an extract from QG3…
Logic – less cost
Research shows that once you’ve established a customer relationship based on mutual trust and value, it takes five times the effort to build the same relationship with a new customer as it does to maintain it with your current customer.
When the cost of new prospect sales is five times that of existing satisfied customer sales, you don’t need a certificate in mathematics to appreciate the importance of satisfying, if not exceeding, the expectations of existing customers irrespective of the premium you earn from brand loyalty.
Premium – higher earnings
A reputable brand image makes selling a lot easier. I had no problem whatsoever getting to see new clients when I worked for IBM. Cold-calling for an organisation that isn’t a ‘household’ name, however, was a real ‘eye-opener’ for me after I made the switch.
The value of your reputation is the premium that customers will pay to do business with you over and above what they will pay your competitors, all else being equal, plus the cost reduction in sales your brand reputation affords you.
A simple example: ‘Household-name’, supplier A, renowned for its high quality products and services, sells a PC. ‘Relatively-unknown’ supplier, B, clones A’s PC with the exact same components, guarantees and terms of service. Intrinsically there’s no difference between PCs from either supplier. The cost of production and distribution of each product is the same.
Look at the buying/selling process from a customer perspective. All else being equal…
- What price difference will a customer pay (for the increased: reassurance, sense of status or another emotional, differential source of value they feel) for a PC from supplier A over supplier B?
- Reduction in sales cycle time and resourcing: how quicker and easier is it for a seller to convince a customer of the quality of a PC from supplier A compared with supplier B?
Brand value = [(what customers pay you) - (what customers pay for the exact same product/service from your competitors)] + (increase in productivity/cost-reduction in sales afforded by your brand)
Legacy – higher contribution
How do you want to look back on your time in sales and management at the end of your career? How do you want to be remembered? As a seller, buyer or leader: do you want to feel you’ve kept (or at least strived to keep) the agreements you made?
Maybe a business world forged with 100% truthful relationships is somewhat of a pipe dream, but as you look at the world’s economy and the ‘wars’ for limited resources right now, what choice do we have? And we have to imagine something before necessity will mother its invention – do we not?
‘You’ can either contribute to a world where wealth and power are shared through equitable negotiation – or not, truth or illusion/deception, abundance or scarcity, oneness or separateness, love or fear. ‘You’ choose! (But this is the topic contained in another book of mine, Defrag your Soul.)
Paul C Burr
Publication Date: May 6, 2013 | Series: Quick Guides to Business
Over and above exemplary sales achievements how do ‘you’ (by ‘you’ I mean: you, me, us, we) spot a top salesperson when you meet one? Top salespeople come across differently. There’s a resonance to their mannerisms. If you want to sell as well as they do, how would you go about it? If you were to ask the same questions and give the same answers as they do, would that be enough? No, because you bring your own personality and mannerisms into the equation. It requires the wisdom and will to nurture 7 key traits by which top salespeople outsell ‘moderates’.
This series of ‘Quick Guides to Business’ is borne of research, direct selling experiences and coaching in some of the world’s largest companies including: IBM, Xerox, Cisco, BP, American Express, Standard Chartered and Reckitt Benckiser.
From the Author
I chatted to two advisers about a business book that “I have inside me”. I had original research and experience inside my head. I had data. It delves into people’s effectiveness at strategic and personal levels. I’d developed simple but powerful business frameworks and a scorecard that take people’s feelings, motivations and fears into account.
They reveal what happens below the surface of successful business relationships at their outset – and what needs to happen for those relationships to thrive. I had a lot to tell but would the busy-business people, it’s aimed at, read it? So I tested my ideas and scope for ‘the book’ with two wise confidants.
The first simply said, “At last, I’ve been waiting for you to write ‘your business book’. When are you going to write it? I want a copy!”. The second: “People want ‘quick guides’ these days. They want ‘manageable chunks’ of wisdom, practical tools and ‘cheat sheets’. Something you can read in minutes and do something with straight away.”
Subsequently, I gave a series of briefings to business audiences and post-graduates. The talks were very highly received. The University of London asked me back to talk to a wider range of postgraduates in business-related studies. I am due to go back a third time.
March 2013: I set about writing a series of Quick Guides. Each would have about 10-15 (A4 size) pages of findings, tips, self-help tools and insights into specific topics.
The majority of my work focuses on what top performers do differently from ‘moderates’. I’ve started in sales and sales management, an area in which I’ve coached hundreds of individuals/teams and conducted research – across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The first two guides reveal ‘the what, how and why’ top salespeople outsell ‘moderates’. They sequence activities differently. They come across differently. They attune their approach to the most senior of clients resonantly; ‘moderates’ do not.
My next and third Quick Guide… will reveal what needs to happen for business relationships to thrive over the long term.
Summary Bullet Points
This 17-page article (A4 size, excluding appendices) bears from my research, consulting, direct selling and coaching within global corporations over a twenty year period.
Within you will discover how and why top salespeople succeed through:
- Effectiveness = motivation x confidence x competence x curiosity (or E=MC3)
- Migrating from selling at D-Level (middle management) to C-Level (senior management) involves a journey, from a tangible and known environment to one of uncertainty and the unknown
- Engaging a customer effectively and willingly, to co-explore uncertainty and the unknown, requires a salesperson to demonstrate 7 key traits, characteristics and competencies
- Top salespeople demonstrate that:
- The aforementioned 7 key traits are what really differentiate top performers from ‘moderates’, more so than behaviours in that they predict whether the salesperson will be successful selling directly to C-level clients.
- You can spot a top-performer or high-potential individual by noticing how much they demonstrate these 7 key traits.
- These key traits are nurtured not ‘trained in the classroom’; the nurturing process can be accelerated by equipping yourself with ‘non-expert’ coaching tools, such as in Appendix 2 – Prepare to Be at your Peak in Every Meeting.
Extract from Quick Guide – How Top Salespeople Sell
Picture courtesy of Electronic Payments Coalition
The higher up a corporate customer’s management hierarchy you call, the more uncertainty there is to deal with. At operational levels, you deal with business unit managers who, by and large, are all measured against the same tangible yardsticks of performance.
Once above that level you deal with leaders of change who, by definition, are looking to do things that haven’t been done before. They focus on defining and creating new realities. They are the ‘harbingers’ of tomorrow’s world.
The ‘harbingers’ delve into the unknown. Their task is becoming increasingly difficult because the unknown, aided and abetted by ever increasing changes in technology, is getting larger and darker. There’s much more data about what’s going on but can it be extrapolated with confidence into the future?
There is very little data that accurately measures what the world or business may look like in anything beyond six weeks hence.
I went to series of banking seminars in and around mid 2008. Were there ‘green shoots’ appearing in the economy? Were we in an elongated dip? Were we starting a ‘double dip’? Nobody could predict accurately. Any form of optimism was mooted very cautiously. More data was called for. More analyses were completed. Did they make any of the forecasts more believable? No. Bankers and politician’s couldn’t predict the future with any sense of accuracy. They/we still can’t.
We live with more data, more unknowns and more uncertainty than we ever have because the future happens a lot more quickly than it used to.
The more uncertainty faced, the more we need to put trust in our advisors and ourselves. But trust is not truth.
Trust is the gap between what we know and what we put our faith in.
Here lies the role for, dare I say, a ‘newish’ generation of salespeople. There was a biggish fad a few years ago to develop salespeople to become ‘trusted expert advisors’. My personal experience is that you can count on one hand the number of ‘broad-based industry experts’ in, for example, a global IT sales organisation who know as much about, say, banking as the bankers themselves. And even then you might find you have three or more of your fingers missing.
The new sales role is more than mentoring and different. The relationship with the customer still requires a huge amount of trust but the ‘new salesperson’ doesn’t need to be an industry expert. Instead, they develop the expertise to help explore uncertainty and find answers in the hidden nooks and crannies of the psyche of their customers’ organisation.
By psyche, I mean the intellectual and emotional capabilities of its leaders and workforce. These salespeople don’t have magical answers. Instead, they have magical questions that spark the customers imagination into collaboratively putting together a believable ‘image-in-ions’.
This is about making the sales/customer relationship equation: 1 + 1=3. The sum of the parts is more than each party can bring to the table on their own. But this is a relationship that transcends trust, it’s rooted in truth. There are no hidden agendas.
When you exchange truth with another wholly, you no longer need to trust them. What remains is your trust in yourself.
This is more than being an ‘honest broker’. The salesperson of the future will still bring skills and know-how of their own industry to the table. BUT, the top salesperson will be an intrepid explorer too; capable of guiding clients into the unknown and back again safely. They achieve this by knowing how to find and help release that which holds the client back, namely fear.
Only four things hold us back in life: shame, anger, sadness and fear. When you look inside these negative emotions, you discover they’re all fear. The opposite of truth is falsity. Behind all falsity lies fear.
The top salesperson earns the customer’s trust because they deal in truth, and only truth. Truth drives out falsity which ultimately releases fear. More than trust, truth forges a relationship that can connect to the ‘greater good’ for all involved.
A business world forged by relationships rooted in truth might be a pipe dream. But we have to imagine it before we can create it. As we look back over history and specifically the world economy over last few years, it begs the question, “What sustainable alternative do we have?”
Combined extracts from two business articles:
Quick Guide II – Learn How to Spot, Mimic and Become a Top Salesperson (coming soon)
“When you’re selling at board level it’s about taking the customer on a journey that’s both fantastic and believable. That is, no matter how complex that journey is…, it’s about breaking it down into manageable chunks. You create a pathway into the future that is as clearly marked out as possible. There will be uncharted territory. So it’s about discerning all the parts of the map that are known from those unknown.
It’s then about pinpointing all the ‘dots on the chart of the unknown’. That is, answering all the ‘what if this happens’ questions.
In effect, you join the dots of the unknown with customer as best you can.”
Top UK salesperson for a global top 10 IT company
Images courtesy of http://misswhit-tany.blogspot.co.uk/
What CEOs value:
The ‘science’ to determine value discovers what’s important to the CEO. And once you understand the customer’s priorities – how do you stack up (against your competitors) to deliver against them?
Here are sources of value (business drivers and problems to fix) that CEOs look for:
• Cash – Will your proposal improve our cash position?
• Cost Down – Will we reduce costs?
• Revenue/Market Share Up – Will we make competitive gains?
• Agility/Speed – Can we move, reshape, transcend quickly?
• Security – Will we be better protected?
• Governance – Am I compliant with Company Law?
• Product/Service/Cost Leadership – Will our own customers notice and value the changes in our organisation that your proposal offers?
• Innovation (e.g. Technology, New Business Models) – Do I want (to be seen) to be first in the marketplace, to do something differently? Does your proposal accelerate the process?
• Personal Credibility – Can I use your proposal to advance my own prospects and standing?
• People – Will your proposal raise the effectiveness and job satisfaction of people?
• Something else? – If you don’t know, ask “What else do you feel is important for me to know?” Even if you feel you know, ask anyway.
Put concisely, you need to understand profoundly what’s important in the heart and mind of your CEO client and convey the value you bring to the table in their language, not yours.
At this stage you may have provided sufficient verifiable value for the CEO to progress the sale. And there’s often a temptation to press on. In doing so, you may miss another, often unspoken, factor that weighs heavily in the CEO’s mind (as well as most of us) – fear.
The more you earn a customer’s trust, the more fears they share with you. They give you more power deliberately to help them.
My thanks go to Professor Colin-Coulson Thomas who shared with me the bounty of a minute fraction of his wisdom, and made a significant contribution to the following list.
What CEOs fear:
• Bad earnings news: the most likely and quickest sign of departure.
• Corporate programs don’t deliver: mergers and acquisitions “achieve 70% of their potential” at best.
• Failure to turnaround ailing sales quick enough.
• Change takes too long: ‘corporate firewalls’ prevent people from getting it done.
• Investors don’t understand: a CEO spends 40% of their time articulating strategy and some argue that’s not enough.
• Personal wealth at risk: e.g. missed deadlines can lead to private investors swallowing up the shareholding of a company
• Lack of innovation: playing it safe is no longer an option these days. Competitors and customers are moving too quickly.
• Talent gaps in performance: e.g. 20% of the sales-force bring in 80% of the revenue.
• Conflict in the boardroom: too much time spent looking inwards leaves too little time to focus on the customer.
• Personal credibility at risk: any of the above means less likelihood of stepping up the ladder of success and/or lack of a legacy of note. These in turn can lead to…
• Personal health at risk: where the stressed mind-body connection can have serious consequences. I know of one CEO who, after missing targets set by investors, developed terrible eye problems because he didn’t like what he saw. Another developed disabling back pain through a lack of self-esteem. Another who was deemed too rigid and inflexible developed problems with their joints.
Your task is to earn the right to zig-zag; to take the CEO on a journey whereby they see your solution working in their organisation and have allayed any fears they once had.