Saleswise: Selling is Not About Relationships

By Nicki Weiss


Ask any sales leader how selling has changed in the past decade, and you’ll hear a lot of answers but only one recurring theme: It’s a lot harder. Yet even in these difficult times, every organization has a few stellar performers. Who are these people and what can we learn from them?

The following is an adaption of an article I found on the HBR Blog Network that talks about the qualities of these star performers.

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Sales Executive Council wanted answers to these questions. They launched a study of sales rep productivity three years ago involving more than 6,000 reps across nearly 100 companies in multiple industries. Here are their three insights:

1. Every sales professional falls into one of five categories

Every B2B sales rep falls into one of the following five types, characterized by a specific set of skills and behaviors that defines the rep’s way of interacting with customers:

Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet a customer’s every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.

Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.

Lone Wolves are the self-confident, rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.

Reactive Problem Solvers are, from a customer’s standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues are addressed quickly.

Challengers use their deep understanding of their customer’s business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share potentially controversial views, and are assertive with both their customers and bosses.

2. Challengers dramatically outperform the other profiles, particularly Relationship Builders

Average reps are fairly evenly distributed across all five profiles. But close to 40% of high-performing reps cluster in the Challenger profile. Three key capabilities define these stars.

a) Challengers teach their customers. They focus the sales conversation not on features and benefits but on insight, offering new (and typically provocative) ideas that can make or save money for their customers.

b) Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer. They have a finely tuned sense of their customers’ objectives and values and use this knowledge to position their sales pitch.

c) Challengers take control of the sale. While not aggressive, they are certainly assertive. They are comfortable with tension and are unlikely to acquiesce to every customer demand. When necessary, they can press customers a bit around issues such as price.

Why aren’t Relationship Builders star sellers? 

Just as surprising as it is that Challengers win, it’s more eye-opening who loses. Relationship Builders come in dead last, accounting for only 7% of all high performers.

Relationships still matter in B2B sales, but the data point out that the nature of the relationship makes the difference. Challengers win by pushing customers to think differently, using insight to create constructive tension in the sale. Relationship Builders focus on relieving tension by giving in to all customer demands. Where Challengers push customers outside their comfort zone, Relationship Builders focus on being accepted into it.

These findings are often troubling to sales leaders because their organizations have placed their biggest bets on recruiting, developing and rewarding Relationship Builders. Here’s how a leader in the hospitality industry reacted when he saw these results: “You know, this is really hard to look at. For the past 10 years, it’s been our explicit strategy to hire effective Relationship Builders. After all, we’re in the hospitality business. And, for a while, that approach worked well. But ever since the economy crashed, my Relationship Builders are completely lost. They can’t sell a thing. And as I look at this, now I know why.”

3. Challengers dominate the world of complex “solution-selling”

When Dixon and Adamson analyzed their data by complexity of sale – separating out transactional, product-selling reps from complex, solution-selling reps – they found that Challengers dominate as selling gets more complex, accounting for 54% of all star reps in a solution-selling environment. Relationship Builders fall off the map almost entirely, representing only 4% of high-performing reps in complex environments.

For any company on a journey from selling products to selling solutions — which is a migration that more than 75% of the companies I work with say they are pursuing — the Challenger selling approach represents a dramatically improved recipe for growth.

Who Is Killing Your Sales Motivation?

Are you keenly aware of who around you is draining the life right out of your sales motivation?

You need to be.

This is a much bigger issue than most people realize.  A key component of sales is the mental state of the salesperson.   More sales are made or lost based on the mental state — or should I say the motivational condition of the salesperson.

Today’s business environment is full of ups and downs.  If I were to write a list of things we would all say are wrong with the economy or the world in general, I’m sure we could easily fill a couple of pages.

As a salesperson, it’s your job to look past what’s wrong and focus on what’s good.  Our customers are not looking for salespeople to tell them how bad things are.  No, customers want to know how good things are.

What this means is as a salesperson, you need to remove from your mind anything that will negatively impact your sales motivation.  Below is a list of the top things I’ve found can and will hurt the motivational level of salespeople:

News (TV, radio, internet): Don’t dwell on it. Yes, I believe we need to be informed, but if the news is negative in your mind, don’t pay any attention to it.  In particular don’t pay attention to it as you’re gearing up to make sales calls.

Weak salespeople: You know who they are and I’m being kind when I say “weak.” I really should be saying “negative” salespeople.  These are the ones who are always complaining around the office or want to bend your ear on the telephone.  I hate to say it, but you have to forget about them. Do yourself a favor and ignore them.

Your morning routine: Start waking up 15 minutes earlier to give yourself a little extra time.   It’s amazing how negative we all can become when we find ourselves racing to get ready and trying to frantically navigate heavy traffic.  Studies have shown people who are more relaxed getting to work are more productive.

Talk radio: If you’re listening to talk radio in your car or office, chances are it’s going to be negative in nature.  If it is, turn it off. You don’t need it.  The subject being talked about may have nothing to do with anything of significance to you.  It may be funny to listen to, but if it’s negative in context, it’s going to undermine your attitude.

Unrealistic goals: I know we all have goals that can seem overwhelming and goals we have zero chance of achieving.  As hard as it is, you have to focus on goals you can achieve.  You may need to make up your own personal goals, but whatever you do, you have to focus your energy on achieving goals you can make.


Stop short-term thinking: When we’re not having success and we begin focusing our mind on short-term activities, it almost always drives us to an even lower state.    For most people, thinking longer-term is a great way to see the upside opportunities and in turn feel more positive.

Finally, don’t forget to look at yourself. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine your level of sales motivation.  Everything listed above are merely outside factors. It’s how you allow them to impact you that determines your motivation.

The greatest asset you’ll ever have is you.

Copyright 2011, Mark Hunter “The Sales Hunter.” Sales Motivation Blog.

Don’t Waste Time With An “Uncoachable”

By Jessica Helinski

Think you can make positive impact on a salesperson who just can’t seem to get his or her act together? Forget it! These “uncoachables,” according to author and advisor Marshall Goldsmith, are just not going change. You may be wasting time (and patience) by trying to break through to these “lost causes.” Goldsmith says that these folks are easy to spot, and he includes four examples in a recent article.

I’ve included the first below, and I’d love to hear your reactions. Do you agree that there are some salespeople who are uncoachable, or do you think there’s always possibility for improvement for everyone and no one is a lost cause? Have you had any experiences with a so-called uncoachable?

3. They’re in the wrong job.

Sometimes people feel that they’re in the wrong job with the wrong company. They may believe they’re meant to be doing something else or that their skills are being misused. Here’s a good way to determine if you’re working with one of these people. Ask them, “If we shut down the company today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?” If you hear ‘relieved,’ you’ve got yourself a live one. Send them packing. You can’t change the behavior of unhappy people so that they become happy: You can only fix behavior that’s making people around them unhappy.

America’s Best Downtowns

When it comes to cities, Portland, Ore., is a unique urban playground of high-end culture, green living and DIY arts scenes. But for a taste of Portland’s best, natives point to the city’s downtown area. There’s independent live theater, beautiful parks, the largest independent and used bookstore in the country and some of the best doughnut shops on the Pacific Coast (not to mention a plethora of Portland’s celebrated food trucks).

We located the country’s most alluring downtowns with the help of travel experts from Frommer’s and Livability, a travel and analysis site that focuses on mid-sized or smaller towns. While Livability’s own list of best downtowns helped us narrow down the playing field, we ultimately considered a wide variety of factors including attractiveness, accessibility, diversity of offerings, shops, restaurants, proximity of parks and cultural options.

“We embraced the subjectivity that is inherent in a list like this, while still striving for benchmarks and criteria that we think make a great downtown,” said John Hood, a Livability spokesman. Among those criteria they considered: entertainment options, navigability, attractive architecture and a thriving downtown.

Some cities, like Santa Monica, made the list because they both offer a lively downtown and have the luck of being located in a beautiful setting. Located on one of the most enviable stretches of the California coastline, Santa Monica has a strong concentration of high-end shops and inventive restaurants that help lure residents and visitors away from shore.  But it’s not just the rich and famous that can enjoy Santa Monica’s downtown – there are enough single-family homes and apartments spread out through the area to ensure that a lively mix of people can live and work near the downtown area. “All of Santa Monica is pretty walkable and compact,” says Jason Clampet, senior online editor for “And it has some of the best views in the Los Angeles area of the ocean.”

There are smaller towns on the list as well, and they often earn their spot due to easily navigable downtown areas and unparalleled attractiveness. In Georgia, Savannah’s stately mansions, historic downtown area, and restored Victorian-era homes draw in millions of tourists who wander through the downtown streets, often hopping on or off the trolley, or touring the cobblestones by horse-drawn carriage. Yes, there are charming restaurants and attractive shops, but its architecture, often partially obscured by moss-covered old trees, that pulls the crowds in with their magnetic southern charm.

As for a downtown among the country’s biggest cities, none come close to Chicago for its range of offerings and combination of stunning architectural monuments, waterside views, shopping options and recreational opportunities. Stare up at the austere exactitude of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings (such as the black tower of the IBM Plaza), wander through the packed halls of the Chicago Institute of Art to view its impressive collection, or catch a speedboat off Navy Pier to tour the Lake Michigan waterfront. Endless things to do and places to eat, all in a walk-friendly area, make it one of the best downtowns in the United States.

20 Characteristics of a Superior Inside Salesperson

by Geoff Alexander

What makes a superior salesperson? I don’t mean merelysuccessful. I mean superior. This question was posed by Ian and Jennifer, two very astute Inside Sales Managers with whom I communicate on a frequent basis. After training and coaching hundreds and hundreds of telesales reps, I do have some answers, because I’ve worked with many of the best. The list of the key elements that made these reps superior isn’t long, but it raises the bar over which a rep must jump in order to constantly over-achieve and outperform others. And the list isn’t just about superior sales characteristics either. It’s also about superior habits in the workplace. I’ve broken it down into Superior Sales Characteristics and Superior Work Habits. Take a look:

Superior Sales Performance Characteristics

1. Achieves the sales goal of being over quota every month.

2. Has a sales-oriented call objective for every call. Every call must result in a sale, an agreement to action, or disqualification.

3. Turns cold calls into warm calls by doing pre-call research, both on the CRM system to determine previous same-company contacts, and on the prospect’s website, to look for conversation points that could dovetail with his or her solution offering.

4. Habitually begins the sales process by calling the highest level executive responsible for his or her solution set.

5. Fully qualifies the prospect on the first call.

6. Is able to determine the quantifiable business need (return on investment) of the prospect for his or her solution on the first call.

7. Is able to make a concise value statement about his or her offering.

8. Has memorized answers for every question and objection that could occur in the call.

9. Is a territory expert: has had discussions with at least one high level executive in every Major account or Target account in his or her territory, and knows the sales status in each company.

10. Keeps stellar notes in the CRM detailing critical conversations and account status.

11. Has documented the decision process in each account from lower-level contacts directly to the CXO level.

12. Is customer-focused: strives to ensure that his or her offering betters the lives of his or her customers.

13. Sells consultatively: is considered an expert resource for those to whom he or she sells, as well for in-company colleagues.

Superior Work Habits

1. Works a full complement of territorial hours: for example, a rep working in the Pacific Time Zone with an Eastern Time Zone territory works 6 am to 3 pm.

2. Doesn’t complain, but rather offers well-thought-out solutions to internal company problems, taking into consideration the financial realities, culture, and politics of his or her company.

3. Stays away from non-work-related computer and social activities during working hours.

4. Enthusiastically supports internal initiatives from his or her Sales Management team.

5. Focuses on the positive, staying away from gossip regarding other individuals or his or her company.

6. Is constantly in self-improvement mode through coaching and learning experiences.

7. Takes the “high road,” acting ethically, honestly, and with consideration to others, to prospects and customers, as well as in-company colleagues. And always keeps his or her word.

You might know of additional superior characteristics. If you do, please post them to the blog and share them with others. In the mean time, adopt these practices if you’re an inside sales rep, and share them with your team if you’re an inside sales manager. Add them to your Best Practices playbook.

Get in the Habit of Doing all Things with Integrity

By James A. Baker

Founder and Chairman

Baker Communications

Even in the best of times, sales is a challenging way to earn a living. When economic conditions are uncertain and business cycles slow down, the pressure on sales professionals to perform is very intense. Competition becomes ferocious and margins shrink. Some sales professionals, looking for an edge to help retire quota and drive business, may be tempted to generate leverage any way they can, if it will help close deals. Unfortunately, in this drive to succeed, it becomes easy to cut corners, bend the facts and rationalize a host of unethical behaviors. The sales professional may win a few deals this way, but he is not likely to win many long-term customers.

Highly successful sales professionals realize that it takes openness, honesty, and a distinct lack of self-interest deployed over time to create the level of trust with a customer necessary to build a solid relationship. This includes not only delivering great products and services, but it also includes avoiding questionable – sometimes downright unethical – tactics that might help produce a short-term gain but which are almost certain to have a long-term negative impact on the relationship. Customers don’t appreciate being manipulated, and when they discover they have been taken advantage of by a sales professional, not only will the account be lost, but the reputation of the sales professional may be lost right along with it.

If you want to stay in the habit of doing all things with integrity, pay close attention to these guidelines:

Avoid selling a solution that isn’t in the customer’s best interest –   Sometimes you just don’t have the right solution at the right price. If that is the case, it is always best to be honest with the customer, instead of proposing something which might be in their price range, but which you know will not fully deliver the outcome the customer is looking for. If you can’t find a creative solution that will meet all of the customer’s needs, consider introducing them to someone you’ve partnered with that can help fill their need.  This introduction can come in two forms. The first is to a company where you have a formal referral revenue sharing agreement. The second is to someone you know that can help, but with whom you don’t have a revenue sharing agreement.  Either is better than doing nothing and walking away.  The customer will appreciate your sincere care for their requirements and remember you next time they have a need.  The person you are referring to the customer will also appreciate it for obvious reasons and one day will more than likely repay the favor. No matter what, never do a deal just to earn a commission if it is going to hurt the customer in the long run.

Never misrepresent the features, advantages and benefits of a product or service – This issue is very closely aligned to the previous one. To a certain degree, the customer depends on you to be the expert on your products and services. If you say it will perform to certain specifications, they expect you to tell the truth. Also, if there are known issues with the product that make it unsuitable for certain applications, they expect you to reveal those, too.  Customers don’t want a product or solution that comes close to meeting their needs, or that usually functions properly. Give them the whole, unvarnished truth, and let them decide if the proposed solution will work for them.

Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver – Logically, the more promises and guarantees you are able to give to a customer, the more secure they will feel in doing business with you. For that reason, some sales professionals find it very difficult to say no to the customer about anything. Overpromising resources – in which a sales professional tells the customer that a certain solution with specific features and benefits will be delivered by a specific deadline – is a common problem. The customer may walk away in happy anticipation of the exciting solution that will soon be deployed, the sales professional may walk away in happy anticipation of adding this commission to his total for the quarter, but back at the home office the people who are actually charged with building and delivering the solution may be furious because there is no way to develop and deliver something that will meet the customer’s elevated expectations in time to meet the deadline. The simplest way to avoid this problem is to coordinate with all departments before making customers promises, especially when their requests are out of scope with the normal fulfillment parameters or your company.

Accepting or offering bribes or gifts is always unethical – There is perhaps no brighter ethical line sales professionals must not cross than the one prohibiting off-the books inducements. Bribes and gifts corrupt the process and the players, leaving an unbalanced playing field that puts everyone else in the market place at a disadvantage. This is not only a rule of best practice, it is also spelled out in laws that regulate many industries and markets. In spite of that, the temptation to play this game is extremely strong, and the rationalizations to break the rules are insidious. After all, it is “only” tickets to the game, or a night at the theater, or a few rounds of golf, or a weekend at Aspen. Not only do these inducements create an unfair advantage for the parties involved, they also establish a pattern of behavior for doing business going forward. If the only reason the other party is doing business with you is the extra “value” you have offered to him, it is likely that the only way to hold on to the account is to continue to offer these inducements, and that can create even greater problems going forward. Most companies have specific policies in place that address gift giving and receiving. It is important to know these policies and adhere by them.

Keep pricing consistent to all departments within the same company – In many large corporations, the procurement process for different business silos is often handled by separate purchasing entities. This could present the sales professional the “opportunity” of pricing the exact same products and services differently to various departments. Is this illegal? No. Will it poison the relationship and kill the account if the discrepancy is every discovered? Absolutely!

When problems develop after the sale, don’t make excuses and don’t place blame; fix the problem – It is not unusual for problems to develop after the sale. Maybe it is a delivery issue; maybe there was a problem in the production or development process. Perhaps there were supply chain disruptions in another country. It doesn’t make any difference what caused the problem, the customer is only concerned about when the problem will be corrected. Don’t waste the customer’s time blaming someone else, even if someone else dropped the ball. The customer isn’t interested in your internal process issues. You are the face of the company, you are the person he trusted, you are the one he is depending on to make things right, and you are the one that needs to “own” making things right, and not because you don’t want to lose the commission or next sale, but because it is your duty as sales professional to delivery on the promise you made.

Don’t withhold bad news – This is related to the previous principle. The sales professional may often become aware that there is a problem with the propposed solution for a particular account before the customer is, especially if it is a delivery, supply chain, or production issue. Bad news never gets better by hiding it. As soon as you know there is a problem, contact the customer immediately. His plans and maybe even his business is going to be impacted by this delay. You must respect him enough to alert him quickly and work with him to find and creatively address any difficulties while the bigger problem is being solved. If you think the customer will be upset when you tell him the bad news, just imagine how much more upset he will be when he finds out you found out the bad news three weeks ago and hid it from him.


If and when you must speak of the competition, be respectful at all times – Some sales professionals seem to think that “trash-talking” the competition will make his own products and services look better. Usually, it only makes him look petty and immature in the eyes of the customer (especially if the customer happens to have friends working for your competitor). Believe in your products and services; be enthusiastic about them and offer the customer real value. Don’t waste time reminding the customer about your competition. It is always okay to respectfully ask about the competition and find out as much as you can about their products, services, prices, terms, etc., but that is as far as you should take the conversation.

Always honor the relationships that other sales professionals have with their accounts – Stealing accounts from your team members is just that – stealing. It is taking money out of their pocket and bread off of their table. There are numerous ways that you can insinuate yourself into a relationship with someone else’s account; taking a phone message, helping out as an SME, responding to an urgent request because you were already in the neighborhood and could get there faster than the account owner. However you should only and always see these encounters as opportunities to serve someone else’s customer for what they are – opportunities to serve, not opportunities to build your own customer base. Even if the customer continues to reach out to you after the fact, graciously refer all calls to the account owner.

And finally: make promises and keep them: Above all, you must do what you say, when you said you would do it.  This one skill alone will put you head and shoulders above your competition. With deadlines shrinking, email out of control, and work life spilling into home life, it is easy to forget or delay commitments made to others. Don’t do it!  If you tell someone you will deliver a proposal on specific date, do it. If you tell someone you will introduce them to someone they want to meet, do it.  Don’t make excuses for yourself or try to justify and rationalize your inability to follow through; that’s what everyone else is doing. Don’t let yourself believe for one minute that missing deadlines and breaking promises is acceptable, because it is not.  Do what it takes to follow up and follow through.

From time to time, an unforeseen circumstance will prevent you from keeping your commitment, a death in the family, perhaps, or an unplanned trip or illness. In circumstances like these, and only when it is unavoidable that you miss your deadline, inform the other party as soon as you know that you won’t make the deadline.  Don’t let the deadline pass and then inform them, do it in advance. It will be an appreciated gesture that won’t be forgotten, and in fact will be forgiven easily since you’ve always met all your other deadlines in the past. The ability to make and keep promises forms the basis of rock solid relationships that are more valuable than gold in today’s volatile economy. Nothing evokes trust and respect – and inspires repeat business — like being a person who keeps their word.


Action Items:

Take an ethics inventory: Go back over all the principles in discussed in this article. Have you ever violated any of these principles? Which ones? How often? How long ago? How did that work out for you?

If you have ignored one of these principles in the past, take a moment to reflect on the outcome. Was that the only way to win the business? Are you sure? Did you ignore other options because they seemed too hard or too slow?

Which one of these principles do you find it hardest to adhere to? Said another way, which of these principles are you most often tempted to ignore? How do you hold yourself accountable to high ethical standards when the pressure to cut corners and produce more is so strong?

Divorce and Sales

By Rick Roberge suggests that about half of all marriages end in divorce. As of today, Elaine and I have been married for 38 years, 6 months and 6 days. Sometimes I wonder why.

She married an engineer, but got a salesman.

She married a good looking guy, but got a fat, old grouch.

We don’t agree politically (or on much else).

So, why are we not a statistic?

Switch gears. Let’s talk about sales and new customers.

What percentage of your customer relationships end in divorce?

How many of them end with your customer dating someone else?

– having an affair?

– having a huge, knockdown, drag out argument?

– either/both of you wondering why you ever got married (did business) in the first place?

– arguing how to divide marital assets (who owes who)?

One more diversion: This exchange happened in the 1997 movie, “As Good As It Gets” between the Jack Nicholson character and the Helen Hunt character.

Melvin Udall: I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true.

Carol Connelly: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.

Melvin Udall: Don’t be pessimistic, it’s not your style. Okay, here I go: Clearly, a mistake. I’ve got this, what – ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I *hate* pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I’m using the word “hate” here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never… all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.

Carol Connelly: I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment for me.

Melvin Udall: You make me want to be a better man.

Carol Connelly: …That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.

Melvin Udall: Well, maybe I overshot a little, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out.

So, what does this exchange have to do with the divorce rate and sales? If you watch the movie you’ll learn that Carol (the salesperson) isn’t looking to change Melvin. She’s looking to find a “normal boy friend”. So, many service providers start a relationship by saying something like, “I can change your life!”, but it’s not until the prospect says, “I want you to change my life.” that movement begins and it’s at that point that both parties get on the same page.

Until the prospect says of their own volition, “You make me want to be a better man.” your relationship is doomed. That’s why I suggest that your sales process should be a disqualification process rather that a qualification process. My goal is no bad marriages and no divorces.

This post is done, but I’d like to share one more thing. Each of my clients has said something like, “You make me want to be a better man.” and as a result they make me want to be a better coach.