Complacent Sales Leaders Need to Throw in the Towel

An unmotivated team is an under-performing team. That creates a domino effect leading to loss of top sales professionals, difficulty recruiting their replacements and, eventually, the poor financial performance of the company itself.

The stakes are too high for you to put off finding ways to keep your sales team motivated until the problems are obvious.

No two teams – or sales pros – are alike when it comes to what really revs them up. But the following motivational techniques are good starting points:

  1. Provide positive feedback daily: Top sales pros are motivated by recognition for their accomplishment. Feed that by providing positive reinforcement on a daily basis. It could be a congratulatory call or email, monthly team lunches, or even a formal awards program. The point is to recognize at least one member of your team every single day.
  2. Give them what they need to succeed:  Success is a powerful motivator, but it requires the right tools. Whether it’s providing laptop computers with wireless cards or regular sales training, make sure your team is armed for success.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open:  Make it a point to communicate regularly through meetings, phone calls, emails. Schedule regular one-on-one and group time with your team. Talk with them about their performance and tell them how the business is doing. Encourage them to air concerns, ask questions and share their ideas for filling the pipeline and improving operations.
  4. Set the right goals:  If your team isn’t challenged by the goals you’ve set, raise your expectations and you’ll raise their results. Conversely, if the goals are unrealistically high, it leads to frustration. Strike the right balance and your team will rise to the challenge.
  5. Be a role model: Lead your team by example. Treat them as you expect them to treat each other. Behave as you expect them to behave.

Beyond these basics, take the time to talk with your team about what really motivates them to succeed. Use that information to tailor a motivational strategy that will get and keep your team performing at its peak.

Don’t Wing It

Quiz time:  What are the five biggest challenges your prospects and clients are dealing with and how does your solution address them?

If you can’t answer that question, you need to hit the books. How can you possibly position your solution as a way to relieve your prospect’s pain if you don’t understand the source of their discomfort?

A solid working knowledge of industry issues lets you anticipate the most common objections and develop standard responses that overcome them. It lets you develop a standard list of leading questions that shift the focus from the prospect’s concern about spending money to the return they will realize from their investment into your solution.

It keeps you in control of the sales process and helps you establish a rapport and build a foundation of trust.

Is your client’s industry faced with a talent shortage? If so, how does your solution help the prospect function effectively with fewer people, or raise their profile so they can better-compete for top professionals?

Is the economic downturn causing belt-tightening? If so, how does your solution help lower production costs, reduce overhead or improve productivity?

Top sales professionals make time to keep up on the industries they serve. They read the top trade journals, find the blogs and online sites that cover their business and industry. They listen to what their clients are saying.

Follow their lead. Use the information you glean from these sources to develop a library of standard responses and questions. Practice them until you know them cold.

Now you’re ready to respond to whatever objection your prospects throw at you so you can lead them down the path to a value-based sale.

Shut Up Already!

It should have been a slam dunk. You made the case for why your solution was the right one. The questions you asked were probing and insightful. You were quick to respond to anything the prospect asked. So why didn’t you close the deal?

Here’s a thought: You talk too much!

Yes, asking the right questions is a critical element of the sales process. But if you’re not listening to the answers or if you’re too focused on your pitch to actually hear what your prospects are saying, you’re missing the subtle messages that hold the key to the sale.

So shut up already!

When you find yourself doing all the talking, and that includes all the questioning, it’s time to back off your sales pitch and start listening. Ask your prospects about their business. Ask them about their needs. Then shut up and listen – really listen – to their answers.

Listening is the most effective way to identify concerns or issues that your solution can address. It can also reveal the real reasons behind not being able to achieve a win-win.

It’s too easy to blame failure on price or competitive shenanigans. More often than not, the real reason you lost the sale is something far easier to overcome:  you failed to effectively position your solution to address their needs.

You can’t do that if you don’t know your prospects’ needs or objections. And they won’t (or can’t) tell you what those are if they have to talk over you.

Why Those Amiable Prospects Aren’t Buying

Your prospect is super friendly, easy-going and you have a great time at every meeting. So why are you having such a hard time actually closing the deal?

Chances are, the problem isn’t them. It’s you. More specifically, it’s your sales approach.

One of the oldest, most effective, tricks in the book is tailoring your sales pitch to appeal the four common personality types. In fact, you probably learned it in the first sales class or seminar you ever attended. But its proven track record makes it worth revisiting in any discussion on enhancing sales techniques to improve results.

I won’t get too deep into the behavioral research, other than to say that there are four distinct “Social Style” types, each of which takes a different approach to decision-making:

  • Analytics are thought-oriented, logical people who enjoy problem solving and tend to focus on accurate details. They are more concerned with content than style and believe it is important to gain a lot of information and understand it thoroughly.
  • Drivers are action-oriented people who are decisive, pragmatic and efficient. Competitive and motivated by a desire to control events, drivers know what they want, where they are going and how to get results. They also focus on practical approaches to attaining bottom-line results.
  • Expressives are socially oriented, playful, fun loving, and spontaneous. They are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy being the center of attention. Charming, persuasive and animated, expressives dislike routine, want to make decisions quickly and are apt to express strong opinions.
  • Amiables are relationship-oriented, warm, nurturing people who value friendships, cooperative behavior and acceptance by others and avoid risk. (Which is why you really enjoy every meeting you have with an amiable prospect.) They like to achieve objectives with other people, and use understanding and mutual respect as their guides.

The trick is to craft your sales presentation to appeal to each (or all) of these personality types by incorporating four primary elements:  data for analytics, options for drivers, testimonials for expressives and guarantees for amiables.

For instance, analytics will want to hear about quantifiable outcomes, such as project deadlines or the dollar amount your solution could save. For drivers, provide multiple approaches to resolving the problem at hand, as well as the pros and cons of each option.

Because expressives place a high value on the opinion of others, including testimonials from peers, competitors or industry experts in your pitch is a smart strategy. Amiables, on the other hand, tend to use their own personal opinions and avoid making decisions that take them outside their comfort zone, so personal assurances and specific guarantees that help eliminate the risk factor are key.

If you know your prospects well enough, you can tailor your presentation to their personality type. When you’re not sure of the primary social style, or if you’re presenting to more than one person, incorporate all four elements into your pitch.

You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in your success rate!

Exceeding Expectations + Positive First Impressions = Higher Sales

Converting a prospect to a customer is simple:  Exceed their expectations from very first contact by impressing them with your reliability, responsiveness and trustworthiness.

It isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It just takes a system that efficiently and effectively communicates with every prospect – not just the hot ones – the importance you place on earning their trust as well as their business.

Let’s face it, even the most seasoned sales professional can underestimate a prospect’s potential. Why take the chance that the “cold” prospect you left hanging for a week was the one who could have made your quota?

To make the best first impression, set a time limit on responding to messages; taking longer than 24 hours, in my opinion, is unacceptable. Prepare a list of questions to ask during every initial call that will help you learn about the prospect’s business and needs so you can identify the best solutions for their situation.

Immediately follow up every call (within the hour, ideally) with an email reiterating the key discussion points and outlining next steps. Finally, by the next day, send a card with a hand-written note thanking them for their time and interest.

I implemented this system following a sales seminar that focused on processes to increase sales and profits. It had an immediate impact on my business. Not only am I in better control of my prospects and the entire sales process, but the quality of deals I’ve been closing has increased exponentially. (Email me at to find out more about that sales seminar.)

Copy my system, or develop your own. What’s important is that you use whatever system you create every day, for every call. It will ensure that you never miss a career-making follow up because you were distracted or mistakenly decided a prospect wasn’t a priority.

Are You Selling Widgets or Solutions?

If you’re just selling widgets, it’s time to either change your approach or change your career.

I don’t mean literally selling widgets, of course. I mean pushing a product or service before you have a complete understanding of why the prospect wants (or needs) it and how it can add value to their business.

The truth is, no one wants to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch. They want to be offered solutions to their most pressing business issues, and they want to work with sales professionals they trust and who are resources to help them solve problems, improve operations and/or grow revenues.

Selling widgets is old school. Today, if you try to make the sale before you’ve asked the kind of probing questions that will get to the heart of why the prospect is coming to you in the first place, your chances of closing the deal are slim to none.

Its far more effective to spend time determining whether and why your particular widget is needed. What is the prospect’s current business situation? How can what you have to offer make it better? Can you make it better? If not, what are some alternative solutions?

Taking the time to understand the prospect’s needs and how your product or service can address them lets you lay the foundation for a mutually beneficial, long-term sales relationship. It starts you off on the right foot – as a trusted advisor who provides customized solutions that enable your customers to advance their business, rather than the pusher of a one-size-fits all widget that may or may not be what they need.

Where the Sales Jobs Are

There is a great article on that is a must-read for anyone curious about job prospects in today’s volatile economic times.

Surprisingly enough, in “Sales Hiring Outlook 2008,” author John Rossheim comes away with a much rosier outlook than you might expect, given the bad news that dominates the business pages. As long as we aren’t hit with a serious recession that is.

Rossheim notes that while sales opportunities in retail, automotive and other industries that are closely tied to economic cycles will be harder to come by, demand for top sales pros should hold steady in banking, insurance and other financial services – helped along in large part by the demands of Baby Boomers.

Even the outlook in the mortgage industry is optimistic, despite the meltdown in the real estate market. That is because some mortgage companies will be quick to snap up top performers let go by rivals that are cutting back in downtimes.

As for what’s hot, information technology and online advertising are singled out.

And while Rossheim writes that “salespeople in nearly any industry will find work, if they’ve got the contacts, the product knowledge and the street savvy,” that is only half the battle.

It goes without saying that you’ll need to do your homework on prospective employers and arrive at the interview with solid contacts and great references. But if you’re really serious about snagging one of the hottest positions, you’ll also need sales training and a college degree. In some fields, like biotech, high-level skills and special subject matter expertise are also required.

Practical Advice for Maximizing Your Sales Performance

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