Oddities That Make Strong Salespeople-Noncompliance

I’ve been assessing salespeople since 2001 which, as you can imagine, has provided some unique experiences.  These experiences have revealed some odd factors that seem to be supportive of sales success.  The oddity is that there seems to be a yin and a yang to abilities…a give and a take.  Here are just a few:

Fearlessness vs. Compliance
This oddity might be the most common.  There is a component to successful selling that involves a fearlessness to adroitly ask difficult questions to qualify prospects.  Many (most) people are uncomfortable asking these questions.

For instance, it is “impolite to discuss money” is one of our social mores.  However, you will not get far in your sales career if you are incapable of accurately qualifying the prospect’s budget.  This ability requires a fearless attitude.

The other side of this coin is compliance which is oddly infrequent among most salespeople.  Sales leaders need a certain level of compliance to maintain some semblance of order within a freewheeling sales department.  Good luck.

My experience has found that most salespeople are noncompliant and I think there is a specific reason.  Compliant styles like to plan a predictive sales call.  They like to almost script the call with expected questions and well-constructed answers…then the call happens.  The compliant salesperson begins the call/meeting based on their anticipated script and the prospect makes a 90 degree turn and the script blows up.  Low compliance, high fearlessness is an advantage to sales success as they are freer to move with the prospect no matter which direction they go.

I’ve encountered other oddities along my assessment travels – I will share those in the near future.

Reading Microexpressions A Key To Sales?

In a word…yes.  We spend a fair amount of time working with salespeople to access their empathy and read the prospect in a qualifying situation.  This ability is one of the keys to all successful selling.  This article from Harvard Business Review provides a thorough breakdown of this topic.  A first pull quote from the article:

In my work as a body language researcher and instructor, I’ve long theorized that one of the key differences between exceptional negotiators or salespeople and those who are merely average is the ability to read these microexpressions, gauge visceral reactions to ideas or proposals, then strategically steer them toward a preferred outcome.

And why does this matter in sales?  To put it in gambling terms, exceptional salespeople can read the “tells” on a prospect’s face while qualifying them.  This ability is one of the reasons we measure a salesperson’s empathetic aptitudes with our assessments.

Prospects almost instinctively raise their guard when dealing with a salesperson.  This guarded behavior becomes even more potent during a face-to-face sales meeting.  However, there are some tells that are difficult, if not impossible, to hide.  An astute salesperson, with strong people-reading abilities, will be able to pick up on the subtle signals being broadcast by the prospect.

Back to the HBR article and this interesting compilation of somewhat subtle tells:

microexpression-collage-2-1200x675

It seems easy to me to sit here and study the nuances of the faces to confirm the description listed below each one.  However, is a sales situation, this microexpression may be briefly displayed.  The salesperson has only a small fraction of time to deduce the prospect’s reaction.

From the article (emphasis mine):

As you can see, it’s quite easy to recognize the meaning behind the expression on a still photo. In a real-life situation, however, when the stakes are high and the microexpression  lasts for as little as one 25th of a second, it’s a different game entirely.

Exactly.  This is why strong salespeople possess the interpersonal skills and aptitudes to read these quick expressions.  You can assess for this ability using our tools.  How would this ability impact your sales team as you grow in the future?

Positive Prospects Are Trouble

Prospects have many moves they learn at prospects’ school, but one of the most lethal is the positive move.  The positive move is when the prospect appears to be eager to purchase your solution, especially early in the sales process.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always “blue birds” that fly in to a salesperson.  Blue birds are minimal qualifying, quick-closing deals that close so fast that they may not even make it onto the forecast.  They are extremely rare…but salespeople are always entranced by them.  Prospects seem to be aware of these blue birds and will sometimes use a mechanism that mimics a blue bird.

The prospect becomes overly positive.  I believe they have a clear motive for doing it.  When prospects go positive, salespeople tend to dial down (or turn off) their qualifying skills.  The salesperson stops asking qualifying questions about money, timing, decision process, etc.  They shorten the meeting and quickly add the prospect to the forecast as a quick close.  It is at this point that the “prospect” can quickly disappear in to the ether, never to be heard from again.

When prospects go positive, the salesperson has to go more positive.  They need to ask questions about what it will take to get a purchase order today.  Also, what is the ideal installation/delivery/solution date?  Notice how this approach takes the prospect further positive…if they are not a blue bird, they will start moving in a negative direction.  This movement is the key.  Now the salesperson can start requalifying the opportunity.  And they need to approach it as a fresh start, new opportunity…that may or may not make it to the forecast based on what the salesperson learns as they start requalifying.

Collaboration Kills Commoditization

There is a trend developing in the sales world that has caught my eye over the past couple years.  This Sales & Marketing Management article opens with a terrific summary of what I have experienced (emphasis mine):

According to Harvard Business Review, “Traditional sales methods are increasingly unproductive. In fact, aggressive sales styles and product-focused selling are now so outdated that some customers are simply refusing to meet with salespeople using these techniques. In this situation, focusing on product features in the sales meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that high-performing sales people are those who listen and respond, who are flexible, and who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging customer problem.”

That entire paragraph is spot on.  The “aggressive sales styles” they reference is the High D (Dominance).  These salespeople have a driven, aggressive, even confrontational style.  This style is often considered the classic sales hunter style, but that stereotype is changing.

Here’s why – the High D style has done well in the past when they were able to control information (product info, tech specs, etc.).  The High D’s were able to leverage that information for meetings and commitments from prospects.  Today, that information is on the web so the need is for salespeople who have the ability to connect with prospects to get in front of them.  This is not the High D’s strength.

So where is it going?  Back to the article:

What customers increasingly want from their vendors are collaborators.

The author goes on to acutely describe the possible definitions of the collaboration.  This collaborative approach will eventually fit in nicely with the upcoming Millennial generation.  That generation, in general terms, has a desire to work on projects/tasks in a completely collaborative way.  As the Millennials move up the proverbial sales ladder, the collaborative culture will become prominent in most sales departments.

The closing paragraph from the article wraps it up nicely:

Order taking may make your salesperson’s job easier, but typically what your customer really wants is a trusted partner. Collaborating with your customers builds relationships, adds value, and helps further entrench your key strategic accounts. It helps keep the competition at bay. And, it keeps your offering from being commoditized.

Do Not Clone Your Style

This Forbes article addresses one of the most important aspects of an interview – the communication style alignment between the hiring manager and the candidate.  The article is written from the candidate’s perspective, but offers great insights into the hiring manager’s mindset.

A supervisor isn’t going to hire someone that he doesn’t believe he can work with. Managers come in all shapes and sizes–some are hands-off and expect their employees to do what they need to do with little or no supervision. Others like to receive daily updates, religiously review timecards and schedule regular check-in meetings with their staff.

This style topic is important in hiring, but should never be the deciding factor in a sales hire.  The reason is this – one of the worst hiring mistakes is for the hiring manager to clone themselves in their hiring.  The outcome of “clone hiring” is a team that shares the same communication approach in the marketplace and, more importantly, contains the same group weaknesses.

The strongest teams have a wide variety of communication styles to match the wide variety of prospects’ styles.  You can learn more about styles here.

A Mission-Critical Sales Metric

Seems simple, but here it is:

Connects to Close

Let me offer up some definitions of each box:

Connects: Cold contact from a list or similar resource

Suspects: Contacted and have general need or use for your product/service

Prospects: Qualified for need, budget & buying time

Quotes: Formal proposal to do business

Close: Completed order in response to quote

Again, this is a simple concept, but it is of great consequence when hiring salespeople.  We call it the Connects-to-Close ratio and it defines many of the parameters you need to use in your hiring efforts. 

There are many layers to the ratio that impact the sales skills, selling style and aptitudes to measure in any candidate.  Instead of getting lost in those weeds, let me boil it down to the essence of why you need to know this ratio:

You cannot ask a new salesperson to do something 10, 50, 100 times without first being able to explain it one time.

The Most Dangerous Sales Weakness

Sales is a difficult role, I would argue the most difficult role, in any company.  The skill set and mind set required to be successful is rare in the general population.  Yet, strong salespeople are out there and hopefully on your team.

However, most teams that we assess have a salesperson (or more) who is not performing up to expectations.  This salesperson seems to have the tools, but something is holding him or her back.  The concern I always have, in this situation, is that they possess the most dangerous sales weakness.

Fear of rejection.

For sales, this is the big one.  This weakness can single-handedly neutralize any strengths the salesperson possesses.  The powerful issues with this weakness is that it can stop the salesperson before they even start.  Their fear of getting a “no” will paralyze them in difficult situations.

The key is simple, yet utterly difficult to overcome.  The salesperson must learn to separate their value from their performance.  Imagine an actor playing a role in a movie, the actor’s portraying someone else (i.e. a performance).  Sales requires a similar mindset – it is a performance that does not tie directly to their value.

I know, we want genuine salespeople, not fakes.  The separation of role vs. identity can be achieved while still maintaining an authenticity to the sales role.

The best advice I can provide – assess for this ability before you hire them.  We can help.

3 Tips To Hire Salespeople

From the Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day email:

Most companies spend more on hiring in sales than they do in any other part of the organization. With an average annual turnover rate of 25 to 30%, and direct replacement costs ranging from $75,000 to $300,000, there’s a big opportunity for improvement. Here are a few places to start (emphasis mine):

  1. Focus on behaviors. A primary cause of turnover is poor job fit. Consider ramping up assessment tools, simulations, and interviewing techniques to help identify the right people. Or, try temporary positions to assess people on the job before offering a full-time position.
  2. Be clear about the relevant “experience” needed. Make sure that a candidate’s previous experience really aligns with your own market, geography, culture, customer groups, and technologies.
  3. Conduct on-going talent assessments. Salespeople need to constantly adapt their own skills to changing markets and buyer motivations, and managers need to vigilantly track those skills.

If you make only 1 adjustment to your sales hiring process, make the change to using the right sales assessment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with sales assessment tools for the past 15 years and the reason they are effective is this – they neutralize hiring bias.  Every one of us has natural biases towards ourselves whether we are aware of it or not.  This bias can corrupt a hiring process especially if we are sitting across from a sales candidate with highly-developed people skills.

The beauty of assessments is that they are objective.  When you use them earlier in the hiring process, you maintain objectivity longer which is fundamentally important.  The hiring decision will ultimately come down to a human-based decision which introduces bias.  There is not avoiding that fact.  The key is to limit the bias to candidates that you have objectively assessed and are certain that they have the right blend of behaviors, skills, motivations and aptitudes to be successful in your specific sales role.

If you want to learn more about our unique process, please contact us here.

25 Fastest-Growing Job Titles for 2016

From Monster.com, I doubt you would guess what is number 1…Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers.  Seriously, there are 13% more of them now than 1 year ago.  Number 2 you might actually get – Registered Nurses which makes sense with the aging Baby Boomer generation.

Sales Managers made the list, but you will have to follow the link to find out at what spot they landed.

An Internet Minute

I saw this on LinkedIn and through it was fascinating:

Internet Minute