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 In fact, aggressive sales styles and product-focused selling are now so outdated that some customers are simply refusing to meet with salespeople using these techniques.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.

The Singular Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts

Stereotypes abound around introverts and extroverts-most of them are simply untrue.  The stereotypes go too far in categorizing behaviors.  Part of the issue flows from the Myers-Briggs and its binary assignment of introversion/extroversion.  You are simply one or the other…completely, according to that tool (of which I am not a big fan).

This article provides a succinct, accurate definition based on Jung’s work:

Shyness and being outgoing don’t have anything to do with it; it’s more about where we get our energy from. In fact, the differences are pretty simple:

  • Introverts get exhausted by social interaction and need solitude to recharge.
  • Extroverts get anxious when left alone and get energy from social interaction.

That’s it. There’s nothing about shyness, being a homebody, or how adventurous you are. Both types can be social, both can creative, both can be leaders, and so on.

Remarkably simple, is it not?  The binary issue still exists as there truly is a spectrum to introversion/extroversion.  People tend to vary, or move, between them.  Jung called these people “ambiverts.” This is key in leadership.  People definitely have a preference and lean towards one side or the other.  But rarely do you find someone who is categorically wired one way, though there are some.

I often tell leaders to focus on the energy of the salesperson.  Some gain energy in the group while others lose it.  Neither one is better, just be cognizant of the difference and you will be a more effective leader.

Do Not Trust Myers-Briggs

Well, that is my paraphrasing of this author’s post.  The Myers-Briggs test is common throughout many business-world assessments and it serves a purpose.  The difficulty I have always had with it is the binary aspect of the assessment.  You are either Extroverted or Introverted…there is no grey area.  I think the author explains it well:

More problematic, though, is that it classifies personalities by a binary preference for a particular trait. In reality, however, most people exist on a spectrum between the two and can vary between them from week to week…

Agreed.  People are the ultimate variable and far from binary.  I think the best use of the Myers-Briggs assessment is to define preferences, but not to make hiring decisions based off of it.

If you are looking for a reliable assessment tool that does provide grayscale depth, I recommend our DISC-based, Selling Style Assessment (more details here).

Of Authenticity

I have encountered this issue of authenticity recently in a handful of situations and it has captured my attention.  Here’s why – Gen Y is all about authenticity.  As a Gen Xer, I would argue that it is high on our list also.  Yet, some Baby Boomers have a different approach to authenticity and it stems from one key approach – they believe they have to have the answer to every question.

Now I’m not talking about aerospace-grade questions, but questions regarding their field of expertise.  Recently I witnessed 3 different situations where different Baby Boomer-aged experts encountered a difficult question.  The question was clearly beyond what they knew yet all of them attempted to answer it as an expert.  Unfortunately for them, the people asking the questions did not seem to believe the Baby Boomer answers.  I didn’t believe them either.

The after effect of the interactions was simple – I no longer trusted their expertise.  The irony of it is in the fact that some of the questions were not even in their area of expertise.  The Baby Boomers did not have to provide an answer as they could have easily deferred the question.  Instead in each situation they attempted to spout some rather odd sounding answer that came across as just that…odd.

One of the most powerful communication tools is to simply state, “I don’t know.”  If that is too direct you can use, “I’m not sure.”  In a strange way, I find it edifying of the person’s expertise – they answer questions that they know and they legitimately answer with an I don’t know if it is outside of their knowledge base.

It is disarming, real and authentic.

Introverts Make Great Salespeople

You heard me right, that is an indirect quote from this Inc.com article.  This topic comes up often in our sales hiring activities as the conventional wisdom is that extroverts make better salespeople.  Not true.  Successful salespeople have a wide variety of abilities that go far beyond their communication style.  And that is the point here, introvert/extrovert is more of a communication style than anything else.  It is important to know a salesperson’s style, but it is not predictive of sales success.

Here is some excellent advice from the article (emphasis mine):

“When selling as an introvert, use your abilities as a good researcher to really know audience, know what matters to them, and figure out a product match before you go in. You’ll be meeting with people, so rest up before social interactions with those you are selling to or speaking in front of. Prepare and practice because as an introvert you will think before you speak – as opposed to extroverts who speak as they think. So having a few lines ready, or thoughts composed in advance will be beneficial. Rest, prepare and practice is the magic formula because of the way introverts are wired.”

Extroverts need to start talking to get to their point.  Introverts have to think of their response before they speak.  This point is never more obvious than when you are interviewing sales candidates.  When I sit in on interviews with my customers, I always make sure to tell them if the candidate is more extroverted or introverted.

My experience is this – an introverted hiring manager will be unimpressed by an extroverted sales candidate in terms of communication.  The hiring manager has a tendency to comment on the candidate’s rambling answers, long-windedness and tangential topics.  At this point I explain that the candidate is extroverted and needs to start talking to get to his or her response.  If they are strongly extroverted, they will have to rev up their answer a bit before delivering the point.  This isn’t necessarily a weakness, it is simply a style issue.

I have seen a recent rise of the introvert in one key sales area – relationship selling.  The reason is this:

Introverts do well with deep relationships and conversations rather than chit-chat.

If you have a relatively long or extended sales cycle, an introverted selling style is probably a more natural fit for your sale’s requirements.  As sales move away from one-call closes and on to relationship-based deals, introverts will play a prominent part in a sales team’s success.

Look, It Sounds Like It Hurts

I’m not well-versed in the rapport-building technique (my phrase) known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming.  In fact, I’m not certain that is the correct definition of the acronym NLP.  But it is fascinating information.  Geoffrey James discusses this topic in his blog post Ten Seconds to Better Rapport:

This method based upon the scientific observation that people have what are sometimes called “thought modalities” or, more colloquially, “have their brain wired different ways.” Research has shown that most people favor one of the three different modalities:

  1. Visual. The person values and responds to what he or she SEES. A visual person will tend to dress flashy, talk quickly, and use plenty of broad hand gestures.
  2. Auditory. The person values and responds to what he or she HEARS. An auditory person will tend to dress conservatively, talk in an even tone, and use subtle hand gestures, usually synchronized with what’s being said.
  3. Kinesthetic. The person values and responds to what he or she FEELS. A kinesthetic person will tend to dress casually, talk quite slowly, and make many “checking” gestures, like touching their chin while thinking.

I’ve had some exposure to this training and it is highly effective.  It isn’t going to close sales for you or trick a prospect into buying.  The thought modalities simply allow you to access the prospect’s preferred communication channel.  If you combine this knowledge with an understanding of DISC profiles, you have a highly skilled communicator who can establish rapport quickly.

If they can qualify too, you have a superstar salesperson.

How To Run A Gen X Meeting

As a Gen Xer, this article caught my attention on the Selling Power website.  Some of the points from the article:

Do remember this group has an entrepreneurial spirit. “They are individualists,” says Fishman. “Treat them as independent agents. They like to be in charge of things. If you have 100 people at your sales meeting, you have 100 entrepreneurs there.”

Don’t hire motivational speakers. “This is not a group that needs to be motivated,” says Fishman. “They don’t like spin, hype, or touchy-feely. They want something that they can take back to the office that will help them sell. Sharpen their skills; that’s what they’re there for. Give them tactical information.”

We are not an easy generation to manage – I speak from my own experience.  I am not manageable, just ask Lee.  The entrepreneurial mindset is fairly prevalent amongst many of my Gen X friends so I think there is something to that statement.

We are a bit of a cynical group and spin does not play well with us.  However, I’m wondering if there is a generation where spin is enjoyed?  Motivational speakers are disdainful so I am with the author on that topic too.

Sweeping generalizations are always a bit risky when trying to categorize such a large sample (i.e. an entire generation).  However, I think these types of articles do help open up cross-generation discussions so there is value to them.  The greater importance is to understand selling/communication styles and to identify your own preferences.  This knowledge does more to open up communication than any other item we have found.

Personality Assessments And Stereotypes

Personality assessments, or “communication style” as I prefer, are highly valuable in the hiring process for one important aspect – communication.  How many office conflicts have you seen where poor communication was adding oxygen to the fire?  We see it in almost every office conflict.

One way to diffuse these situations is to assess candidates before they join your team.  Doing so allows the manager to know the preferred communication style of the new employee.  This knowledge can also predict potential conflict areas between two employees before any conflict develops.

However, there are still companies out there who harbor concerns about assessments.  One common concern is mentioned in this BusinessWeek.com article – Personality and the Perfect Job:

Isn’t there a danger that employers who use personality tests as part of the employment process stereotype individuals?

Enlightened employers consider personality as only one facet of the selection process. Finding the right “fit” between the job and the person should be a win-win proposition and should be a matter of discussion for any professional interview process.

Some of the personality traits to consider: Do you prefer a structured environment, or is a variety of tasks more important? Do you thrive in crisis situations or value consistent processes? Would you rather work primarily by yourself, or as a member of a team? Are you a big-picture thinker, or do you excel in making sure all the details of a job are completed? Knowing both your own preferences and the requirements of a prospective job can help you (and the employer) make a choice that will give good prospects for ongoing success.

The key point in there is to know what the job requires.  My concern with personality assessments is not that they stereotype individuals but rather that hiring managers think there is only 1 personality that can succeed in the position.  This reason is why I prefer to use the term “style” instead.  Personality is really more about style and how someone will approach people, problems, data, etc.  It is not indicative of skills, aptitudes and motivations.

This distinction must be made when hiring.  In the end, assessing solely for style is still better than not assessing at all.