I don’t consider myself old, but I am starting to waver on that belief after reading this Selling Power article.  I started selling back in the days before cell phones and Internet, when the fax machine was viewed as such a timesaver.  Frightening by today’s standards.

The article identifies 4 selling skills you need in today’s socially-connected world.  Here are the first 3:

    1. Social Listening
    2. Social Researching
    3. Social Networking

Those 3 are critical and hopefully most salespeople are aware of these needed skills.  However, the 4th point is most interesting:

4. Social Engaging

This is the newest skill for sellers.  Consequently, it holds the biggest competitive advantage for sellers who master it quickly.  There are two types of social-engagement actions:

    1. Commenting on someone else’s post
    2. Initiating a post

I agree with the Social Engaging activity – the majority of sales that I encounter are relationship-based.  The transactional sales have moved to more automated channels.  The relationship sale is difficult to initiate by phone or email.  But an online conversation…that is a back door to initiate the relationship.  I also appreciate the thought-leader aspect of it.  If you are able to provide some value-add to the conversation, you instantly frame the relationship in a favorable (for the salesperson) light.

Here is a great, short article from Selling Power about an ad agency’s sales call with Steve Jobs at Apple.  A taste of the setup:

When Steel and his two partners arrived at Apple, they were met by two senior members of Apple’s marketing department-employees Jobs had inherited from the former CEO. "Steve’s running late," announced one of the executives. "We’ll get you up-to-speed while we’re waiting." And they ushered Steel’s group into a darkened conference room.

They droned on for 2 hours as you will read.  The saving point in the article is the second Steve Jobs entered the meeting.  You’ll have to read it to see the marked change in the meeting/discussion.  There is a good lesson about brevity that should resonate with all salespeople.

I’ve been swamped of late with sales candidate assessments for different customers and have encountered an important trait – common sense.  This is a broad topic, but we use it in a fairly defined manner – using common sense.  We actually measure this aptitude in one of our assessments which often leads to rather pointed discussions…especially when a candidate has a low score in this area.

But what of it?  Our definition utilizes speaks to common sense being more of a natural reflex as opposed to a logical thinking process.  I’m not talking about intuition but rather the practical thinking in regards to seeing the world.  Does that make sense?  The ability is clearly beneficial to successful selling.

Think of salesperson’s task – successfully convince a stranger to hand over their (or their company’s) money for your product or service solution.  Most times salespeople have to go to the client’s facility to meet with them.  Most times they have never met the prospect.  Most times they are not certain of all of the buying factors (need, budget, decision process, timing, etc.).  If you think about it, this is a tall order.

Now think of a salesperson with the ability to see things in a practical manner, to see the world clearly.  How intrinsically helpful is this ability?  A salesperson with this aptitude can move through a qualifying process quickly and accurately.  In essence, they are more efficient.

A salesperson lacking in this area has to incorporate more aids (record keeping, organizing tools, selling system reminders, etc.) to move through the same area.  It has been my experience that these salespeople will move slower in comparison to the aforementioned salespeople.  These salespeople will also miss some important qualifying points.  They will, essentially, take longer to cover the same ground.

I’m not sure this distinction is necessarily critical in the present market.  Most companies I talk to are thoroughly qualifying every lead – they are not overwhelmed with hot leads.  Yet, the economy will pick up and business will start to move into a faster pace when it does.  At that point, a less efficient, slower-moving salesperson may become a real liability.

If you are not assessing salespeople today, it is time to start.

No, not a Wisconsin graduate, an actual badger.  JustSell.com has the video on their site.  The setup is this – the badger is an “old-school” car salesman who badgers his prospects.  The 30 second ads are for a car dealership.  It is quirky, but I love quirky and got a real kick out of them.

Here is a taste:

Badger Sales Rep

Here is a somewhat ethereal concept I have been encountering in this present economy.  It starts with this – return on investment (ROI).  ROI has been the backbone of sales since time immortal.  This is the basis of sales in that customers pay the money to receive the solution.  As long as the customer views the return on their investment as greater than the investment, they will make the purchase (generally speaking).

The top-performing salespeople possess this motivation pattern (called Utilitarian).  They view prospects in terms of ROI – how much return ($) will I receive if I invest time to close them.  This principle has changed in the present economy.

Salespeople know that spending is tight – deals are difficult to close.  I am seeing a change in the salesperson’s approach:  they are measuring prospects based on Return On Effort (ROE).  This approach is akin to taking the long road and it is a wise strategy in these recessionary times.

Salespeople are realizing that extended sales cycles are the norm so they have to focus their effort in the most strategic prospects.  Yes, you could argue the effort is their investment and that would be accurate.  However, I talk to more salespeople who speak in specific terms of their effort to close the prospect.  Is it the deal worth it?

I think this approach is born out of the lack of deals closing.  What I mean is this – salespeople are working on qualifying and closing deals, but deals are closing slowly (if at all).  So now the salesperson is stuck with fewer closes.  Instead, they have to keep their effort level elevated even though they are not receiving the return/reward they are accustomed to receiving (a sale).  The salesperson must change the metric and focus on their effort and what they will receive for it.

As a sales manager, it is important to keep the salesperson focused on keeping their effort level elevated.  A bad economy has a way of derailing salespeople, even good ones.  There will be a payoff in the long term for their effort.  Do not let the discouragement of extended sales cycles affect their Utilitarian motivation.

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

-Mark Twain

If you would, allow me to speculate a bit.  I’ve been involved in volunteer activities with high school students over the past 2 years so I have become a reluctant texter (is that a word?).  I learned quickly that their preferred method of communication is texting.  I didn’t even have texting on my cell service when I started.  I now have unlimited texting out of necessity.

I tell you this in regards to a concern I see in this younger generation.  I’ve read many pieces about how the younger generation uses text shorthand in formal communications, e.g. cover letters.  That is obviously a great concern.  However, I see a more disconcerting trend – a limited vocabulary.

The modern youth needs to condense their communication into a limited number of characters for texting, Twitter, etc.  An adverse side effect of this constraint is their condensed vocabulary.  Common, monosyllabic words are their preferred lexicon.  The impact is a rather limited vocabulary that is exposed in a long-format writing piece…for instance, an essay.

This limitation is apparent when you work with these teens.  Their word selection (use of adjectives especially), syntax, punctuation and idea structure are lacking.  They have a desire to respond in a succinct manner with common words absent any punctuation beyond a period.  The exploration for new words seems lacking in their approach.  Hence, the wonderful, aforementioned quote from Mark Twain.

I see this subtle regression in writing skills becoming a widespread issue in the next generation of professionals.  The ability to write effectively may be moving onto the endangered skills list right before our eyes.

I mentioned in a previous post about a client who had a salesperson who simply could not convey cogent thoughts through his writing.  The owner paid – paid – for an English tutor to help develop this salesperson’s writing ability.  It was an abject failure and the owner eventually fired the salesperson.  My hope is that this scenario is an uncommon anecdote.

If you know of young people working their way through the education system, encourage them to expand their vocabulary and refine their writing skills.  This much-needed ability will serve them, and us, well as they move into the workforce.

The nature vs. nurture debate is one for which I am most intrigued.  My Bachelor’s degree is in psychology and this topic was a popular debate topic in my courses.  Yesterday I came across this article from CNNMoney.com – Are entrepreneurs born or made?  As I look at the stats, I tend to interpret the result as saying entrepreneurs are made:

Shane and his fellow researchers compared the entrepreneurial activity of 870 pairs of identical twins — who share 100% of their genes — and 857 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins — who share 50% — to see how much of entrepreneurial behavior is genetic and how much is environmental.

The mathematics behind quantitative genetic modeling are rather complicated, but the upshot was fairly straightforward: Entrepreneurs, the researchers concluded, are about 40% born and 60% made.

The 40% is a significant number; one that ties into salespeople also.  The article contains an excellent example as to where it derives its significance:

But he doesn’t totally dismiss nature’s role. “For someone without aptitude, I don’t think those things can be taught,” he says. “I can’t make a librarian into a Broadway performer.”

I believe strong salespeople are nurtured and developed within the right sales environment.  Yet, there is a nature/born component to strong salespeople also – the 40% born and 60% made split seems accurate to me.  The critical factor in the “40% born” side is their aptitudes.  We describe aptitudes as intrinsic talents. These are talents that salespeople possess – they are not learned.  They can be refined, but they cannot be created.  Salespeople either have these intrinsic talents or they do not.

For instance, it is difficult, almost impossible, to make a successful salesperson out of someone who lacks the aptitude Handling Rejection.  Few territory reps are successful without having a strong Personal Accountability aptitude.  Hire a remote salesperson with low Initiative and you will have trouble.

One facet of our assessments is to measure a salesperson’s aptitudes in comparison to their present sales skills.  This comparison reveals areas where they may have underdeveloped sales skills today, but they possess the aptitude…it simply needs to be refined into a skill.

This is from the JustSell.com crew – it is a description of things salespeople do to upset prospects.  I found it quite comprehensive:

They (Ed.-prospects) don’t like it when…

  • we’re pushy
  • we call too much
  • we’re “just checking in”
  • we’re unprepared
  • we’re disrespectful of their time
  • we keep calling if they say they’re not interested
  • we don’t respond fast enough
  • we appear not to understand them, their industry, their situations, and their challenges
  • we don’t work in their interest
  • we don’t listen
  • we don’t know about our own products/ services
  • we’re rude, arrogant, or inattentive
  • we’re vague or unclear
  • they’re made to feel like they’re interrupting us
  • we seem like we’re “just trying to sell them something”

From an article in our local StarTribune.com (bold mine):

A Carnegie Foundation study once found that only 15 percent of a businessperson’s success could be attributed to job knowledge and technical skills — considered an essential element but overall, a small contribution. A whopping 85 percent could be determined by “attitude” and the “ability to deal with people.”

I grant you that “attitude” is a fat word – I’m not sure exactly how he defines it in this survey.  Nonetheless, you get the point when it comes to hiring.  I would estimate that 85% of sales hires are based on technical skills as opposed to the ability to deal with people.

Soft skills often get marginalized in sales hiring, but companies do that to their own peril.  Successful selling requires “the ability to deal with people.”  Not only people, but people who have different motivations, values, perceptions, etc.  The strongest salespeople know how to leverage these human aspects when they are using their skills.

I come across this often – a company wants to hire a superstar salesperson and the hiring manager’s first instinct is to find a loquacious talker.  Perhaps you have seen this approach too?  Clearly no readers of the Hire Sense would administer this approach in their hiring.


Ok, maybe not.  The point is that smooth talkers are not categorically the best salespeople.  I am appreciative of good communicators, but being good at talking is the lesser part of communication.  Being an active listener is more important.  This fact is often overlooked in sales hiring.

The reason this ability is important is that is supports the foundation of successful selling – qualifying.  Salesopedia.com is featuring an article this week by Kelley Robertson that addresses this point (my bold):

The most common mistake sales people make is to immediately launch into a product presentation or “pitch” when they first meet their prospect. They extol the virtues of what they sell and tell the prospective buyer how good, fast, reliable, inexpensive or easy to use their product is. They talk, talk, and talk hoping they’ll convince the buyer that their product or service is of value.

The problem with this approach is that the “pitch” seldom addresses the issues or concerns of the buyer. Because their needs have not been addressed, there is no compelling reason for them to consider using your machines or to change vendors. If you really want to give prospects a reason to buy from you, you need to give them a reason. One of the most effective ways to do this is to ask a few well thought-out questions to uncover what is important to the prospect.

Exactly right.  One of the more overlooked aspects of a sales interview is to pay attention to a candidate’s questions, both the content and the sequence.  I try to write all of them down in an interview to review them afterwards.  The candidate’s questions in the interview provides a glimpse into their qualifying ability without asking the candidate about it.  It is most important that you, the hiring manager, observe this ability closely both on a phone screen and during a face-to-face interview.