Prospecting Sales Tip #5: 3 Practice Techniques for Better Selling

Proper practice techniques are just one of the many topics I’ll be covering in my 90 minute webinar, “Prospecting Skills to Increase Your Sales,” on Thursday, February 24th, 2011 at 12 Noon EST..

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Do Salespeople Suffer from the Sophomore Jinx?

Anyone who knows me knows I have one really bad vice: Baseball.  I’ll watch any baseball game.  But more specifically, I’m an out of control fan (sufferer) of the San Francisco Giants and have been since 1957 when they were the New York Giants.

Baseball has something called “The Sophomore Jinx.”  Throughout its long history, baseball has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of rookies have great success in their first season only to die a horrible death in their second season in the major leagues: hence, “The Sophomore Jinx.”  Some of these players recover and go on to have great careers (Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey immediately comes to mind), while many others just fade into oblivion.

This is happening right now with one of the Giants best young hitters, Pablo Sandoval.  Last season, his 1st in the majors, he was one of the best hitters in the National League.  This year, his performance has dropped off a cliff.  Not only has his hitting died, but his fielding is worse and his conditioning, while never the best, is downright atrocious.  With the Giants in the middle of the playoffs (this could be our year!), he’s been benched.

I bring this up, because while watching the Giants whip the Braves in the 1st playoff round, I was having a discussion with my Father-in-Law, Charlie Romano, on whether or not salespeople suffer from “The Sophomore Jinx.”  To me, the answer is a resounding “YES!”

As with ballplayers, I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of salespeople have excellent 1st years only to see their production plummet in year two.  The problem is: many salespeople (and ballplayers) relax after that first taste of success, because they don’t understand that all the time, energy, effort and commitment it takes to get to the top, are the same things you have to do every day just to stay on top.

Many 1st year “sales wonders” actually believe that after one very good year they’ve “Paid their dues,” and now it gets real easy; the customers will just come to them.  Imagine their surprise when it doesn’t quite work out that way and year two turns into one HUGE bust?  At this point, they could go in one of two directions.

One, they could take the attitude that the majority of “Sophomore Busts” take and say, “You can’t make a living in this business,” totally ignoring all the successful people that are making a great living in the same business, and quit.  This attitude absolves them of all responsibility for their actions (or in the case of year two; non-action).  It’s the industry’s fault, not theirs.

Or, they could do what successful salespeople do and go back to the things they were doing every single day that worked for them as rookies; things like consistent, every day prospecting and lightning-quick follow-up.  In addition, just like great ballplayers, they’ll make adjustments.  Great salespeople look at how their market or customers may be changing and make adjustments accordingly.

They’ll look at what their competition is doing and do something different to make them stand out.  They’ll be visible and talk to prospects and customers every day while competitors hide from the “soft economy.”  Instead of worrying about the size of the sale, they’ll concentrate on how good the sale is for the customer and how it will drive repeat business and expand market share.

Instead of using the economy as an excuse, they’ll use it as a weapon, by becoming consultants to their clients and giving them ideas and solutions on how to increase THEIR business, which, in turn, means more business for them.

So, if you’re currently suffering from “The Sophomore Jinx,” or have someone on your staff who is, have faith.  This is not an incurable disease.  However, it can only be cured by action.


Expect the Best From People – You Just Might Get It

Last month I delivered a Keynote Speech on leadership to over 100 top managers of  the TBC Retail Group; one of the USA’s largest wholesale and retail chains of tire and auto service centers.

One theme I spoke on is how being a great manager or leader is a lot like being a great parent (Of course, in my experience as both, I’ve noticed you hear a hell of a lot more whining as a manager).  I talked about 8 keys to creating self-motivated people that work for your staff as well as your kids.  One of my favorites keys is: “Expect the best.”

When you expect the best from people and not only communicate that fact, plus let them know you have confidence they can do it, you’ll be amazed at how often you get the best.  The opposite is also true.

Have you ever witnessed a parent who tells a child, “You’ll never amount to anything.  Everything you touch turns to crap?”  Then, some years later they get a call telling them their kid’s been arrested and they’re amazed.  What are you amazed about?  You predicted it!  You should be proud.  You were right!

Years ago, I had a boss who taught me everything about how NOT to be a great leader.  He held sales meetings Friday afternoon at 5:30PM.  His purpose was to ruin our weekends.  Every meeting started the same way.  We would sit in his office, silently, while he sat behind his desk staring at us for about 30 seconds.  Finally, he’d look up and say, “I just want youse guys (Brooklyn native) to know, youse all suck!”

What a motivator!  You just wanted to run through a brick wall for this guy.  He was so clueless that one day he had the nerve to ask me, “Why is our turnover so high?”

What did he expect?  People will ALWAYS rise or fall to your level of communicated expectation.

Let me tell you about my daughter, Emily.

Emily turned 19 last month.  She is a sophomore at High Point University in High Point, NC and is doing great!  Her grades are better than they’ve ever been (all A’s and B’s).  She is an active member of a sorority; has a job on campus; is active in campus activities and is really taking advantage of the entire college experience.  In addition, she’s a pleasure to be around and is just a really great kid, who I have high hopes for.  However, that wasn’t always the case.

From 8th grade through high school Emily was a swift pain in the butt.  She was your typical surly, moody teenager.  As a student she was, at best, disinterested, at worst, the part of the class that makes the top half possible.  Have you ever gone to a parent/teacher conference and asked your kid just before you walk in, “How’s it going in this class?”  They say, “Fine,” and then the first thing the teacher hits you with is, “Emily is missing 11 assignments!”  Don’t you love those conversations?

Normal conversations (both mine and Linda’s) with her would go like this: “How’s school Em?” “Fine.”  “Anything happen today.” “No.” “Have any homework.”  “A little.”  There were the screaming matches too.  “I hate you.”  “You hate me.”  “None of my friends ever have to do that.”  Or, of course, “My friends get to do (or have) ________, why can’t I?”  That one bugged me so much I finally said, “Hey Em, how come you never say, “My friends get all A’s, how come I don’t?”

There was the usual sneaking out of the house stuff.  The friends we never got to meet and the ones we did know but weren’t crazy about and of course, the boys (it doesn’t help that Em is a very pretty girl).  To sum it up, Em was a “Valley Girl” who was going to major in “Shopping Mall.”

We threatened her; punished her; grounded her; took away privilege upon privilege; bailed her out (not jail, but school) and let her sink.  Finally, we’d just throw up our hands and say, “Well, at least she didn’t fail.  A “C” is not bad.”  We had low expectations and Emily was just as happy to fulfill them.  She loved playing the dumb, clueless blond.  But then, late in her senior year of high school, it all changed.

The Turning Point

For eleven years Emily had been a member and captain of the Bouncing Bulldogs Rope Skipping Team.  Every year the team has an End of Year Banquet, where the graduating seniors give a speech.  In Em’s senior year she was one of five girls graduating; three of them top students going on to big time schools.  Linda and I were worried that Em was going to “Fall on her face.”

I told her I would not write the speech for her but I’d help her with the editing and coach her.  Two days before the banquet I asked how the speech was coming.  She screamed, “I don’t know what to write.” Finally, I told her just write what you feel.  Talk about your experiences and all the friends you’ve made.

The next day Emily hands me a copy of the speech to edit.  I was blown away.  I said to Linda, “You’re not going to believe this, it’s great!  There’s nothing to edit.”  I told Em I loved it, gave her 2 to 3 minutes of coaching and that was it.

The night of the banquet she blew the place away. It was amazing.  She was funny, poignant and poised.  Eye contact: perfect.  Ability to deliver a punch line: phenomenal.  There were people asking me if I wrote it (NOPE).  Did I coach her for weeks (NOPE; 3 minutes).  It was all Emily.

The next day I sat her down and said, “Em, you blew your cover.  The jig is up.  After that performance you will never again convince us that you can’t do ANYTHING you put your mind to.  The dumb blonde routine is not going to work on your mother and me, because last night, you blew it.

So here’s the deal.  The bar has been raised and you’re the one who raised it.  From now on a C is not acceptable.  Your mother and I will only accept A and B work because we’ve seen the kind of A+ work you’re capable of.   You blew away every one of those girls who were SUPPOSED to be smarter and more articulate than you.

I stated earlier, Emily knocked it out of the park her freshman year, so I sat her down and we decided to raise the bar ever higher in this, her sophomore year and she’s living up to all the expectations and more, which is no surprise to me.

Far too many people in this world suffer from the disease of low expectations.  Whether you’re a parent, manager, business owner, teacher or anyone else in a leadership position; expect the best from people.  Communicate that fact to them and let them know that YOU KNOW they are more than capable of doing and being the best and you’ll amazed at how often you get the best.  That too is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


A Tale of Two Storms

Why is it that when two companies are faced with the same dilemma, one of them comes through with flying colors while the other just drops the ball completely? To me, it has everything to do with the culture and attitude that permeates the entire organization, from the top on down.

A few weeks ago while delivering a keynote speech at a corporate sales meeting in Tampa; I spoke about the merits of Southwest Airlines. Afterwards, one of the audience members relayed to me an experience he had with Southwest that proved my point completely.

This guy lives in Chicago. At the time of the story he had a girlfriend in Baltimore, who he would visit every weekend. The story takes place during the summer, when thunderstorms always make flying out of Chicago an adventure.

One weekend he was headed to Baltimore on U.S. Air. While seated in the gate area waiting to board, an announcement came over the PA system which said, “We are expecting thunderstorms in the area. So instead of boarding now and taking the chance you’ll be stuck sitting on the plane waiting for the weather to clear, we’ll just keep you in the gate area.” The upshot: the flight arrived in Baltimore three hours late.

The very next weekend he was again heading to Baltimore, this time on Southwest Airlines. While sitting in the gate area, the same announcement came over the loudspeaker, which told the passenger about thunderstorms in the area. But this time they followed by saying, “So we’re going to speed up the process; start boarding immediately and try to beat the thunderstorms out of here. In fact, we’re going to be extremely annoying in order to get you to move quickly. Let’s see if we can get those thunderstorms chasing US all the way to Baltimore.”

Needless to say they left on time and landed on time; why is that? Culture, that’s why.

The US Air people were most concerned about “Not screwing up and making people angry.” In the back of their minds they were probably saying, “What happens if we board them and the thunderstorms hit before they take off? All those people will get stuck sitting on the plane and we’ll look like idiots.” As if sitting in the gate area for three hours was a FAR better alternative.

The people from Southwest were only concerned with succeeding, and as you know, if you’re long time reader of this blog; listen to my Monday Motivational Minute; or read my book, The Best Damn Sales Book Ever, “Not failing,” is a lot different than succeeding.

The troubling part of this story is the lack of effort put forth by the people from US Air. There was nothing stopping them from doing the same thing Southwest did; except the different attitudes and cultures of the two airlines.

At Southwest, the attitude is, “Let’s do whatever it takes to get this plane out of here on time.” At US Air (and many other companies), the attitude is, “We did what we were supposed to do. Everything would have been OK if it weren’t for the thunderstorms, which is something totally beyond our control.”

First off, you will never be successful doing just what you are supposed to do. Like the people at Southwest Airlines, success only comes to those who do MORE than they’re supposed to do.

Second, while thunderstorms are not something you can control and could be unexpected, the most successful people and companies constantly prepare for the unexpected. While we never know what’s going to happen, you can rest assured that something always will happen!

The kind of culture and attitude found at Southwest Airlines (and any other successful company), always starts at the top. While innovation is a bottom up process that starts with the people closest to the action, an outstanding culture, attitude and commitment are top down qualities that start with upper management and permeate every corner of an organization.

By the way, BAD culture, attitude and commitment do the same thing no matter how large or small your company. If you want to learn more about forming solid client relationships and delivering amazing customer service, I’m offering Make My Life Easier: What the 21st Century Customer Really Wants, plus my other video and CD packages, at a 40% discount until February 11th, 2009. Click here!


What’s Your Best Strategy?

A few days ago, a poll at SellingPower.com caught my eye, where it asked “What is your best strategy for this economy?” Here were the results:

  • Focus on better prospects: 33%
  • Make more calls: 25%
  • Improve sales process: 29%
  • Reduce risk of buying 8%
  • Lower price: 2%
  • Get better technology: 2%

I find these results interesting. First off, on a positive note, I’m glad to see only 2% responded by stating they’d lower their price. Though the skeptic in me wonders if they just don’t want to admit that’s one of the things they’re doing. In a previous entry, a commenter pointed out the special discount this past week on my products as an example of cutting price (by the way the 50% discount ends Friday night). Again, thank you for your comments Chris! However, the engine of my business for nearly 25 years has been speaking engagements, and in fact my fee went up in 2008 by 20%! Offering an aggressive discount on product means they get into more hands and my message gets out to more people, some of which have the ability to hire me!

I’m also thrilled to see that 25% said they’d make more calls, because many salespeople don’t make enough calls.what does “more calls” mean to you? Is it one more call; two; three; maybe ten.

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written on prospecting, listened to my audio program, Don’t Count the Yes’s, Count the No’s, or watched my prospecting DVD, Prospecting Skills that Work, you know how important it is to specifically quantify the amount of calls you need to make. Anytime you leave something vague or open ended, it makes it way too easy to stop doing it! Without a plan, “Make More Calls” can be a recipe for disaster.

As far as “improve sales process” and “focus on better prospects,” they both seem pretty vague. I mean so many elements can fall under “sales process.” As far as “better prospects,” some of my least qualified prospects have gone on to be some of my biggest winners, and many times salespeople use “we need better prospects” as an excuse not to sell.

But the good news is: Salespeople and companies are recognizing the crucial need to adapt.

Which brings me to you; I’d like to know: What are some of the strategies you’re using?

If you’re improving your sales process, give specific examples how. If you’re focusing on better prospects, let us know what kind and how you came to that decision. Even if you’re not in sales, any type of personal or professional strategy is welcome!