Fred’s Blog

6 Things I Learned From a Great Salesperson

Who are the best salespeople in your organization? What makes them so good at what they do? When I joined a consulting firm, I remember wondering why people, who seemed so different, were all successful at sales.  Some were women, some men; some were very intelligent, while others were street smart; some were aggressive, others laid back.  There seemed to be no common denominators.

At lunch one day, a good friend, and great salesman, shared an old sales adage, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  As I thought about the sales stars in my firm, I realized that they did share some common characteristics.  A great salesperson:

  • Cares about people and builds strong relationships: What do you do when you meet a new person and have a conversation?  You evaluate everything from their fitness, dress, eye contact, handshake to your estimate of behavioral traits, presentation and ability to care about the other person’s agenda.  If they pass the test they may be someone you’d like to meet again and perhaps begin to build a relationship.
  • Sees the world through the customer’s eyes: How many times have you thought you knew another person’s agenda (in business or social situations) only to find out you were wrong, and in some cases dramatically so. The key, no matter how much intelligence you have gathered, is to let the customer tell you their direction, goals, and dreams and not jump to premature conclusions.
  • Is a great listener rather than a great talker: You’ve often heard that active listening is one of the most important of the communications skills yet we receive less informal or formal training in it than any of the others.  Practice listening to someone else talk and then summarize their major points.  How many of their points can you remember? The ones you forgot are because you didn’t remain “locked in.”
  • Has a genuine interest in solving the customer’s needs: Are you willing to bore down, through research, data analysis and discussion to discover what the customer is really trying to accomplish?  After listening, the art of questioning is one of the most important skills a salesperson can have.  Practice asking questions when friends are engaged in a discussion (business or personal) that they really care about and see if you can help them to frame the issue and devise a plan to work on it.  One last thing:  confirm your findings to be sure you have it right.
  • Provides the product or service that the customer needs: Once you know, and have confirmed, the need, then present your abilities to solve the issues.  This requires a clear, crisp, straight-forward presentation of what you, and your company, can deliver.  Don’t be obtuse or add additional services that can become a distraction.  Deliver a fast ball right down the middle.
  • Goes the extra mile for the customer: After the sales meeting, provide the proper amount of follow-up including any additional information that may be required.  Many sales are lost between a meeting, acceptance by the customer, and the time the work begins.  Providing adequate follow-up prevents the customer from feeling a lack of respect. Then, once you secure the business do whatever it takes to provide outstanding service.

After my friend shared the adage with me, he added, “That’s pretty good advice for anyone in any function.  After all, every one of us is a salesperson every day.”  I agree.

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Innovation

Executives at some of the most innovative companies such as Apple, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Proctor & Gamble, and Southwest Airlines, realize that, to be successful, they must find, and cultivate professionals who are able to come up with innovative and creative ideas.

In the December, 2009  Harvard Business Review article (“The Innovator’s DNA,” p.60) the authors point to five discovery skills as traits necessary for innovation:

  • associating (connecting seemingly unrelated questions)
  • questioning (considering new ideas)
  • observing (gaining insight into new ways of doing things)
  • experimenting (trying various approaches)
  • networking (to gain different perspectives).

The most powerful message in the article is that you can cultivate the ability to innovate.  The authors believe that creativity comes one-third from genetics and two-thirds from learning.  The more you engage in the 5 discovery skills, the more you’ll think in innovative ways.  The Harvard Business Review article suggests practicing by thinking of ways to challenge the status quo in your company, college or club.

An innovative idea has value if it helps your company to move forward so there needs to be either a commercial impact or an idea that will achieve company objectives (e.g. better client service, for example).  If you are having difficulty determining your innovative accomplishment, then ask colleagues for help.  They may come up with examples you haven’t thought of.

What do you think is the most innovative thing you’ve done?  What is the value of your idea (quantify it, if possible)?  Let us know how you answer the question.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

I am not getting the respect I think I deserve from my boss

Question:  I’m very productive but I don’t feel like a get respect from my boss or colleagues and I’m thinking about starting to look for another job.  Am I missing something?

Fred:  Perhaps, and perhaps not.  Set down, in writing, the problem including some very specific examples.  Then ask yourself, “Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?  Suppose, for example, your boss held an important meeting on a day when you were out attending a conference, and you did not receive a summary of the meeting.  Ask yourself:  Did the boss know I’d be attending the conference?  Did I remind her a day or two prior?  If I did not receive the minutes, did I go to the boss’ administrative assistant and ask for a copy?

Once you have thought through your examples, schedule a meeting with your boss.  You might say, “I’ve been feeling a little out of touch and I’d like your perspective.”  Then carefully lay out what you have been feeling using examples that are not personal in nature (e.g. don’t say “you’re ignoring me”).  The example of missing the meeting is a good one.  If the boss needs more than one example give her another one.  If people are involved (e.g. someone is not carrying their weight), tell the boss the circumstances but do not use anyone’s name.  Engage in an open, interactive conversation.  In the normal rush of business activities, you may find that your boss has inadvertently been disrespectful and is surprised and sorry.  If that isn’t the case, give the boss some time to work on the things you’ve discussed and to change her behavior toward you.

Have a situation at work — either good or bad — that you’d like Fred’s advice on?  Ask about it in the comments box below and Fred will respond!

Increasing Your Marketability

All of us would love to have a job which fit the challenging job-autonomy-new and marketable skills model, but it doesn’t always happen.  You may have one boss that absolutely follows that model and then, through a normal transition, have a new boss who doesn’t follow the model at all.  In today’s world where your career progress is in your own hands, it is incumbent on you to do as much as you can to keep your skill development moving forward.

Suppose, for example, your former boss was terrific about giving you feedback on your job performance, letting you know immediately when an action you took was incorrect, and making suggestions for future direction.  Let’s assume that your current boss is introverted and seems disinterested in giving you (or anyone else) feedback.  A few suggestions might be:

  • set up a meeting with your new boss specifically to review your progress and ask for feedback
  • go to a mentor who is more senior than you, but not in a formal leadership capacity, to seek feedback on how you are doing
  • ask your human resources represented if he/she has heard feedback that could be of help to you
  • ask colleagues, who are doing the same work, what they have heard about your work
  • set a plan for yourself that includes new learning and ask for your boss’ approval

What other thoughts do you have that could be added to the list?  What is your plan, going forward, for new skill development?  What is the timeframe and what are the resources you need to implement the plan?

Developing New Skills

When asked why someone enjoys their job surveys always report, “When I have a challenging job, the autonomy to do the job and when I can learn new and marketable skills.” When force ranked on surveys this question is always in the top three responses.  As a talented professional you are a voracious learner and you want to:

  • be in a job that challenges you
  • develop knowledge that teaches you new skills
  • gain experience that increases your marketability
  • receive feedback, good and bad, about your progress
  • learn from smart people who are above you, at your level, and below you
  • be eligible for developmental or rotational assignments
  • receive as much training as possible.

All of us would love to have a job which fit the challenging job-autonomy-new and marketable skills model, but it doesn’t always happen.  You may have one boss that absolutely follows that model and then, through a normal transition, have a new boss who doesn’t follow the model at all.  In today’s world where your career progress is in your own hands, it is incumbent on you to do as much as you can to keep your skill development moving forward.

Suppose, for example, your former boss was terrific about giving you feedback on your job performance, letting you know immediately when an action you took was incorrect, and making suggestions for future direction.  Let’s assume that your current boss is introverted and seems disinterested in giving you (or anyone else) feedback.  A few suggestions might be:

  • set up a meeting with your new boss specifically to review your progress and ask for feedback
  • go to a mentor who is more senior than you, but not in a formal leadership capacity, to seek feedback
  • ask your human resources represented if he/she has heard feedback that could be of help
  • ask colleagues, who are doing the same work, what they have heard
  • set a plan for yourself that includes new learning and ask for your boss’ approval

What other thoughts do you have that could be added to the list?  What is your plan, going forward, for new skill development?  What is the timeframe and what are the resources you need to implement the plan?