10 Best Practice Ideas for Creating a Proud and Winning Sales Team
Five Ways to Deal with Worried Prospects

Think Rationally, Act Confidently, and Sell Provocatively

Warning: Don’t share this post with your competition.

Let’s begin with a discussion about the mind-set that is threatening our ability to sell more effectively. Here are the facts:

  1. We are in the worst recession we have seen since the Great Depression.
  2. Many companies have cut budgets to absurd levels. Just last week I had a VP of sales tell me that he can no longer subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. Last year his budget authority was $1 million; this year he can’t approve anything over $10,000 without getting his president and CFO to approve a purchase.
  3. Even the best companies have shifted into “slow pay” mode, sitting on their cash as long as they possibly can. For example, a $6 billion company that failed to pay its bill after 180 days asked our CFO for a 5 percent cash discount.
  4. More decision makers have left their companies. The result: Their projects have been canceled, and the investment in the relationship with the customers has vanished.
The bottom line: We are all working harder, and we are all getting a lower return on our time and money investments. According to a recent online survey at www.sellingpower.com, about 2/3 of all sales executives are stressed out or seriously concerned about the economic situation.

Are you giving in to worry?

How do you stop worrying given all the negative news? Worry is a result of our self-talk. What we silently say to ourselves triggers our emotions. Example: You are reading a news story that explains that unemployment is headed toward double-digit levels. College students can’t get jobs. Those who got laid off are running out of unemployment benefits. People send out 500 resumes and don’t get a single interview. Poverty is on the rise. You may tell yourself, “This is a terrible situation. What if I lost my job?”

Worry is a misuse of the imagination. Think rationally. If you got a job, find ways to do it even better. Your job security lies in your ability to perform. Worry does the exact opposite. Worry and fear SHRINK our awareness to the point that we fail to recognize opportunities, such as opportunities to improve, to create more value for our customers, to connect with new prospects, and to create better selling ideas.

Is worry causing you to make fewer calls?

In a recession, companies need about 25 to 35 percent more prospects just to stay even. In many companies, sales are down by about 20 to 30 percent compared to last year. Why? Because customers have stopped buying, and companies have been unable to replace that business with new clients. Why are these sales organizations not making more calls?

Chances are that fear is causing salespeople to divert their focus from calling new prospects to doing busywork, such as prospect research, sending hundreds of emails, talking to other sales reps, calling existing clients, or making service calls. Call reluctance is a sign that these salespeople have lost their hunting instincts. They’re hungry for business, they want more sales, but they don’t want to experience the discomfort that comes from the following:
  • not reaching prospects on the phone (Salespeople may dial 80-100 prospects a day and reach only 7 or 8.), and
  • hearing “no budget,” “no need,” “no decision,” “no authority to buy,” “can’t get approval” eight times a day, which creates job stress, frustration, and worry
Worry is a silent thief that robs companies of their ability to create new customers. Worry inhibits creativity, stifles innovation, and wastes human resources.

Think rationally

Let’s focus on what we really want to achieve in this tough economy. We all want to win. The rules of the game have changed in three fundamental ways:
  • The top of our sales funnel has narrowed. We need more leads.
  • The speed of our funneling has slowed. We need to speed up our process.
  • Our USP (unique selling proposition) is no longer working. We need to change our selling strategy.
We need to realize that if we continue to do what we have been doing in the past, our sales will continue to decline, and the layoffs we feared have a greater chance of becoming reality. (If you want to skip ahead to a more rational and more effective sales approach, scroll down to “Sell provocatively” below.)

Act confidently

Self-confidence sells. It shows that you believe in yourself, your company, your ability to solve problems, your determination to create value for your customer, and that you can make a positive difference in your prospect’s business. If you are suffering from a deflated ego, begin with reviewing your past successes. Refocus on your strengths. You can also use a proven acting technique called “as if”: Act as if you were the most confident person in the room. Actor For more on that subject, get this time-tested, classic book An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. This book, first published in 1936, contains more ideas on the art of selling than any book on selling.

The best way to persuade others in a climate of fear is to act with confidence. You may remember the opening line in the movie Patton where George C. Scott addressed his troops with, “Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” The actor not only shows supreme confidence in his speech, he also uses a technique called “reversal” to get his point across. The following sales strategy is based on a similar concept. Instead of going to your prospect with proof that your product represents a profitable investment proposition – which, in effect, is a threat to his or her budget plans – you turn the tables and provoke the prospect’s thinking by showing how his or her business and its survival is threatened by not examining (and adopting) your solution.

Sell provocatively

In an economic downturn, solution selling may not be the most effective approach. Solution selling begins with a technical proof and then builds a business case. Example: “This is a proven product that has helped deliver 100 percent ROI in six months in ten Fortune 500 companies.” The typical response: “We don’t have a budget.” Provocation-based selling begins with a compelling business case and then offers technical proof. Provocation-based selling was first described in the March 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review. If you want to get a quick overview of this material, I recommend you view this excellent slide show below. It may contain that ray of hope that your sales team needs to move confidently ahead of your competition.

Mark Wilson, VP of sales at Sybase Inc., has applied this technique, which was described in Selling Power magazine’s September 2009 issue, with great success. Mark has agreed to share his methodology at the Selling Power Sales Leadership Conference on November 9, 2009, at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, FL.

Please share your feedback on this post. If you have created an innovative sales process in your organization, please click on “comments” below.

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This article really spoke to me - I was out in the field last week and saw this in action. We had always asked a lot of questions, looked for the solution, explored the pain, and all that. We had much more success now by being provocative:
- Getting to the point fast
- Making clear statements about what we do and what we do not do - trying to get them to choose us quickly
- Assume money is tight and offer ways to reduce cost upfront
- Separating purchases into phases to reduce cost and time

Post to come on www.sellinghasvalue.com

Sharon Drew Morgen


There are actually two major things a buyer must do prior to making a purchasing solution. Of course they must ultimately choose a supplier and a solution (that's the role of sales). But they also must manage all of the off-line, behind-the scenes change issues that must take place internally so they can get buy-in to bring aboard something new (i.e. a solution). And this idiosyncratic, off-the-cuff buying decision activity is not addressed by the sales model - and yet it takes up 2/3 of the time it takes a buyer to do all they have to do before they buy.

We cannot be a part of this process. We are not there: we are outsiders, the conversations happen between colleagues, and we are not a part of the buyer's team. Sure, we know (and learn) how to be professionals, and care, and understand. Yet the time it takes buyers to come up with their own answers - not the ones we want them to have - is the length of the sales cycle.

One of the problems we're having selling now is not about a buyer's need, or our solution: it's the internal, behind-the-scenes issues buyers are attempting to manage internally. And these issues are now very politically motivated and economy-driven. Because sales only manages the solution/product placement end of the buying decision, it offers us no tool kit to help buyers manage the conversations that go on off-line, between departments, with old vendors, etc. And because it focuses on the very last thing buyers do - choosing a solution - and not the nitty-gritty issues that cause buyers to buy (or not), we are basically out of control.


Sales is at a critical point: it's stalling, taking far too long to close, and prospects aren't even entering the conversation in ways they used to. Not to mention that our typical closing rates are far, far too low.

The problem is not with the economy, or with the buyer, or with the seller, or even with the need or the solution. The problem is with the sales model itself: it merely manages information gathering about 'need' and solution placement options to sell a solution.

As we continue to 'push' on the solution-placement end, it's getting harder and harder to sell. But imagine if we adopted a new set of skills that actually worked WITH the buyer's Buying Decision Team to help them manage their own internal decision making. Not based on their need or our solution, but based on the management of their off-line elements. But to do that takes an additional skill set - sales doesn't do this. To do that, we'd have to learn how to facilitate the buyer's off-line decision issues that often have little to do with a need or our solution.

Are we ready to change? Is it time to do something different? Is it worth the discomfort to add something new to our typical selling habits? And what's the cost if we don't?


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