sales management and sales experts

Why Aren't Your Sales People Selling?

Tony Cole

Tony Cole

Tony Cole, Founder and CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group


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The Market is the Market - Go Sell


A couple years ago, I did a keynote for one of our clients that we do sales training for.  That company sells commercial insurance and the market was particularly tough at the time.  The message that the CEO wanted to send was:  "We understand, but our objectives are non-negotiable; go sell."

And so, here we are again in a tough market where people are tightening their belts, cutting back, looking for the "best" deals... or not buying at all.  I'll tell you the same thing we tell all of the sales people that we train.

  1. There are always going to be challenges to hitting targets.  Ignore the problems, focus on the opportunities.
  2. Think of one of your competitors that typically is the low cost provider.  Do they own the market?  Probably not.  It is never about low price no matter how tight things are. If low price were always the criteria for buying, everyone would buy the cheapest most cost efficient vehicles available.  That simply doesn't happen.
  3. When the market is difficult, people are always looking for help. Go see all of those people.  If your people want to see you, guess what? Chances are the competitor's clients want to see them... or somebody. Be that somebody. Call the competitor's clients NOW.
  4. Nobody owns 100% of the market. You have competitors that have more market share than you do as well as some with less.  Go steal market share from someone. 

It's a dogone tough market

Conclusion:  The market is the market.  You can't do anything about it.  You didn't start it, you won't change it, you won't end it.  All you can do is stick to the fundamentals:  See people, find out what they need or want, sell those that need and want what you have.  Period. End of story.

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White Elephants on the Sales Call


What is it that you need to recognize that you have been afraid to confront?  How many times have you been on a sales call and knew that something was wrong, but lacked the sales courage to do anything about it?

  • The decision maker isn't there
  • The prospect isn't being truthful
  • They have a problem they really don't want to fix
  • They aren't going to do a current relationship
  • They don't have the money or resources to invest to fix a problem

Therefore, you ignore the ‘elephant'.  Think about the short term and long term consequences of not challenging your prospect on the fact that they have not yet decided to change from their current relationship that has created and supported a problem that they are having in their company.  Certainly, the problem for you, as the sales person, is that by ignoring the fact that they can't change a relationship, you are going to end up doing a lot of work and putting money in someone else's pocket.  This takes from you and your company; takes the time that you could have spent on someone that is ready willing and able to change;  takes time you could have spent with a client that needs additional services from you, and takes time from your family.

Your company ends up supporting an effort that has zero return on investment because you aren't courageous enough to address this particular white elephant of not being able to fire the incumbent.  They invest time, money and resources on you and your "I think they will buy from me.  They really liked what I had to say and enjoyed the presentation."  Great; however, none of that gets you paid or enhances company profits, and it certainly doesn't solve the problem for the prospect.

If you are going to sell more and be more productive and effective in your sales efforts, you must FIRST have the sales courage to call out "WHITE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM" when you see it, hear it or sense it.  I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you have to learn when it's there; you already know.  Your gut tells you when something is amiss.  Now you must have the courage to speak up and say, ‘wait a minute there is something that I'd like to address, is that ok?" 

Once you recognize this and develop the courage to address it, you won't have to worry about what you should say.  The right words will come to you.  Just remember to be assertive and not aggressive.  Stay clinically detached, nurture your comments, and don't be afraid to walk from the prospect or client if a mutual understanding and agreement isn't reached.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Improve Your Sales Courage:

  1. What did you want to say or do but backed off?
  2. What can you do, must you do, about it now?
  3. How will you handle such incidents in the future? 


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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back From a Sales Call

Ok, not really "ha ha" funny, more unusually funny - but it's really just an expression.  Just like the following are expressions when we are talking about our sales and selling:
  • Thinking about
  • Looking at
  • Considering
  • In the process of
  • Probably

Don't you just love these expressions?  Hmmm.  No?  Why not?  Sound all too familiar?  Of course they do, this is what you hear when you talk to your prospects.  They really don't tell us anything.  They are just expressions.  Unfortunately, in selling these expressions get us killed or allow us to lower our guard relative to what is really going on in a specific sales opportunity.  Let's take those that we hear from our prospects and redefine what is really being said:

  • Thinking about - we're thinking that maybe we have a problem but it's not serious enough to do anything about it unless we can get a solution dirt cheap.
  • Looking at - we're looking at ways to get our current vendor to do a better job
  • Considering - we're considering options for a problem we're not sure we have to fix because we're not sure it it's bad enough
  • In the process of - doing our every third year due-diligence exercise to defend a decision we made 12 years ago
  • Probably - we'll probably make a decision, but don't count on it being you and certainly don't count on a decision as we agreed to

As I've often told my clients, prospects do this because it ‘works', meaning that as soon as a sales person hears this, they forget all the stuff that they are supposed to do to further qualify the prospect.  When salespeople hear these expressions, they have the Pavlov reaction:  they hear an expression such as, ‘thinking about', they think, ‘got one'; they start to drool, give themselves high fives, and forget to ask all the other qualifying questions and forget to drill down.

Settle down.  You don't need to rush to home plate just because you have a solid appointment and you're sitting there on first.  Stay clinically detached, maintain your composure, ask more of the right questions, get budget and commitment, cash the check then give yourself the high five.





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5 Questions to Convert More Appointments to Sales Opportunities:

This is not a complicated business.  Like the manager in Bull Durham says to his team in the shower:  "You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball".  In selling, you "See the people, ask the people about their problems, get them to commit to fixing those problems"; not complicated; however not easy.


Here are 5 questions to help you accomplish the 3 "not complicated" steps in selling.  These 5 questions have everything to do with finding out the problems and getting them to commit to fixing those problems.

  • 1. What is the biggest problem that you are having now that caused you to take time out of your business schedule to meet with me? (Assume it is something to do with your product and service.)
  • 2. In a word, how would you describe your satisfaction with (Company) today? (Assume the word is not extra-ordinary)
  • 3. What is the key metric that you are using today to measure your success at (Company) (the problem)?
  • 4. What is your "tipping point"? In other words, how bad must the problem become before you decide that you will fix the problem?
  • 5. (Assuming your prospect says: I have to fix it now) Suppose we / I could fix that problem what would happen next?

I'm sure you are aware that there are more than these 5 questions; however, asking these 5 questions will help you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  You still have to uncover budget to fix the problem, and their ability to fire their current relationship; however, until the prospect has arrived at this "tipping point' or "have to" moment, nothing else matters.

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Sales Goggles: 3 Steps to winning when there is water in your sales goggles


Michael Phelps won the 200 meter individual medley in world record time with water in his swim goggles.  I can't imagine that if he had lost we would have made the water in the swim goggles problem the reason for his loss.  I just can't imagine.  What does this have to do with selling and sales goggles?  Everything if you want to sell more, sell more quickly and at higher margins.

What I do hear during our sales training sessions though is:

  • Our prices are not competitive
  • The competition is better positioned in the marketplace
  • We got into the deal late
  • The incumbent relationship came in at the last minute and took our proposal
  • We don't have the right product mix to compete
  • The goals are unrealistic in this economic environment

If Michael Phelps were a sales person I cannot imagine him ever making excuses as to why he didnt' get a deal or why he was failing to hit target in the above fashion.  In stead he would say something that started with "I".

So here is my encouragement and lesson in 3 steps:

  1. Know that there is always a likelyhood of getting 'water' in your sales goggles
  2. Have a strategy to deal with 'water' in your sales goggles
  3. Take full responsibility for your results even when you have 'water' in your sales goggles

I believe you will be amazed as to how often you will win when you compete for business when you begin to realize improved sales results are entirely up to you.  I also believe that once you accept that responsibility then not only will you begin to set new higher personal best but others will begin to consider you and Olympian sales professional.


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Are You Buff or Buffalo?


You want to become ‘sales buff?'  If yes, then you have to make sure you understand what it takes to be buff and what happens if you are buffalo.

If you exercise at all, or if you've seen someone that really works out a lot, then you know the term ‘buff'.  To get buff you have to constantly improve in at least three areas:  your food intake, your cardio vascular fitness and your muscular definition.  You work on those three items and you end up with those well defined muscles .

Click here to find out if you are buff or buffalo in your professional sales career.

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Selling Raccoons


First let me make it clear that I'm not talking about actually selling raccoons, nor am I talking about raccoons that can sell.

At State Dock in the Lake Cumberland State Park we have raccoons.  I'm sure you are thinking ‘dah'.  Raccoons at a state park.  No, I'm talking about at the dock.  Our slip is about ½ mile from the main entrance to the marina and we have raccoons.  And yes, they do what all landlubber raccoons do and that is; find left over food where ever they can find it and eat it.  The interesting part of this and the link to our post today is the ‘where ever they can find it' segment.

These raccoons, like all raccoons, have those qualities that we would all admire and hope to develop as sales people:

  1. Instant bonding and rapport.  Even though we all know that these raccoon supposedly are carriers of the rabies disease it never fails that people describe them as cute and clever.  Never, not once have I heard some one scream in terror at sighting a raccoon.
  2. They truly are fearless - no matter what you attempt to do to scare them off.  They do not scare off.  (No need for approval, no fear of rejection). They may leave your boat or slip area but they will not run away.  They just kind of saunter or scamper off.
  3. Once they leave you will find them somewhere further down the dock - prospecting - for new food.  (No difficulty recovering from rejection or failure)
  4. Once they smell the prospect for food they will try multiple ways to get over, under, through or around any kind of containment device that is the barrier between them and their meal.  (passionate, committed and persistent)
  5. They close.  They may not get every meal but they eat.  The only metric you need to verify that they close is the girth of the bodies of these animals. They are not the scrawny scavenger type of animals that barely eke out an existence.  It is very evident that they eat well and often.

So next time you are thinking about your sales skills and those characteristics necessary for success in selling, think raccoon.

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5 Smart Decisions to Selling Success

Looking at your selling scorecard at the end of July will indicate that you are either at plan, behind plan or ahead of plan.  Obviously behind plan = failure to succeed, at   plan = meeting expectations, ahead of plan = selling success.  But looking at your current selling scorecard information is what we call a ‘lagging indicator'.  Similar to the way that all mutual fund companies have the disclaimer:  ‘Past results are not a guarantee of future returns', your current results are no guarantee for future success.


I'm sure that intellectually you understand that the results you have today are a result of previous sales activity.  And depending on your sales cycle, your current sales results as of July 30th, can actually be a result of sales activity that took place last year.  So my question to you as you prepare for the balance of the year is:  What is your current sales activity data telling you about your selling success at the end of this year and into 1st quarter of next year?

If you want to be able to reasonably predict the future sales health of your business, you MUST have the following data:

  1. How many contacts have you made over your most recent sales cycle
  2. How many of those contacts have turned into appointments
  3. How many of those appointments have turned into ‘real' sales opportunities

Not knowing those smart numbers reduces your ability to predict and really know your business vs. guessing.  And knowing your business - capturing real time information - allows you to make real time adjustments and decisions.

Before you start to get tense over this because your immediate reaction to this might be - ‘this is micro-managing', stop and think about what I've said.  I haven't said anything about managing or sales management.  This is about individual sales professionals making a decision to take responsibility for their success and understanding that sales success should never be a matter of luck or bad economy.  It is about making smart decisions and smart adjustments based on smart numbers. 

The smart decisions to make today are:

  • 1. Identify those sales activities / metrics (smart numbers) that lead to sales results
  • 2. Establish the appropriate benchmark of performance for each activity
  • 3. Track your performance of your identified activities against the benchmark
  • 4. Review your sales activity results - manage yourself to your activity goals
  • 5. Seek coaching when you determine that there are choke points in your activity formula that are keeping you from selling success.

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How to Sell to Close the Business


In the life insurance business, the ‘experts' will tell you that closing 3 out of 10 is Million Dollar Roundtable sales production.  In business, hitting 33% of your sales revenue target gets you fired.  In baseball, hitting the ball and getting on base 33% of the time makes you an All Star. But if you really want to know how to sell close the business, you need to think golf.

Greg Norman loses 7 of 8 major tournaments when leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes.  Tiger Woods wins 13 of 13 major tournaments when leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes.

Imagine golf as a team sport. Who would you pick as your closer for the Sunday round? 

Now keep in mind Mr. Norman has done quite well for himself even though he seems to have a tough time playing golf on Sunday with a lead:

He just can't close.  But by the way, here is some additional information about Mr. Norman that is noteworthy:

He serves as Chairman and CEO of Great White Shark Enterprises, a multinational corporation that comprises several companies and divisions including Greg Norman Golf Course Design, Medalist Golf Developments, Greg Norman Turf Company, Greg Norman Interactive, Greg Norman Production Company, merchandising and licensing.  And let's not forget Greg Norman Estates - his wine company.

But I will go back to my question:  If you had to close the deal on Sunday, who would you pick?  It's a no brainer: Tiger Woods is the all time best closer ever.

So how about you?  Do you find yourself in one of the following positions?

  • ¨ Getting ‘think it over' after you present
  • ¨ Have to ‘take it to the board' after you present
  • ¨ Have to ‘discuss with my partner' after you present
  • ¨ Have to ‘crunch the numbers' after you present
  • ¨ Have to ‘compare' after you present

Or are you not getting the chance to present at all and you have a lot of ‘think about its' that have been sitting in your pipeline report since before the Dead Sea was sick?  If you find yourself in a position to close, but still end up without the incentive compensation as a result of a sale, then you need to start thinking one of two things:

  • Team selling and bring in your closer prior to the close
  • Get yourself in a position to maximize your other strengths such as account administration

Selling is about closing effectively.  That means close the business before you've presented and get a decision once you've presented.  Anything short of that means you allow yourself to be vulnerable to competition and you become recognized as the sales person that has a lot going on, but just can't seem to close. 

I think Greg Norman is great but I'd rather be playing Tiger on Sunday.

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Selling Q3 = “Commitment to Buy”


The dictionary defines Commitment as "to pledge as by a promise".  When we are looking for a prospects' ‘commitment to buy' what we are really testing is their commitment to invest to make a problem go away.  That commitment to invest, and the commitment to make a problem go away are validated when a prospect commits to make a decision.

Another way to look at this is described in Dave Kurlan's book, Baseline Selling.  Getting commitment to decide is analogous to ‘being at third base'.  In other words, prior to getting into a presentation mode, you must first make sure that your prospect has already made two of the three required decisions:

  1. Do they have a problem and do they want to fix it?
  2. Will they invest the time, money and resources to make the problem go away?

The third decision is - they have to decide.  Now that decision doesn't have to be a yes.  They just have to decide that when they see a presentation, that presentation either satisfies the requirements of solving the problem within the budget of time, money and resources, or it doesn't.  It is a simple yes or no. 

Now because most sales people try and ‘steal' third or skip third and just run home from first or second, these sales people will run into stalls, more questions and objections to buying at the time of presentation.  Following that type of process is far from effective.

If you want to close more business, more quickly and at higher margins make sure that before you start heading for home ‘to present', you have clearly identified the decision maker, the decision making process and that you have an agreement to make a decision, either yes or no, once you've presented.

On another day we'll talk about why you may find this difficult to do, but in the meantime, if you'd like to find out before I blog about it, click one of the following links:


Sales Development

Which Test To Use

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