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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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Sales Coach - Lessons from Lincoln


Even though I recognize there is a lot of excitement over everything Lincoln as of late, I am not tying Lincoln to sales coaching as part of a marketing or search ploy.  I've been reading a book - Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin - on which the movie "Lincoln" was based and I felt compelled to share my observations.

abraham lincoln

Despite the current widespread Lincoln mania, not a single person before has ever identified him as a great sales coach.  Then again, not many people have my mindset of thinking about how every book, movie or song translates to something related to sales or sales management.  You could say it is something I've been cursed with, or blessed with, over my last 20 years with Anthony Cole Training Group - to see sales lessons in the most unusual places.

Here are great lessons from Lincoln for all sales leaders and sales professionals:

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

Here is another lesson:

"A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in the lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents and discipline might take them."

Last one:

“In order to win a man (woman) to your cause, you must first reach his (her) heart, “the great high road to his (her) reason.”

These are three awesome lessons for all of us who desire success in sales, sales management and selling.  Let me briefly take them one at a time.

Resolution to succeed:  Lincoln was mentoring a young law student who was seeking advice.  The book doesn't indicate what advice the student was seeking, but by the nature of Lincoln's response, you can imagine that he was asking how to overcome obstacles such as availability of books, proper learning and appropriate schools to attend in order to have a successful law career.  Lincoln’s response:  "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

In selling, the message is the same.  In our evaluation of sales organizations, we look for commitment to success in selling.  The word commitment could be substituted for the word resolution.  Commitment is a willingness to do everything possible to succeed DESPITE unfortunate circumstances.  In other words, look to your "commitment to success" to pull you through the tough times, instead of making excuses about the tough times.

Natural talents and discipline:  We all have natural talents and gifts.  Those talents (nature) are enhanced or limited by our environments as we grow and mature.  But Lincoln adds the disclaimer of "and discipline".  Lincoln did not see having talent as a free ride to success. Lincoln often was described as a man who had passionate commitment to the ideal that "all men should receive a full, good, and ever increasing reward for their labors so that they might have the opportunity to rise in life."  In our world of sales today, we would call that incentive compensation.  As sales people, we get the chance to set the bar as high as we would like it to be for personal success and achievement. When sales people are given the opportunity to stake their claim, they can depend on natural talents to get them to a certain point, but it is discipline that is the difference maker.  Often the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" is the difference between the "dids" and the "did nots".

Reach their heart:  The first two lessons have more to do with attitude and resolve, where this lesson falls within the realm of focus, technique and skill.  Lincoln was a teetotaler - one who abstains from drinking.  Often, he was asked to speak to temperance groups and most would expect him to denounce those who drank.  However, Lincoln believed that "denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, crimination with crimination and anathema with anathema. A sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of a drinker or the slave owner than penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw."  And so it is when you attempt to convince someone to buy.  You cannot convince the "inconvincible".  Too often, sales people have to suffer through sales training lessons on how to overcome objections.  More than 30 years ago, David Sandler taught his students that "you cannot overcome objections, only the buyer can overcome their objections."  What we must do is seek to first understand (the prospect’s pain) before being understood (how we can help solve the pain).

I am finding the book on Lincoln very interesting and instructive. There are many more stories, anecdotes and quotes attributed to Abe that even reflect what we are about today as a people and as a country.  As for sales and sales management, I believe that the Old Railsplitter would have been one heck of sales coach.

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August - The Dog Days of Selling


Many of you may have heard me talk about our dog, Coco.  Coco is a 13 year old szhitzu - poodle.  Coco, if human, would be a great sales success story.  Let me tell you why.

Ever since Coco was small, anytime the doorbell would ring, she would run to the door with a great deal of excitement.  Barking, tail wagging, wiggling, smiling (really not a smile but looks like a smile,) standing at the door waiting for whoever was on the other side of the door.  We would come to the door, open the door to greet someone from UPS, a neighbor, or local kids raising money for their cause. But to Coco's disappointment, not once, in all the years we've had Coco, have we answered the door to find it was a neighbor dog coming by to play with Coco. But yet, even to this day, when that door bell rings, Coco follows the same routine: Barking, tail wagging, wiggling, smiling, standing at the door waiting for whoever is on the other side of the door.  I'm sure that Coco looks at that door with great anticipation thinking, "Maybe today!"  CoCo

It has been a loooong, hottttttt summer.  And it would be easy to blow off the rest of the summer thinking that everyone is on vacation, no one is interested in your product or service or, given the lateness of the year, certainly no one has a budget to buy from you.  And so we wait for cooler days in the fall when maybe, just maybe, we can find someone to talk to that has a need for what we do and who has some money remaining to spend at the end of the year.

I am not one to make cold calls.  I will follow-up on leads for our chamber meetings and workshops that some of my centers of influence set up for me.  Additionally, we do have people come to our website and snoop around, so I reach out to them and ask what it is they are looking for.

Last week, I made several of those calls.  A couple of things happened that I consider "good."

  1. I got a chance to practice my phone skills
  2. I scheduled an appointment with someone that I've been wanting to visit with for a long time
  3. I added some people to my database for future calls
  4. I got a "no"
  5. I felt really good about putting in the effort to grow the business

And with every call I thought, maybe this time.

I recommend that you try it, too. This is the time of the year that the rest of your competitors are out of the office or are feeling too hot to get out and make calls. Be a bulldog- be the one out there barking away and anticipating the next opportunity.

Maybe this time!

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So You Think You Have Sales Courage?


Sunday June 2, 2010 Cincinnati Enquirer:

I will be presenting a webinar on Eyes on Sales this Tuesday at 1:00.  The topic will be 'The 5 Dysfunctions of a Sales Team'.  In a post on Eyes on Sales, Jill Harrington talks about The Courage to Say 'No'  Sales courage isn't something that is 'automatic' for most sales people.  It has to be a core belief that you will do what is consistent with your values and what you stand for.  Here is a lesson from someone that sold his followership even when it meant losing a key player.

Tim Dahlberg from the Associated Press: Bill Walton was very much an individual in the time of individualism. One day he showed up to practice with a wild, red beard ready to play for the coach who didn't allow facial hair. "It's my right," he told Wooden. "That's good, Bill," Wooden replied. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. We're going to miss you." Are you strong enough, committed enough and courageous enough to stick to what you believe? 


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My "Old School" Dad Would Be A Sales Superstar


Today, I want to talk about my dad. When I returned home from my dad's memorial service, I had with me a box of some of his earthly possessions. He wasn't a wealthy man in material things, but quite a rich man when it came to friends and people that he touched in so many ways.  He was, as they say today, old school.  He believed in the flag, honor, hard work, love, God, and providing for his family the best that he could.  He was a high school drop out, but a man of great knowledge and intellect; things not taught or generally recognized in traditional school systems.  In my world of developing and assessing sales people, my guess is that Dad would have been a sales superstar, and he would have had a long career.  This is what he knew how to do:

  • Work hard - He told me time and time again, "When all else fails, hard work works."
  • Develop relationships - Dad didn't just have people that he met, he had friends. He had life-long friends, as was evidenced by the number of people that I had never met who attended his memorial service. And the testimonials I heard validated that Dad was constantly meeting new people and making new relationships.
  • Get to the point - Dad could sort through the BS in a hurry, and he would call someone on it the moment he heard or sensed it. He didn't have much tolerance for those who tried to snowball him. With Dad, you told him the truth up front, and once you had his trust, only you could lose it. And once lost, it was very hard to regain.
  • Communicate - He knew how to communicate what he wanted, and what it was going to take to make the relationship work. He was honored as a man that kept his word, who promised a lot and delivered more.
  • Be Committed - He was committed to his work, his family and fun. Day in and day out, my Dad did everything possible to succeed and achieve the objectives of the farm that we grew up on. He provided the best possible lifestyle for our family, even putting himself in debt to do so, and made sure that we had moments of complete and fulfilling joy through hunting, fishing and being outdoors.
  • Be Extraordinary - His passion for excellence was legendary (it was not a pleasant experience when something wasn't done to his expectations)
  • Be Responsible - Dad NEVER made excuses. Rain was not a reason for not getting crops in the barn. It was never too early, too late, too dark or too hot. You worked until the work was done and not a minute before.

As I think about my dad and these qualities, I'd say that he would have been a fine salesman and a great sales leader.  If you think about his "old school" qualities, I think you'll agree that they would serve you well today.

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