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Tony Cole

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Sales Goal Setting

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Oct 03, 2022

Sometimes that means just go do the work! Early on in our business, I established rules for our sales success. One of my rules was No Cold Calling. Even though there is lots of information on effective cold calling, by having that rule, I was forced to get introductions and network with centers of influence. This has worked well over the years and our entire team follows that path. Occasionally, you need to change your approach to maintain your success. Here is one approach I tried and have adopted to set and reach our sales goals.


Lesson 1 - Have a plan, think through the plan, go do the activity.

Recently I grabbed a business card from a prospect that attended a Cincinnati Chamber session that I delivered earlier this year.  I decided to just stop by his office, hand the receptionist his card and my card and ask "Is this guy in?" I was going to be in the area so I decided today would be a good day to just drop in.

The receptionist left with my card in hand and then came back out saying, "Rich will be with you in a minute." Rich came out with a big smile on his face, greeted me and said that it was great that I would stop in.  I told him that if I didn't have the guts to stop in and see him, then he shouldn't hire me to begin with. 

You see, I'm a bulldog when it comes to prospecting.  Once I get a sense that there is something we should be talking about, I just keep calling, writing, and in this case, really get outside of my normal box and drop in.  I didn't have on a suit or blazer with a tie.  My first meeting was very informal; I was clad in blue jeans, cowboy boots and polo shirt.  I was, as Seth Godin would put it, a Purple Cow.

Lesson 2 - Be unique.  It is what clients are looking for today.

We spent an hour together and I learned a great deal about their business - what is working and not working, how the business has changed and what is keeping them from performing at a higher level.  No sales pitch, no sales talk, just asking questions.  I asked them questions that went well beyond areas that I specifically could help them with, because I am interested.  And the best way to help anyone is to be sincerely engaged in their business and courageous enough to ask sometimes tough and unusual questions.

Lesson 3 - Have courage.  What is the worst that could happen?

Rich took me on a tour and we just happened to go by the VP of sales office where he introduced me to Jim.  He told Jim about our history, our conversation that morning and that Anthony Cole Training Group had some really "good stuff" for sales and sales management.  Additionally, he suggested that we have a meeting to discuss what they do, what they need to do, and how "maybe" we might be of help.  Jim said yes.

Lesson 4 - If you ask enough times and be persistent, sooner or later someone will say yes.

Additionally, given the nature of their business - B2B, with lots of dropping in and cold calling - the VP was very impressed that the President of the company would be out on the road dropping in on prospects. What I did not mention before is that I had dropped by six other businesses and the person I wanted to see at each of those firms was not in. I left my card and perhaps, made an impression.  In today’s world of virtual touchpoints, you may just find that an in person drop and stop can set you apart. Can you do that virtually somehow?  Are you making full use of Zoom and other video devices? Be creative and look for ways to be different and unique. Be a purple cow.

Lesson 5 – Go Back to Lesson 1 and Go Prospect.


Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: meeting sales goals, setting sales goals, sales goals

The Power of Open-Ended Questions in Sales & Sales Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Sep 15, 2022

Conversation is much more pleasant than interrogation.  This is important for an effective coach to remember because after two or three questions, a salesperson is going to feel like they are being attacked.  This is also true for prospects.

Great coaches ask great questions like “Bill, how did that linebacker get past you?”  If the coach tells him, “You’ve got to keep that linebacker from getting past you”, does Bill learn anything? Chances are he already knows he shouldn’t have let this happen.  By asking the right question and reviewing via the post-call debrief (similar to viewing the game film together), Bill will better analyze his own actions and discover what he failed to do. 

Note that the coaching question, “Bill, how did that linebacker get past you?” is an open-ended question.  In sales and sales management, it is best to avoid asking “yes” and “no” questions. They are not effective during the sales process or when working with and coaching salespeople.  Phrase your questions as open-ended. This will help to engage the salesperson, make him/her think before answering and get him/her involved.

Let’s say that you have a sales person who frequently fails to uncover the competition during the sales process.  You could ask him/her, “Did you find out about the competition?” or “When you asked the prospect about those firms being considered, what did he say?”

Can you tell which question is going to get a better answer and provide more insight?  Open-ended questions make coaching sessions more conversational and more engaging.  Open-ended questions will help the salesperson identify the gaps between what they are doing and what they should be doing. Open-ended questions gather more information.  

Let’s parallel this to a conversation with a sales prospect. Your salesperson has secured a first meeting and over the phone, identified a specific issue or pain that is the reason for the meeting. Are they equipped with a meaningful series of open-ended questions that are conversational in nature, so that the prospect does not feel like they are being interrogated?  Here are some of the open-ended questions we recommend in a first meeting sales conversation:

  • What has to happen today so that you feel that this was a great meeting?
  • Tell me more about that (assume you have uncovered some problem or issue).
  • How long has that been going on?
  • What have you done to fix it?
  • When you spoke to your current provider, what did they say? or
  • What has your current vendor done to make this problem go away?
  • What happens if you don’t fix this?
  • What is this problem costing you?
  • Is that a problem?
  • Do you want to fix it?

While there are several Yes/No questions at the end of that series, for the most part, that questioning technique is conversational and open-ended. The salesperson is genuinely interested in the answers to these questions so that they will understand if they can help the prospect.

Now back to the coaching parallel. Once the gaps between expectation on the call and actual execution during the call are uncovered with your salesperson, you need to gain agreement from the sales person that there is a gap before moving to the next step. Sometimes the salesperson will not see this immediately. Upon agreement, identify specific solutions and objectives to improve performance.  The key here is to identify solutions that will help the salesperson learn and grow. Do not just set data or results-based goals. 

An example of a learning objective would be to improve the percentage of contacts to appointments.  An increase in this percentage would indicate improvement in an initial-call skill. Improving the quality of initial calls would be a measurable objective because there would be a corresponding increase in opportunities created.  Be sure to document the identified, agreed-upon objectives and note the specific action items and corresponding necessary behaviors so that you enhance the salesperson’s probability of success.


Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: open ended sales questions, asking sales questions, asking the right questions

How to Prospect in Sales – It’s an A Priority

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Sep 08, 2022

In analyzing those salespeople who are successful year after year, we find significant consistencies in prospecting behavior and practice management. These top sales producers adhere to “The ONLY "A" priority is prospecting” principle. Successful salespeople service accounts just like everyone else. They also have fires to put out and meetings to attend. But nothing gets in the way of consistent prospecting.

So, following their lead:

  1. Schedule a time each day to make phone calls and stick to the schedule. First thing in the morning works well. The longer you procrastinate, the better chance there is of something getting in the way of this critical activity. You don't have to like prospecting; you just have to do it. Every day. The more of this activity you do, the more proficient you will become.
  1. Don't look, act or sound like every other salesperson. Create a unique approach – Don't just say that you are different. Put yourself in your prospect's place. Would you take your phone call and be responsive? If not, work on your strategy and script. For example, when you get your prospect on the phone, say “Hello.” and be silent. Wait for the prospect to respond.

Buyers are conditioned to hear “Hello. This is Joe from ABC Company and I am calling you to ….” Prospects hear this, immediately recognize a sales pitch and quickly disconnect.

  1. Successful prospectors understand that the purpose of a call is to set an appointment with a qualified candidate. Stop selling on the phone. Stop seeing just anyone who will see you. Make sure the prospect qualifies to do business with you. On the phone call identify that the prospect has a problem and get him to invite you to come and talk about it.

The quality of the phone call determines the quality of the appointment.  At this point, your goal is to identify if your prospect has a problem that you can solve. Ask questions like “Can you tell me about the problems you are experiencing?”

Ask the question “Why is this problem a problem?” so that the prospect reinforces, in his own mind, that this is something he needs to address. If he can’t answer this question, chances are the problem isn’t big enough for him to spend time and money on it.

Ask the question “How much is this problem costing you?” Asking this will make the client put dollars to the problem. If the money involved is more than or equal to the price of your product, he is more apt to invite you to visit. Establish that he would like to fix the problem.  At this stage, you are trying to get enough information and “pain” to justify a meeting.

Keep the following questions handy when you are on prospecting calls. They will help you weed out the “tire kickers.”  

  • Tell me about your current problems… in administering your 401K (for example).
  • How long has this been a problem?
  • What have you done to fix it?
  • When you spoke with your current provider what did he say?
  • What has he done to make this problem go away?
  • What happens if you don’t fix this?
  • How much is it costing you?
  • Is that a problem?
  • Do you want to fix it?
  • But not today?
  1. Understand that prospects want to meet professionals through introductions, not cold calls, so always ask for introductions as your first prospecting strategy. Ask your best client advocates the simple question “If you were doing what I do, who would you talk to next?” Then ask them if they would be willing to make a call on your behalf. You can find more information on How to Get Introductions here.

You know that prospecting is essential to your selling success. And you know that you can't consistently grow your business unless you consistently prospect. You can't count on market conditions or new products or low pricing to create opportunities. You must find prospects that fit your profile and qualify to do business with you.

So ask yourself which of the above might help you most today. Implement this change for the next 30 days, until it comes naturally. Commit yourself to changing one prospecting behavior or business practice that will dramatically impact your business.


Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: Prospecting, prospecting skills, sales prospecting

It’s Not Time Management, It’s Self-Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Aug 25, 2022

There is no such thing as “time management.” Here is my take on the myth. It’s a very practical analysis that leads me to my strong conviction.

How many hours in the day do you have? How many minutes in those hours? How many seconds in those hours?  All told the answers are 24 hours, 60 minutes to an hour (1,440 minutes in the day), 60 seconds (86,400 seconds in a day, 31,449,600 seconds in a year)!  I dare you to speed time up, slow it down or stop it!  You can’t.  So how can anyone in their right mind call any program or concept “Time Management?

* I am not the only one in the sales professional development field that believes time management is a myth.  See the resources at the end of this post for more information on debunking the myth of time management.

So, if you can’t manage it, what is the solution to figuring how to avoid having more to do than the time you have to do it?  The obvious solution is this:

Do a better job of managing the time you have

In order to do that, it is helpful to understand what could be causing the lack of self-management that leads to insufficient sales behaviors and prospecting. You might have a substantial revenue flow from the business you already have so therefore lack the motivation. Some salespeople make excuses and blame service or account management for their own lack of self-management. Could also be that you have a fear of rejection.  Let’s face it, none of us like to be told ‘no’. We find that many salespeople lack an effective phone approach, so avoid doing the activity. And finally, many have a need for approval, which is when a salesperson would rather do an activity that is easy and gratifying, than face the difficult job of prospecting and calling sales prospects. Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Here are some Rules to help you manage the time you have:

  • Don’t make excuses for your inability to allocate time for prospecting
  • Learn to discern the difference between ‘pay’ and ‘no pay’ activities and spend at least 33% of your time on ‘pay activities’.
  • Use time blocking to identify your pay activities and then use time blocking in your calendar application. (You should know at least 30 days in advance what activity you will be doing at 2:00 on a Thursday). 
  • Be effective with people and efficient with things
    • Stop trying to have ‘quick meetings’
    • Start scheduling the appropriate amount of time with cushion on both sides of EVERY meeting you schedule
    • Embrace technology designed to help you become more efficient at communicating, scheduling, and managing your practice.

Download your Personal & Business Work Plan for Free

Tactics to help you:

  • Time blocking: Use your calendar app as a true self management application instead of an appointment placeholder.  If I where to look at your calendar I should see, in addition to appointments, time blocked off for:
    • Your personal time
    • Your planning time
    • Time for pro-active, intentional prospecting
    • Administrative work
    • Internal meetings
    • Lunch meetings – networking activities
    • Sales appointments
    • Appointment preparation; pre calls, post calls, and 1 on 1 coaching for skill improvement
    • Research
    • Putting out fires

This is what it looks like:


  • Discernment: To help you discern between the two boxes on the left side of the matrix above, you must ask yourself these three questions every time you are tempted to sacrifice your sales prospecting time in order to get something else done that has popped up in your day to distract you.
  • If I don’t do this RIGHT NOW…
  1. Will someone die or become seriously injured, ill or be in jeopardy?
  2. Will I lose the client?
  3. Will I lose my job?

How likely is it that you will answer yes to any of those questions?  Not likely.  So, your challenge then is to be comfortable delaying your response instead of delaying your go to activity – prospecting.

*Additional resources debunking the time management theory.


Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: time management, Sales Activities, self management

Successful Salespeople Understand that the Small Stuff Does Matter

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Aug 19, 2022

I will have to agree to disagree with Richard Carlson, Author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. My view is that the little and or small things do matter and often they matter a great deal.

We have a newborn in our family. Born July 1st 2022, she came into the world just over 7 pounds. The parents knew in advance that their child would be born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF). With that came the understanding of the complications at birth and the lifelong disease associated with CF. You see, they already have 1 child with CF.

The baby was in the hospital for 5 weeks due to complications with her digestive tract issue, not uncommon with CF patients as they often don’t produce the enzymes to process protein and fat and as a result don’t ‘poop’. That is a problem.

The baby had to gain a defined amount of weight a day for a rolling number of consecutive days before they would release her to go home. That amount is 30 grams a day. I don’t convert easily from the metric system to the decimal system, so I had to look it up.  28.3495 grams equals 1 ounce. 1 ounce is .0003125% of my total body weight (200 lbs). A very small amount I think we would all agree.

So how important is the small stuff? Ask the parents, and they will tell you that day in and day out that while they waited to bring her home from the hospital, it was not such a small thing.

Another example to consider: The diameter of the moon is approximately 2,158 miles.  If the NASA scientist missed the calculation to moon landing site by just 1 degree, the Apollo 11 moon landing would have missed the landing site by: 

Screen Shot 2022-08-19 at 3.36.35 PM

What does this have to do with selling? Everything. Understand I am a salesperson that happens to sell sales growth training and development programs to community banks, insurance brokerage agencies and investment advisory firms. I came from a background of recruiting and selling young athletes to come to our campuses at UConn, the University of Cincinnati, and Iowa State University. I sold Nautilus exercise equipment and life insurance.

The lessons of small stuff didn’t hit me until I got into the insurance business and had to track my weekly sales activity in my success manual. I didn’t think it was that important, it was a pain in my backside to report this every week to my manager Bob and when I didn’t hit my numbers, I just made them up to keep Bob off my back. 

If you are reading this and you are an experienced and successful banker, insurance agent or advisor you can relate to this especially if you are one of our clients and have been introduced to the manager’s extraordinary discussion, the success formula, and huddles (video). You probably think it’s a waste of time and why does missing my call number, or my conversion number really matter? The graphic below shows you how much it matters.


The quarterly plan called for approximately 3.38 calls per day over the period of 1 quarter / 65 working days. If you miss that mark by just 10%, assumed conversion rate of outreaches is 18% instead of 20% and, your average size loan is 2,025,000 and finally you don’t renew all of your current 20,000,000 portfolio you end up at 88% of your goal!

So, the little things do matter and if you end up with a couple of little things not adding up, you miss the Big thing. Your personal goal!

(Personal Note: As of this writing the baby continues to grow, their oldest is almost 2 going on 5, you would never know she has CF. Mom and Dad are juggling what life has sent their way. They really do appreciate the small things.)

Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: Sales Growth, Sales Leadership, Sales Activities

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    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.


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