. 2
( 5)


some sample questions:
∆ How would it help you if you were able to fix this problem?

∆ What do you see as the benefits of addressing this issue?

∆ Are there any other benefits or value to you in solving the

∆ Do you see other ways in which solving this problem might
help you?

It™s important to wait until the customer perceives the problem as
serious enough to solve. Psychologically, a solution has less impact
adopt an outside focus

on the customer when he or she is not ready to solve the problem
than when he or she is ready to solve it. Therefore, top perform-
ers, since they are putting the customer first, will invariably with-
hold their solutions until they feel that these solutions will have the
greatest customer impact”that is, until the customer perceives the
problem as sizable enough to solve. Unless the customer tells the
salesperson that he or she wants to solve the problem, the only way
the salesperson is going to know for sure whether the customer sees
the problem as sizable enough to solve is to ask the customer. Jim
Preston, former president of Norwood Industries, located in Austin,
Texas, said it best: “If a salesperson wants to aggravate someone,
just let them try to solve a problem that the customer isn™t ready to
solve yet.”
When you identify and try to develop the client™s needs, you™re
in a better position to know whether the client sees the problem as
big enough to warrant buying the service or product being offered.
While prospects may admit that a problem exists, if they don™t think
the problem is serious enough”especially if there™s a lot of risk asso-
ciated with the solution”they won™t buy. Once again, people are
most receptive to solutions when the pain of making a change is less
than the pain of staying the same.
Why would you ever want to offer a solution unless you were cer-
tain (either because you were told by the customer or because you
asked the customer) that the customer was ready for one? Well, the
answer is simple: You wouldn™t. Prescribing surgery (the solution)
without proper diagnosis (the probing/investigating) is malpractice
(not a good thing).

” Leave some issues on the table. Don™t try to solve all the customer™s
problems. Don™t try to answer every objection. The more rea-
sons you give to support your argument, the weaker your argu-
ment becomes.13
32 the 24 sales traps

” Show courtesy and respect. Always display concern for the cus-
tomer™s problems and respect for the customer™s perception of
these problems.

” Listen, test understanding, and clarify what the speaker says.
Occasionally ask the speaker if this is what he or she means. As
Neil Rackham points out, use the customer™s actual words, not a
paraphrase. That way you can more easily come back to clarify or
explore points. For example, “You said that your existing equip-
ment suffers from, as you put it, ˜fundamental design inefficiency.™
Could you say more about that?”

” Separate problems to be solved and problems to be left alone. Separate
customer problems into two categories: those that the customer
wants to solve and those that the customer is willing to live with.

” Don™t offer unwelcome solutions. Offer solutions only to those prob-
lems that the client is interested in solving.

3: Offer solutions to problems
the prospect wants to solve.

get the
most out
of your
best people
A TOP sales organization is able to get the most
out of the best people. This starts with recruiting and
hiring the best. Top sales organizations have highly
effective processes for attracting and recruiting top-
notch sales reps. Not only do these companies inter-
view at top business schools, but they also actively
participate in business school and other campus func-
tions in order to get their name and reputation in
front of the best students. They network within their
own organizations to find the best new recruits and
never lose sight of the need to develop their employ-
ees. They realize that top-notch selling isn™t a natural
34 the 24 sales traps

talent. Successful companies use all available resources to improve
the skills of their sales team”including academic classes. As one
might expect, the interview process (both internal and external) in
these organizations is grueling.
For example, Andersen Consulting actively participates in infor-
mation sessions that offer it the opportunity to explain the career
opportunities within the organization to groups of students at the
Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. These sessions help
students learn not only what it takes to be successful in the business
world, but also what it takes to be successful at that particular com-
pany. Besides Andersen Consulting, the 200-plus companies that par-
ticipate include Procter & Gamble, Motorola, ExxonMobil, Ernst &
Young, Bank of America, E & J Gallo, Johnson & Johnson, 3M,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Eli Lilly, and CDW, to name just a few.1
Some of these companies select recruiters with personal ties to
Indiana University (or whatever university they are recruiting at) in
the hope that these recruiters will relate better to students, thus
enhancing the company™s chances of attracting the best candidates.
One way in which some top sales companies recruit top-notch
candidates for sales positions is through Baylor University™s Center
for Professional Selling. Under the direction of Terry Loe, Ph.D.,
Baylor™s Center for Professional Selling conducts an “Academic
World Series” of Professional Selling that is open to qualifying stu-
dents from colleges and universities around the country. In role-
plays, the students who qualify get to conduct “real life” sales
interviews with “professional buyers.” These role-plays help the par-
ticipating students to develop their selling skills. Recruiters from
well-known companies like EDS, Wilsonart International, and
Xerox observe these sales role-plays. This puts them in a position to
preview the “sales stars” of the future and get a head start on their
recruiting efforts.2
get the most out of your best people

Recruitment is one way in which companies can get the best peo-
ple. Top sales companies also network within their own organiza-
tions to find the best people, as well as never losing sight of the need
to develop their own salespeople. One Fortune 50 corporation took
the development of its people to a higher level when it transferred
a manager with ten years™ experience in its service organization to
the sales division to conduct the training of new hires. The premise
for this type of cross-divisional or cross-department training is that
the more business perspectives people have, the better they will be
able to serve the customer.3
There are several sales traps that, if not avoided, can cause tal-
ented recruits to be less than successful once they begin to sell pro-
fessionally. For example, some recruits believe that they are a failure
if customers reject them or believe that academic classes don™t help
in the real world. They believe that the evidence supports the the-
ory that you either have it or you don™t. However, these three mis-
taken beliefs are traps not only for the salesperson, but also for the
company that stubbornly believes that stars are born, not made.

* * *
36 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
Rejection Is Failure
When I was manager of training and development at the Xerox
International Training Center, I was asked to work with Ellen, a new
sales rep who had a territory in the rural area of a Midwestern state.
Unfortunately, she was struggling to achieve her sales quota. Here™s
what happened:
Ellen wanted to become a top sales performer. This
was not surprising, since she had always excelled in
sports, school activities, and academics. During one of
my visits, her manager asked if I would meet with her,
tag along on her field sales calls, and give her any nec-
essary feedback and advice.
The next day I traveled with her on her sales calls. I sat
back, observed, and kept my mouth shut. Ellen was
charming, charismatic, and dynamic. She appeared to
be an excellent hire. She was strong on interpersonal
skills. All her customers and prospects liked her. After
the fourth sales call, however, I began to see an emerg-
ing pattern of sales-skill inefficiency. Ellen shied away
from asking customers about their problems, difficul-
ties, or dissatisfactions.
Later, I suggested to her that she begin to ask more
problem-focused questions, questions directed at dis-
covering problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. She
said that she didn™t mind gathering situational and
background information from the customers, but she
was hesitant about delving into their problems. Since
the company training program at the time was based
upon a probing model, it was easy to give her specific
suggestions for improvement.
get the most out of your best people

At first, she was excited about trying something new
and “simple.” But, of course, nothing is as simple as it
first appears to be. In applying the probing model,
Ellen quickly became discouraged. Her performance
got worse instead of better. Customers were becoming
annoyed with her. Some even asked her to leave the
office. Ellen couldn™t stand the rejection. She hated
those problem questions. “They only annoy my cus-
tomers,” she complained.

This charming and likable person seemed to be losing
her interpersonal skills. And then there was the prob-
lem of her deteriorating performance. “My customers
think I™m prying too much,” she said. “I™m a failure.”

Ellen, an outstanding hire, was about to give up because she
thought she was about to fail.

Fortunately, Ellen didn™t fail. As you™ll see, we found a way to get
the most out of her, to redirect her so that she could succeed for her-
self and for the company.
Rejection is not failure. The only way people fail in sales is by giv-
ing up. In the videotape Do Right, former Notre Dame football coach
Lou Holtz says that we all face adversity in life, some of us more than
others. According to Holtz, the people who win are the people who
handle adversity best. They™re the ones who don™t give up.
As it turned out, Ellen ended up handling her adversity like a
winner. She didn™t give up. She identified one specific area of
weakness in her skill of asking focused questions. Before her sales
calls, she and I “wordsmithed” examples of problem questions that
she expected to ask in upcoming sales interviews. She began anew
and worked hard to effect a behavioral change in her selling. This
38 the 24 sales traps

story has a wonderful ending. Her vibrant personality, coupled
with her increasingly effective probing skills, enabled her to
become the top salesperson in her division in the central United
States for Xerox.
The trait of never giving up and always coming back to fight
another round is lodged deeply in the outlook of successful people
and is a trait that recruiters cherish in a candidate. As former Xerox
recruiter John Cuny stated, “Show me someone who won™t give up
at the first sign of adversity and I™ll show you a person who will be
a winner someday.”

It™s pretty easy to believe that rejection means failure. It™s human
nature to feel bad about rejection, to take it personally. But this just
isn™t true in sales. In sales, although “yes” means success, “no” doesn™t
necessarily mean failure. When customers say “no,” they™re just say-
ing that they don™t want to buy right now. And that™s okay. They™re
not saying that the salesperson is a failure. Salespeople who believe
this fallacy aren™t looking at the big picture. They don™t see that a
“no” is just a rock to be hurdled on the uphill road to top sales per-
formance. They see rejection as failure and see themselves as vic-
tims. Managers who let salespeople believe this won™t get the most
from the best.

The consequences of falling into this sales trap are serious. If you
believe that rejection is failure, the chances are good that pretty soon
you won™t want to make sales calls. You™ll want to sit on the bench.
Sales call reluctance”the fear of making sales calls”may come
when a salesperson:

∆ Feels inadequately prepared or trained to make the call
get the most out of your best people

∆ Lacks the drive and motivation to make the call

∆ Believes that, because of his or her workload, he or she
doesn™t have enough time to make new business sales calls

∆ Doesn™t like the job and so doesn™t make the effort

∆ Doesn™t believe that new business calls are as crucial to his
or her success as retaining current customers

∆ Fears rejection by the customer on the call

Although several of these reasons may keep a salesperson from
making sales calls, in my experience it™s the last one”fear of the
buyer™s rejection”that™s at the top of most people™s list. Ask your-
self this question: Are you generally more excited about visiting
someone who wants to see you or someone who may or may not want
to see you?
The belief that rejection is failure is simply the wrong inference
to make from the facts. In sales, everyone faces rejection every day,
and no one likes it”not even top performers.

Top performers don™t give up. They™ve embraced the concept of suc-
cessful failure. Successful failure is learning from your mistakes so
that you don™t make the same mistake again. Thomas Edison expe-
rienced 10,000 failures before he hit on success and invented the
light bulb. Edison counted all these failures as part of his success and
said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way
to succeed is to always try just one more time.”
Successful failure incorporates the idea that if you accept failure
and learn from it, you™re more likely to be successful in the future.
Babe Ruth had 714 home runs”but also 1,330 strikeouts. Hank
Aaron, who beat Babe Ruth™s record, had 755 home runs and 1,383
40 the 24 sales traps

strikeouts. Mickey Mantle had 536 home runs and 1,710 strikeouts.
It™s pretty easy to see the similarity between the home runs (making
the sale) and the strikeouts (making the call).

Successful failure consists of two components:

1. Double-loop learning. Top performers use a learning tech-
nique called “double-loop” learning.4 They stand back from
the failure and mentally review the situation. They analyze
what they thought they were doing versus what they actu-
ally did, ask for and accept feedback, and then practice and
redefine what they want to do the next time. They learn by
relearning. In particular, top performers often ask others for
help, input, and feedback about why they failed. Double-
loop learning helps you improve by teaching you not to
repeat mistakes.

Top performers spend considerable time reviewing and
debriefing their sales calls in order not to repeat their mis-
takes. However, the time the consultant spends in review-
ing and debriefing calls isn™t the deciding factor between
success and failure. The deciding factor tends to be the
quality of feedback from the manager, coupled with the
consultant™s desire not to make the same error again.5

2. Not giving up. There is no substitute for field sales experi-
ence. You can™t learn how to sell by watching videos of
inspirational sales leaders. How does a salesperson get expe-
rience and at the same time increase his or her chances for
success? The answer is simple in theory, but hard in prac-
tice: You must simply get out and make the sales calls. You
have to be up at bat.
get the most out of your best people

When salespeople “get over it” and adopt the more positive philos-
ophy that not all sales calls will be successful, they need to have a
number in mind, a success percentage of calls that result in specific,
agreed-upon actions between salesperson and client that they will
need to achieve in order to meet or exceed their quotas. For exam-
ple, what percentage of your sales calls do you target to result in an
action step such as a proposal, a demonstration, an introduction of
your boss, a study, and so forth?
Many Fortune 500 companies set activity targets for their sales-
people. They expect their salespeople to make x number of sales
calls per day or per week, to deliver y number of proposals, and so
forth. These targets result from the belief that the more sales calls
that someone makes, the more likely it is that a customer will “stick
an order” in the salesperson™s pocket. This is probably true for trans-
actional sales, but it isn™t true for the consultative type of sales.
Only masochists like rejection. But top consultants recognize that
it comes with the territory and that not everyone needs their prod-
ucts or services. They may even recommend someone who has bet-
ter solutions.

” Keep learning and improving. Top salespeople never stop learning.
And they pay special attention when things go wrong. The best
learning experiences come from successful failure.

” Set sales activity standards for the transactional sale. With transac-
tional sales, results are about making a lot of sales calls, i.e., quan-
tity. In other words, work hard.

” Develop sales strategies for the consultative sale. Unlike the transac-
tional or small sale, where sales activities drive performance results,
in the more complex consultative sale, the driving factor tends to
42 the 24 sales traps

be the development and execution of the correct sales strategies”
i.e., quality before quantity. For example, if the customer is in the
evaluation of options phase of the decision process, your strategy
might be to identify how the customer ranks the decision criteria
on a scale from crucial to incidental. Probing effectively for this
ranking would be the way to execute this strategy.

4: Giving up is failure.
get the most out of your best people

sales trap
Academic Studies Aren™t Helpful in
Real-World Sales
Here™s the mistaken belief: Academic studies aren™t helpful in the
real world of sales. (“Academic studies” here refers to both formal
college sales classes and academically validated research.) Practi-
tioners will often say, “What do academics know about selling?
Many of them haven™t ever sold.”
But this prejudice is wrong and usually comes from lack of famil-
iarity with what™s going on in academic institutions today and with
the published sales research. Academic studies (with some caveats)
can help in getting the most out of the best.

Over lunch one day, Jim, a first-line sales manager
who was recruiting at the Kelley School of Business,
asked me, “Do you believe that college sales courses
help students sell better once we hire them? And,” he
went on, “do you think that the students who do best
in your sales classes will be the ones who will do the
best in the field?”

Since I was a teacher, it was hard for me not to just say,
“Yes, of course,” to both of Jim™s questions. But I didn™t.

The Institute for Global Sales Studies at Indiana University,
where I work, had not set up any metrics or research methodology
to effectively measure the impact of college sales courses on real-life
sales. Nor did I know of any other academic institution that had
researched this.
Even if we wanted to measure the success of students who did
take college sales classes against the success of those who didn™t,
44 the 24 sales traps

there would be worrisome questions. First of all, how would we
define “success?” Do we define it in terms of sales revenues, and
if so, how do we factor in the different prices of products and ser-
vices across different industries? And once we defined success in
sales, it wouldn™t be easy to draw a direct cause-and-effect rela-
tionship between sales classes in college and sales performance in
the business world. How would we take into account such factors
as raw talent and the issue of recruiting top people who are right
off the bat more likely to succeed than others? How would we fac-
tor in questions relating to the student™s industry, the student™s
territory, and the success of the product being sold relative to the
marketplace competition? And what about the student™s knowl-
edge of the product, attitude, passion for the job, manager, on-
the-job training, competition from other sales reps on staff, and
so forth? These troublesome questions could have a serious impact
on the “truth.”

Formal studies at the college level do help in sales. It is just difficult
to know whether they help a little or a lot. Such studies may or may
not be high on the list of attributes that help a student succeed”
attributes such as a methodical thought process, creative thinking,
capacity to listen, degree of curiosity, and the desire to understand
and make a contribution. These other attributes may be more
important than studying sales formally in college.

College recruits who have studied sales may be less risky as new
hires because they have chosen sales. They are more likely to be well
suited to sales as a career and to stay in it long enough for their
employers to see the return on the company™s investment in train-
ing them. R. R. Donnelley & Sons, for example, is narrowing its
get the most out of your best people

salesperson recruiting effort to schools that offer sales courses.
This way, the company can be more certain that it hires people
who actually want to sell.6
Bridget Momcilovich, a senior manager with the Xerox
Corporation, agrees. “Students who have taken sales courses at a
college level may not be more equipped to do the job better here at
Xerox than students who have not taken sales classes, but at least
they have a better idea of what they are getting themselves into. In
my opinion, this helps us reduce our hiring risks.”

According to Dr. Frank Acito, chairman of the marketing depart-
ment at Indiana University, “A high percentage”more than 50 per-
cent““of our marketing graduates end up taking a sales position of
one type or another. Sales courses are helpful to them in the sense
that they give the students an opportunity to more fully understand
what they will be expected to do once they start their job.”
Another reason that it is helpful to hire graduates who have
degrees in sales is that they have often learned what not to do based
upon the latest research. One former student at Indiana University
hadn™t intended to go into sales. Even though she had the aptitude
for sales, Kristin Johnson, like many students, was reluctant to pur-
sue a sales career because she thought it would require her to be
“aggressive” toward other people in order to succeed. Fortunately,
the classes at Indiana University are structured around the latest
research, which shows that in today™s modern sales world, a person
doesn™t have to be aggressive in order to succeed. (See also Sales
Trap 1, “You Must Be Aggressive to Succeed in Sales.”)
After graduating, Kristin took a sales position with a market-
dominant news media company and performed well. She is now
working for an international pharmaceutical corporation, a blue-
chip company that is very selective in its hiring.
46 the 24 sales traps

Kristin believes the sales classes helped her tremendously in her
sales career, and we can probably conclude that Kristin would not
have taken a sales position if she had not taken her two sales classes.
According to Kristin, “Those sales classes were instrumental in help-
ing me select a career and valuable in helping me do well once on the
job.” Certainly in this sense sales classes help screen for those who
have an aptitude and are interested in sales as a career, factors that
are likely to help lead to greater efficiency on the job.

Published sales research is also controversial. Many people routinely
dismiss validated sales research by saying that it™s not useful to prac-
titioners. What have sales researchers who use academic methods or
validated research been able to contribute to the sales field or to
sales courses?
One eminent sales researcher who made it to the top of the sales
profession is Neil Rackham, who observed 35,000 sales calls in 23
countries over 12 years, looking for what made salespeople success-
ful. Rackham performed his postgraduate work in behavioral psy-
chology at the University of Sheffield in England. He is an example
of a research academician whose strategies have greatly benefited the
sales profession. Companies such as AT&T, IBM, Xerox, Microsoft,
and UPS have used his research findings to help them mold their
own field sales forces into a formidable marketing tool.7
Dr. Rosann Spiro, former chairperson of the American Market-
ing Association and currently a full professor at the Kelley School
of Business at Indiana University, has conducted studies that show
that salespeople who are more adaptive to different types of people
tend to be more successful. Dr. Barton Weitz, professor of market-
ing at the University of Florida, has performed similar research in
the field of adaptive selling and the role it plays in successful sales
call outcomes.8 There are several programs that use this method,
including Wilson Learning, Inc., and DISC.
get the most out of your best people

There are different research methodologies used by today™s lead-
ing researchers. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.
Three popular methods follow.

Behavior-based researchers observe the verbal behav-
iors used by the salesperson and track the outcome of the sales call.
This method is expensive and takes a long time, but it is probably
the most accurate.

This method involves interviewing customers to
identify what characteristics they prefer in salespeople. It is a rela-
tively quick way to gather information. Unfortunately, customers
talk in generalities, such as, “I want a salesperson who is concerned
about me” or “Follow-up is important.”

This method involves interviewing top-performing
salespeople and asking them why they have been successful. It
appears to have the most credibility and is also relatively fast.
Unfortunately, what appears to be its strength is really its draw-
back: Top performers don™t always know what makes them suc-
cessful, and their opinions may run contrary to scientific research
findings. For example, for over fifty years”from 1925 to 1980”
successful trainers and salespeople believed that open-ended ques-
tions led to sales call success more than closed-ended questions.
This belief was refuted by original research undertaken by Neil
Rackham in the 1970s.9

Historically, sales has been treated as a second-class citizen at aca-
demic institutions. But that™s beginning to change. More and more
leading academic institutions are offering undergraduate sales
courses, and companies are seeing the benefit of hiring graduates
who have studied sales.10 The University of Akron is one of the very
48 the 24 sales traps

few institutions offering a major in sales.11 The following list shows
some of the institutions that offer sales courses:

Partial List of Colleges and Universities Offering
Sales Courses 12
Ball State University
Baylor University
Brigham Young University
Butler University
California State University, Sacramento
Central Michigan University
College of St. Catherine
Colorado State University
Curtin University of Technology
Florida Gulf Coast University
Indiana University
Illinois State University
Mankato State University
Northern Illinois University
Ohio University
Purdue University
St. Cloud State University
Texas A & M University
Tuskegee University
University of Akron
get the most out of your best people

University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of Central Florida
University of Cincinnati
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Kentucky
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
University of South Florida
University of Tennessee
University of Toledo

To get the most out of the best, companies are hiring more sales stu-
dents. There are many people who back into sales as a career, and
these people need on-the-job training and skill building. Companies
like Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M) want to
increase the number of new salespeople who are already trained by
hiring graduates who have studied sales. In fact, 3M is handing out
hundreds of thousands of dollars to schools that are willing to teach
sales skills. The College of St. Catherine in Minnesota and Tuske-
gee University in Alabama are both adding sales courses with money
from 3M.13 Approximately 80 percent of the Kelley School of
Business™s marketing graduates take at least one sales or sales man-
agement class before they graduate. The University of Akron in
Ohio reports that from 1996 to 1999, every one of its sales students
was offered a job after graduation.14

” Seek to hire students who have taken undergraduate sales courses. They
know what they are getting themselves into, which may help
50 the 24 sales traps

reduce their failure rate. Investigate the courses a student has
taken. Find out what the course methodology was and whether the
statements and findings documented in the books used are based
upon a particular research methodology or upon just one expert
opinion (which may or may not be right).

” Use the research-based methods of the leading sales researchers. There™s
too much opinion and not enough research in sales. Take advan-
tage of the work done by leading sales researchers to improve sales

5: Academic studies may reduce
hiring risk, and academic research provides
validated techniques.
get the most out of your best people

sales trap
Either Salespeople Have It or They Don™t
Are salespeople born or made?
Many people believe that they™re born.
But that™s a fallacy, and if you want to get the most out of the best,
don™t fall into Sales Trap 6. Salespeople are developed, and it takes
them time to develop.
“It™s easy to believe that salespeople either have it or they don™t,”
says Dr. Rosann Spiro, former chairperson of the American Market-
ing Association. “But the research shows that salespeople improve
with practice and experience, with average performers improving
the most.”15
Sales Trap 6 is common. “It™s in the DNA,” some claim, “so why
bother trying to improve?” However, most people who develop into
top performers do so over time, rather than immediately. The sug-
gestion that these people develop into top performers because “they
had it from the get-go” and that they are just “fulfilling their des-
tiny” is a fallacy that fails to recognize that top performers needed
to develop along the way.

The Dartmouth Group has observed thousands of successful sales-
people and many top performers. The common denominator among
all of them was that they improved over time because they did one
or more of the following:

1. Analyzed what went right or wrong on a sales call

2. Participated in company sales training programs that pro-
vided reinforcement and feedback from front-line sales

3. Received frequent constructive feedback from their bosses
52 the 24 sales traps

4. Reviewed taped sales calls for errors and missed opportu-

5. Took part in and reviewed simulated and videotaped role-
play sales situations with a manager, mentor, or colleague

Top salespeople are good at “thought process” and “thought link”
development, the ability to link one issue to another in a sales call
or other customer conversation. Salespeople need to be able to
think. Thinking enables them to better understand customers™ prob-
lems and to link these problems to still other problems the cus-
tomers may have in their companies.
Salespeople require development”some more than others.
Regardless of how they develop, it™s clear that few of the top sales-
people would have achieved success without training and develop-
ment. Jon King, former senior manager with Xerox and later chief
marketing officer for Ikon Office Solutions, put it this way: “If the
majority of people believe that a person is born to succeed, then why
don™t they go find them and stop investing their money in training?
It™s just not that simple. Some people may have more raw talent, but
what they do with that talent is another issue.”

One reason people defend the “either you have it or you don™t” idea
is the “superstar” discovery. Occasionally, a recruiter or manager will
“discover” a person who seems to have all the attributes of a suc-
cessful salesperson. He or she is engaging, has strong interpersonal
skills, is disciplined, has excellent grades, and always seems to suc-
ceed, and the recruiter basically tells the interviewer that “what you
see is what you get.” Admittedly, what one sees is impressive.
Why doesn™t the occasional superstar prove that “either you have
it or you don™t”? There are two factors that need to be considered:
(1) The individual may have had more development opportunities
get the most out of your best people

along the way than others had, and (2) the individual may not have
the drive to be successful once he or she is on the job. For example,
I recall very vividly a “superstar” that the management staff in the
local district office at Xerox believed would be sensational. I too
strongly believed in this person and his credentials.
Throughout the ninety-day training program, he led his new hire
training class. One manager even suggested that this star could
become the heir apparent to our CEO someday. All the sales man-
agers wanted him on their sales team. He did turn out to be suc-
cessful, but he was not considered a top performer after five years.
Why did he fail to be a top performer when he had all the apparent
attributes of a superstar?
Who knows for sure? Maybe, in the end, he didn™t like the job
well enough. There might have been too much inside and outside
pressure on him to succeed. Perhaps Xerox sales management was
to blame for not making him more accountable because they didn™t
feel that he needed to be monitored, inspected, and reviewed as rig-
orously as his peers. In the end, Joe Cegala, who headed up the ser-
vice operation in the central United States for NCR a few years
back, probably summed it up the best with his favorite motto,
“Potential is interesting, but performance is everything.”

People incorrectly attribute sales success to personality. That™s the
second reason for “either you have it or you don™t.” For example,
let™s say that an individual with a dynamic and charming personality
is a top performer. It is easy to conclude that the person is a top per-
former because of his personality and interpersonal skills. (This may
be partially true. Interpersonal verbal skills may give that person an
edge when it comes to applying sales skills.)
What may not be taken into account, however, is that this lik-
able person may also sell more effectively. For example, he or she
may probe for the customer™s needs more effectively than an average
54 the 24 sales traps

performer. Our hypothetical salesperson with the dynamic and
charming personality may also create more value in his or her solu-
tions than an average performer. How do you account for a person
who doesn™t have a sparkling personality but is nevertheless a top
performer? As Susan Woods, a former training manager for a regional
bank and now with The Dartmouth Group, Ltd., observed, “Why
are there people with strong interpersonal skills that seem to remain
in a ˜state of mediocrity™ while other people with average interper-
sonal skills become top performers?”
If you want to get the most out of the best, develop your peo-
ple. They need it (some more than others). Salespeople are made,
not born.

” Be patient. The Dartmouth Group, Ltd., estimates that it takes
nine to eighteen months of dedicated effort to master probing
skills (asking good business questions that focus on problems and
the value of solutions) and to become unconsciously competent in
their use.16 As Neil Rackham says of the SPIN® method, “If it
were easy, everybody would be doing it. It™s hard”that™s why the
few people who do it well are so very successful.”17

” Give constructive feedback. Constructive feedback tells salespeople
what they are doing wrong and shows them specifically how to
correct it. Without feedback, sales performance and sales results
suffer for both the individual and his or her company.

” Give consistent feedback that doesn™t exclude anyone. There is a ten-
dency to not provide feedback to your top performers and your
“heir apparent,” but this is a mistake. Top performers like solid,
constructive feedback, too. That may be why they became top per-
formers to begin with. Even Michael Jordan sought and received
constructive feedback from his coach at North Carolina, Dean
Smith, and from his coach with the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson.
get the most out of your best people

” Remember that salespeople are made, not born. It takes time for sales-
people to get better and to develop. The only way to fail to
develop is to give up (see Sales Trap 4, “Rejection Is Failure”).
Giving up on your personal development may be the only thing
worse than failure because it means that you are giving up on
yourself, your hopes and dreams. In the movie Flashdance, Nick
(Michael Nouri) says to Alex (Jennifer Beals), “Alex, without hopes
and dreams, we die.”

6: Salespeople are developed,
not born.


LEADING sales companies, such as IBM, Merck,
and Motorola, have highly effective sales training
programs. Not only do they select programs based on
effective methodologies and not just on top performer
opinions (see Sales Trap 5, “Academic Studies Aren™t
Helpful in Real-World Sales”), but they also use these
programs to increase the sales team™s efficiency in a
variety of other ways.

One key function of a sales training program is to
provide salespeople, sales managers, and consultants
58 the 24 sales traps

with a common language to reinforce the strategies, tactics, and
behaviors taught in the training modules (see Sales Trap 7). Top
sales companies use sales training programs to develop a lingua
franca, or common language, about sales. Thus, companies need to
be cautioned against throwing in the proverbial kitchen sink. If they
try to cover everything under the sun, the deluge of new words
thrown at the salespeople in a “data dump” will confuse them. The
lingua franca facilitates sales coordination, customer service effi-
ciency, and employee transfers. People can transfer from department
to department or division to division within the company more effi-
ciently, because they don™t have to learn an entirely new language
and culture. This common language also helps salespeople from dif-
ferent departments to plan and implement cross-selling opportuni-
ties more effectively.
Perhaps one of the best examples is the banking industry. Many
banks have retail people (branch banking personnel who work with
consumers) who are involved in smaller transactional selling (check-
ing accounts, savings accounts, credit card services, credit lines,
ATM cards, etc.). Yet they also have commercial lending officers
who are involved in consultative selling (premium business loans and
cash management services) to medium and large businesses. The
sales models used on the branch side (to sell small, simple products
and services) are different from those on the commercial banking
side (to sell large, complex products and services). In order to
accommodate this difference, banks with strong selling cultures use
sales training programs in which the same language is adapted for
both uses. With the same sales language, people from the branch
banking side can more easily communicate with people on the com-
mercial banking side. As Gerald Rush, senior vice president of Bank
One, says, “It is easier for us to cross-sell our services to our cus-
tomers, thus solving more of their problems and creating delivered
value to them, when our people talk the same language.”
train effectively

The training programs chosen by top sales organizations incorpo-
rate the organization™s value and belief system. The courses are, in
a sense, customized around the corporate business culture. This
shared value system helps to ensure that everyone in the sales orga-
nization has the same values, such as “focus on the customer first”
or “maintain strong ethical standards.” For example, the cus-
tomization of a company™s training program might include an
emphasis on questioning to display concern toward the customer
rather than an emphasis on aggressive closing techniques that could
aggravate the customer and make him or her feel unimportant. If a
shared value is to put customers first, then the training program and
the customization of it should reflect this value, not counteract it
(see Sales Trap 7).
Top-flight sales organizations will often customize sales training
for specialized markets. They do this by outsourcing research pro-
jects to a sales training and consulting research firm. Research firms
conduct field observations in order to tailor-make sales training for
specific markets. Eli Lilly followed such a procedure, as was
explained to me by its manager of training and development.1 To put
it another way, the customizing of the content is important, since
adults learn better when they can relate and apply concepts, mod-
els, and strategies to their actual work.
A final thought about customizing: In general, the more cus-
tomized the sales training program is to the participant™s day-to-day
job, the more effective the program will be.2 The more strategically
customized a sales skill training program can be, the better it will be
understood and applied by participants. But even if the program is
highly customized, it will not be effective long if it is not reinforced
by feedback from the manager.

* * *
60 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
It™s the Content of the Skill Training
That Matters Most
Managers spend hours sweating over all the sales skill training
courses available today. There™s nothing wrong with that, unless they
expect the payoff from sales training to come solely from the content
of the training course, believing the fallacy that the content of the
course is the most important part of training.
It isn™t.
If you want to get a performance edge from sales training, you
have to provide feedback and reinforcement after the course.
Otherwise, the training won™t be effective.

Having said that, it™s helpful to review the four basic types of sales
courses that are available on the market today. An informed con-
sumer of sales training has to at least be familiar with these four cat-
egories. Each category has a perspective that seems to have the
potential to make a contribution to an individual™s sales skill devel-
opment. As you might expect, the quality of the program content,
architecture, and exercises vary from program to program.

Probably the most popular and widely used
approach to skill development in this category is Professional Selling
Skills, better known as PSS. The PSS approach was developed by
the Xerox Corporation, distributed by its Xerox Learning Systems
division, and used by IBM, American Airlines, and Prudential,
among others. Xerox used PSS until the early 1980s. Since so many
companies used the PSS approach, it was often referred to as “the
Xerox course.”3
PSS focuses on the customer™s attitude, and thus it™s known as a
course that uses the attitudinal approach. The attitudinal approach
train effectively

suggests that a customer will have one of four attitudes: acceptance,
indifference, rejection, or skepticism. The seller must select the
appropriate communication model(s) that correspond(s) to the par-
ticular attitude that the buyer displays.
There are six communication models (the names have changed
since PSS was created):

∆ Probing

∆ Supporting

∆ Objection handling

∆ Proof

∆ Closing

∆ Benefit statement

For example, if a customer™s attitude is one of acceptance, a sales-
person may want to use the support model, in which she or he agrees
with the customer™s positive comments, or the salesperson might
decide to use the closing model. This approach develops a salesper-
son™s conversational effectiveness by helping the salesperson to adapt
readily to the buyer™s attitude.

The second category is referred to
as the adaptive or social-style approach. This method suggests that
there are four basic social styles that people can have. While the
names for the four styles may vary, the intent of the program offer-
ings in this category is to recognize that people with each of the
four social styles process information differently. Therefore, the
logical conclusion of this approach is that top-performing sales-
people should not only adapt to a buyer™s particular social style but
also communicate to that person the way that person likes to be
62 the 24 sales traps

communicated to. For example, one set of social-style labels might
be Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytic. Let™s say a buyer is an
Analytic. The social-style approach suggests that the sales consul-
tant communicate with the Analytic in detail and present thorough
and footnoted proposals. If the buyer happens to be a Driver, the
consultant would be advised to avoid detail and provide executive
summaries. The point is that this category of sales skill approach
highlights the idea that people differ and that you need to adapt
your style of communication based on the particular social type you
are interacting with. Programs in this category attempt to achieve
three basic objectives:

1. Be able to recognize each of the social style types

2. Be able to identify each of the types

3. Be able to adapt your communication style based upon
social type

Again, the content, architecture, and exercises will differ among
different programs, but the essence of this category remains the
same: People are different; therefore, treat them the way they want
to be treated, not the way you want to be treated.
Perhaps the single drawback to this approach lies in the diffi-
culty of correctly assessing an individual™s social style.4 For exam-
ple, an Analytic who might usually be considered a low reactor
type might be perceived as a Driver when under pressure by his or
her boss to perform. The adaptive or social-style approach is an
interesting approach that is usually received well by salespeople.5
Jim Cotterill, president of jcotterill.com, demonstrated the Driver
social style when he said, “Consultants visit with me and believe
they should spend considerable time developing a high trust rela-
tionship with me. I want to say to them, ˜I™ve got enough friends
train effectively

and acquaintances; I don™t need any more. What I need is some-
one who can solve my key business problems.™”

This category suggests that each person will
learn in one of three ways: visually, auditorily, or kinesthetically. For
example, if the buyer is primarily a visual learner, a sales consultant
might want to appeal to this person™s learning style by using graphs,
charts, and pictures in the presentation. If a person is an auditory
learner, then the consultant might want to focus his or her efforts
on articulating solutions or implementation processes effectively.
And if an individual learns better kinesthetically”by touch and
feel”then the consultant might invite the person to participate in
the demonstration of the product or service.
As with the social-style category, it™s hard for the sales consultant
to accurately identify the particular learning style a buyer predom-
inantly uses. Continued observations regarding eye and body move-
ments are necessary to help pinpoint a person™s particular style.

Needs-based programs are arguably the most
popular type of training program. This approach basically suggests
that customers have two types of needs: those associated with a
problem they are willing to live with and those associated with a
problem they want to solve. A customer is more likely to be recep-
tive to a sales solution when he or she perceives a problem that is
serious enough for him or her to solve. (See also Sales Trap 3, “It™s
Best to Offer Solutions to Problems You See.”) A salesperson uncov-
ers problems in the first category and develops them into the sec-
ond category by asking particular types of questions.6
The drawback to this approach is that it™s a big challenge to get
salespeople to ask the right type of questions. (It isn™t that difficult to
identify which types of questions salespeople should ask; what™s dif-
ficult is getting salespeople to ask them.) Asking the right kind of
questions naturally and smoothly takes a lot of practice and feedback.
64 the 24 sales traps

Here™s the rub: No matter what course salespeople take, it won™t
help them sell better unless the sales skills are reinforced afterward.
The idea that sales skill training works without reinforcement is a
fallacy. In 1979, a study at Xerox revealed that thirty days after
sales-skill-based training, the participants had lost 87 percent of the
behaviors that they had learned unless those behaviors were rein-
forced.7 That means for each $1 that Xerox invested in sales skill
training, it received only 13 cents back. In other words, coaching
and feedback is worth about 87 cents on each dollar spent. With a
return like this, why would anyone emphasize the content of the
courses over coaching and reinforcement?
More than the content of courses, it™s coaching, feedback, rein-
forcement, and implementation that are the keys to behavior
changes that increase sales effectiveness. Managers from senior
management all the way down to first-line management (with sup-
port from the sales training department) should see to it that coach-
ing is taking place.
Karen Thor, executive vice president and CIO of National
Commerce Bancorporation, put it succinctly: “We purchased the
best content program in our opinion that money could buy, but it
became clear that our training dollar investment totally hinged upon
our ability to get our people to act differently on sales calls. In the
end, coaching is ˜where it™s at.™ No program is better than another
without coaching. You coach an average program and you will get
more out of it than if you have an outstanding program that is not
coached at all.”

” Make sure coaching happens. Develop a coaching process to achieve
behavioral change. (See also Sales Trap 22, “Sales Managers Are
Good Coaches”). Secure the commitment of managers from
train effectively

senior management to front-line management to coaching and

” Limitthe number of people in coaching classes. Don™t overload the
coach. Coaching more than three people at any point in time is
not recommended for a first-line manager who already has a large
span of control. Coaching and feedback tasks are time-consuming.

” Measure and monitor the results of coaching. Take a baseline mea-
surement of the behaviors of each participant as soon as possible
after each training session. (This is usually done by the first-line
manager.) Measure the behavioral change of each participant
every thirty days.

” Recognizeand reward behavioral changes. Reinforce the coaching
program by acknowledging new behaviors that salespeople
exhibit. Award plaques. Create an atmosphere and culture that
genuinely believes in improving sales performance through behav-
ioral change and personal development.

7: Sales skill training effective-
ness is about coaching, not content.
66 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
Beginners Should Start With
Comprehensive Training
More is better. That™s the widespread belief when it comes to train-
ing beginners in sales. The assumption is that because beginners
have so much to learn, they should get it all at once. During their
initial sales training period, beginners are often given a compre-
hensive skill-based training program covering many strategies and
tactics, so that they can pick and choose which ideas to implement.
It™s then assumed that they will be able to go out in the field and do
what is expected. This is a fallacy.
I call this approach to training beginners “the Blitz,” named after
the blitz bombing of London by the Nazis in World War II. The
Blitz approach blankets beginners with everything they could ever
need to know about sales. It™s total immersion. And it™s devastating.
Why? Because comprehensive training overwhelms beginners.
It™s ineffective because beginners are not able to take in all the new
material. For sales training effectiveness, introduce one skill at a
time and reinforce it.
John Cuny, currently a consultant with Ernst & Young and for-
mer manager of training and development for Xerox, explains that
he tries to keep his sales skill“based training simple. “The informa-
tion included in our Buyer-Focused Selling program used at
Document University in Leesburg, Virginia, is almost overwhelm-
ing. It™s good content, but it is almost too much in too short a time.
I tend to favor a ˜less is more™ approach rather than a ˜more is bet-
ter.™ People can only learn so much at one time.”8
Dr. Richard Ruff, president of Sales Momentum in Scottsdale,
Arizona, said it this way: “Your best sports coaches recognize that
they get behavioral change quicker from their players when they
focus on one particular behavior at a time, whether it be blocking
train effectively

out in basketball, tackling in football, or tossing up the tennis ball
in a serve. Most people, generally speaking, have difficulty trying to
change several things at once. And, sales training programs that
include so many behaviors and strategies to learn are less likely to
work in the long run than programs that key in on just a few things
for the consultant to change.”
People are more motivated to learn when they are not deluged
with things to think about. Knowledge isn™t successfully transferred
to behavior when it™s hidden in a comprehensive training class. This
is because behavioral change is harder than knowledge transfer.
And behavioral change takes time. Sales training that focuses on
one or two skills at a time provides ample opportunity for begin-
ners to work more effectively in the field. Anything more than that
overloads them. Perhaps Leon Edelsack, former senior vice presi-
dent of Westinghouse™s communication division, said it best: “I
don™t want our people to experience a data dump because it is like
drinking water from a fire hose. It is too much and it doesn™t sat-
isfy anyone.”

For training organizations:

” Avoid the “data dump. Take a “less is more” approach to sales skill
training. New hires can™t drink water from a fire hose.

” Change behavior one skill at a time. To be effective, training should
focus on one behavior at a time”for example, asking lots of ques-
tions versus giving lots of information.

For people who want to be top performers:

” Focus on one behavior to change at a time. Practice. Get feedback
from someone (your sales manager, your training manager, or a
high-relationship customer) regarding how well you are doing
68 the 24 sales traps

with that particular behavior. Remember: Rome wasn™t built in a
day, and neither was the top performer.

8: Adults learn best when they
can relate strategies, tactics, skills, and infor-
mation to what they do every day, so train
beginners with “less is more” in mind.


VALUE is defined as Benefits minus Cost (V = B “ C).
Cost doesn™t just mean the price of the service, how-
ever. Today™s customers look at total cost, both direct
and indirect costs.
Direct costs are the dollar price plus other charges
(installation for a piece of equipment, postinstallation
service, etc.). Indirect costs include such things as
career risk to the person or group of people making the
decision, the hassle involved in changing, and corpo-
rate or other business risks associated with the change.
The price that today™s customers will pay for a
product or service must provide them with benefits
70 the 24 sales traps

equal to or greater than the dollars they pay. Most customers will
not pay a higher price for a competing product unless they perceive
that the value of that product outweighs the cost. Unfortunately,
many customers do not perceive the added value that justifies the
cost in many commodity products today.
Consultative salespeople are challenged to figure out a way to
create value so that customers are willing to pay a little more for the
products or services they offer. If they can™t do this, they are forced
to reduce their price in order to provide value.
Consultative selling of business services is especially interesting
as a study in value creation, since these companies don™t offer tan-
gible products. Consulting firms such as McKinsey, for example,
basically offer the intellectual property produced by their consul-
tants. In order to solve customer problems, these consultants need
to be able to think creatively, be self-confident, and have access to
proprietary databases. The counsel and advice offered by leading
sales, marketing, and consulting firms is almost solely focused on
creating customer value”in other words, addressing customer
needs and problems in depth. Sometimes salespeople believe they
are creating value, only to discover later that the customer doesn™t
perceive the same value (see Sales Traps 10 and 11).
Of course, creating value for the customer is not always easy. As
we mentioned under Principle 1, “Adopt an Outside Focus,” creat-
ing customer value requires strong coordinating efforts between the
sales and marketing departments. It™s ultimately up to the first-line
managers and the field salespeople to implement value creation.

Strong business acumen is also necessary if the salesperson is to cre-
ate value. Salespeople who want to create value will need to view
their clients from a holistic perspective. Top business schools pro-
mote this holistic approach by requiring an interdisciplinary rigor.
Salespeople need to look at the big picture and see how marketing,
create value

finance, and accounting interrelate with one another and with the
pending sale at hand. By understanding these interrelationships, the
salesperson with a competent business knowledge will be able to cre-
ate sufficient customer value so that the customer will be willing to
pay more (see Sales Traps 12 and 13).

Whether customers see value in a sales offering can often be traced
to the behavior of the salesperson (and his or her management). As
Sales Trap 11 explains, top sales performers create value, they don™t
just communicate it. Some people think that they create value when
they really don™t. Sales Traps 9 through 18 are examples of the mis-
taken beliefs and partial truths that these salespeople hold. Because
they don™t fall into Sales Traps 9 through 18, top performers create
value from the customer™s perspective, and so they generate more
sales than average performers. In order to excel at creating value,
salespeople need to hone their sales skills (especially their probing
skills). They need to figure out the real issues that their clients face.
Clients may not be able to communicate their real concerns. The
consultative salesperson needs to help the client articulate these con-
cerns by probing deeply and conveying an understanding of the
issues. One senior executive of a multinational corporation said it
well: “We want to hire the best, develop the best, and be the best. I
have always believed you have to try harder to stay ahead, not try
harder to get ahead.”

* * *
72 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
You Won™t Make the Sale Unless You Reach
the Decision Maker
For years, salespeople have been taught that to make a sale, they
have to reach the decision maker (the person with power, usually at
the top of the organization). That™s a fallacy based on the wrong

There™s no value created by going to the decision maker. Value cre-
ation comes from understanding the customer™s needs on both a day-
to-day level and a global level. Let me explain what I mean. If an
enterprising young sales consultant attempts to secure an appoint-
ment with the president of a company to sell a piece of office equip-
ment, he or she is misdirecting the sales effort.
Of course the president is consulted when the company buys
equipment. But generally this kind of day-to-day decision involves
factors that the president isn™t knowledgeable enough about to enable
him or her to make the decision. He or she will defer the responsi-
bility to the staff. (Even if the president were knowledgeable, he or
she probably wouldn™t make a decision without first consulting with
the staff.)
The people who work with the office equipment every day are
the ones who have the problems the equipment is intended to
solve. They™re in the best position to determine the benefits of a
product. Because they™re the ones who will get the most value out
of the new equipment, the salesperson should focus first on them,
not on the president. If the president is against purchasing equip-
ment for financial reasons (the global view), the salesperson will
have to address that. But the president is not the one with the
everyday understanding of the problems (the day-to-day view). To
create value, salespeople would be wiser to invest their time visiting
create value

with the staff members who will actually use the products or ser-
vices every day.


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