. 4
( 5)


branch banking. He talked about the new and exciting
products and services that his bank had launched in the
marketplace over the past year. Unfortunately, Steve
didn™t learn much about the customer™s problems and
how he might be able to create value for the customer.

Steve might have been better suited to the role of Wall Street
spokesperson for his bank. He was knowledgeable and he was
articulate. Unfortunately, at this point in the sales call, he should
have been asking the client questions. At the end of the call, Steve
knew nothing more about the customer. The sales cycle hadn™t
advanced at all.

The first place the sales call can get off track is just where Steve
made his mistake. After the introductions are over and the salesper-
son is making the transition from the introductory stage to the inves-
tigative stage, he or she can miss the chance to uncover and develop
the buyer™s needs. At this point in the sales call, the salesperson
should ask the buyer™s permission to ask questions. If the salesper-
son doesn™t do this, he or she will soon be in a barrel of trouble,
because the customer will control the call with questions and the
salesperson won™t discover the customer™s real needs. Salespeople
could say something like:

∆ “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions to determine
whether I might be of help to you and your organization?”

∆ “If you don™t mind, I™d like to ask you some questions to see
whether you will benefit from my services. Would that be
create value

∆ “In order to identify if there is any common ground between
our organizations, I™d like to ask you some questions. Would
that be okay?”

Unless the salesperson initiates the investi-
gation, the customer, not the consultant, will end up leading the
sales call. If the customer controls the call, the seller may discover
too late that he or she hasn™t learned anything about the customer™s
business or needs. The buyer will be less likely to schedule a second
meeting, since he or she hasn™t any particular reason to meet with
that salesperson again. In the words of Frank McKinney Hubbard,
“Look out for the fellow who lets you do all the talking.” 27

Research by The Dartmouth
Group showed that on average, the consultant who guides and leads
the conversation during the investigative stage ends up talking less
and the client talking more. Generally speaking, customers should
be talking more than salespeople, because the focus of the call
should be on customer problems.28
Here™s how Steve could have better handled the sales call. When
the customer asked Steve about his bank, Steve should have politely
offered a two- or three-minute sound bite. He then should have said
something like:

I could talk for hours about our bank, but in order for
me to make certain that I am in a position to create as
much value for you as possible, do you mind if I ask you
a few questions? This way I™ll know a lot better what
to tell you and what not to bore you with.

” Lead by asking for permission to ask questions. It™s best to ask per-
mission to ask questions early in the sales call. However, there
will be additional chances to do this throughout the sales visit
114 the 24 sales traps

when a consultant might want to gain control or focus of the con-

” Keep the generic information dump brief. Plan ahead of time what
you™ll say, if asked. Keep it short.

” Focus on information that will link the client™s needs to your solutions.
Ask yourself, “Do I know enough about this customer™s needs to
know what information to give or not give?” Don™t offer more
information until you do. Keep asking questions until you know
which needs the customer has identified as problems to be solved.

16: The salesperson should con-
trol the sales call.
create value

sales trap
The Purpose of Questions Is to Persuade
Someone to Do Something
Salespeople mistakenly think the value in selling comes from per-
suading customers to buy their product or service. They think that
the purpose of questions is to convince someone to do something.
These statements are partial truths that lead to Sales Trap 17, which
has serious consequences.
In spite of the fact that I™ve emphasized the power of questions
throughout this book, it™s dangerous for salespeople to believe that
the objective of these questions is to get customers to buy. Don™t get
me wrong. Without a doubt that™s one purpose, but it shouldn™t be
the main purpose. There has been extensive research to support the
fact that good questions are excellent persuaders. This is one point
that even today™s sales researchers are in agreement on. And the per-
suasive power of questions is hardly new. It goes back to Socrates.
This persuasive power is an axiom. It is truth. It is even fact.29 But
it doesn™t paint the whole picture, and salespeople who focus on the
persuasive element of questions miss the point that the purpose of
questions should be to create customer value.

What™s wrong with the idea that questions are intended to per-
suade? It™s manipulative. And manipulation has no place in sales,
not only because it™s unethical, but also because it doesn™t work very
well compared to other techniques. No one questions the fact that
good questions can persuade. However, persuasion is not the most
efficient or helpful reason to do business, for either the seller or the
Questions will be perceived as less manipulative if the purpose
of the questions is twofold:
116 the 24 sales traps

1. Understanding. One reason to ask questions is to determine
whether customers have issues that the seller might be able
to help them with. Here, it™s important to remember that
it™s not important that you think the customer has issues you
can address; what™s more important is what the customer
thinks about these issues.30

2. Thinking differently. A second reason to ask questions is to
help someone think differently. Of course, it™s possible the
other person won™t think differently after you™ve asked the
questions. But that™s okay, because the primary purpose of
asking questions should not be persuasion. Persuasion is
merely a result of helping someone to think differently
about something. When people set out to be persuasive,
they often become combative. Therefore, view persuasion
as a reward, not an objective or purpose.

Dr. Tom Ingram, chairperson of the Marketing Department at
Colorado State University, contends that if a salesperson asks ques-
tions about the consequences of a customer™s business problems, the
salesperson is more likely to get the customer to think differently
about how serious these problems may be.31 When questions are
asked in order to manipulate, to get someone to do something that he
or she may or may not want to do, the strength, honesty, and objec-
tivity of the long-term relationship with the customer is in danger.
Wilson Learning Systems found in its research that in most cases,
what passes for consultative selling is simply the needs-based selling
approach. Prompting the customer to tell you what he or she
already knows is not true consulting. Nor is consulting simply ask-
ing questions to determine a customer™s needs, listening well to the
answers, and recommending the products that best match the cus-
tomer™s stated needs.32
create value

Dr. Richard Ruff of Sales Momentum in Scottsdale, Arizona,

The real power of really good questions lies in their
ability to cause customers to think about their situation
from multiple perspectives. But, of course, asking really
good questions is not that simple nor that easy.

Harry Harter is a consultant with Ivy Leaguers, a firm specializing
in public relations work for athletes. He is calling on Joe Westfall,
an agent who represents six of today™s tennis stars. Joe recognizes
that his athletes don™t always project the public persona that he
envisions. But he doesn™t think this is a big enough problem to
warrant paying the premium prices that retaining Harry and Ivy
Leaguers would cost until Harry begins asking questions to try to
understand why Joe didn™t think his problem was big enough to
solve. The conversation really progresses when Harry continues
asking more questions to try to help Joe think differently about
potential problems that a poor image could cause for the athletes
and for Joe himself.
So, Joe, you are troubled by the image of your tennis
stars on and off the court, but you don™t feel it™s damaging
enough to invest in our services right now. In other words, you
just don™t see the value in a solution at this point, is that right?
(Harry is attempting to make certain he understands Joe™s position.)
Couldn™t have said it better, Harry. I just don™t think our
players™ image problem is a big enough issue to justify spend-
ing the kind of money you are asking.
OK, but what could potentially happen to endorsement
revenues as well as your own fees from these revenues if one
or two of these players loses his endorsements because of poor
118 the 24 sales traps

media coverage? (Harry is still trying to understand why this
potential problem doesn™t bother Joe more.)
If it hasn™t happened by now, it probably won™t happen.

You don™t think it could ever happen?

Well, if they were going to get into trouble, they would
have gotten into trouble by now. It™s just that simple.
That™s what Nixon probably thought, too, before
Watergate, but he got caught. Are you willing to take the
chance that it won™t ever happen to your athletes? Can you
spare the revenue you would lose? There is no way to predict
the future. Isn™t the real question here this: Is it better to be
safer now than to be sorry later? (Harry is helping Joe to view
his current opinion from a slightly different perspective so that he
might think a little differently about it.)
Perhaps, but I don™t know. Are there any other options
besides the one we talked about that wouldn™t be as expensive
but could reduce my future risk?
Maybe, but I am going to have to ask you a few more
questions first, if you don™t mind? (Harry returns to wanting to
probe for understanding.)
What do you want to know?

Harry: Well, to begin with, let™s examine the status of each con-
tract endorsement by player and try to figure what the finan-
cial downside would be if only two of your players lost their
smallest endorsements. . . . How much money would we be
talking about, Joe?

And Harry continues to try to understand Joe™s thought process.
As you might expect, Joe began to view the loss of endorsement con-
tracts as a higher risk than he had initially thought. Note that Harry
create value

did not even consider telling Joe that he could very well have a prob-
lem at some point in time. Harry recognized that the value of his
services resided in Joe™s eyes and not his own.
Persuasion is the end, not the means.

” Questionsare to understand. Use questions as tools to help you
understand what, why, and how customers think the way they do.

” Questions are to change someone™s perspective. Questions are a way of
helping someone view a situation differently. But remember, the
person may not think any differently immediately after you ask the

” Questions cause people to think afterwards. Questions tend to cause
people to think about the answers long after the conversation is

SALES TRUTH 17: The purpose of questions is to
change someone™s perspective and to create
value for customers.
120 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
A Skilled Salesperson Doesn™t Need to
Plan Sales Calls
A lot of people believe that when you get good at sales, you don™t
have to spend time planning a sales call. You can do it naturally in
your head. Or go with your gut.
Is this true or false?
False. It™s a mistake to think that you don™t have to plan your sales
calls. Professional experience and field research proves this point, as
I™ll show you here.
First, consider the following scenario:

Mike Bailey, the salesperson from Altix, a high-tech
software company, calls for the first time on Sorensen
Global Engineering, a prospective client. The sales rep
opens his briefcase and demonstrates the cutting-edge,
sexy software. The prospect asks how much and gasps
at the price. The sale is dead in the water.

Is this an everyday example? You bet. Poor planning often results
in poor execution. If they don™t plan the sales call, consultants are less
likely to learn how they can create value for clients. Mike O™Connor,
vice president of corporate accounts for Computer Credit, Inc.
(CCI), put the problem this way: “If you don™t know where you™re
headed, any road will take you there. Sales call planning is your road
map on how to arrive at value for you and your client.” But it is the
manager™s job to inspect the planning process through her or his
inspection, giving feedback and reinforcement.

One result of not planning the sales call is that the salesperson seeks
too much background or company information that he or she could
create value

have acquired from a Dun & Bradstreet listing or annual report.
This can bore the customer, who already knows this information.
The salesperson needs to seek more information about the cus-
tomer™s issues and needs. Informational questions don™t do as much
to uncover customers™ needs as do other kinds of questions.
Here™s an example:

Steve, a loan officer, called on Phil Campbell, owner of
Imago Graphics, a holographic imaging technology
business. Since Steve had not spent time preplanning
the call, he spent more than an hour and fifteen min-
utes of his one-hour-and-thirty-five-minute sales call
asking the following information-based questions:

∆ How many employees do you have?

∆ Who does your design work?

∆ When do you want to be running?

∆ Have you executed leases on those new machines?

∆ As far as ownership of Imago Partners goes, who™s

∆ Is he involved day-to-day?

∆ How do you fit in?

∆ What kind of credit terms will you offer your cus-

∆ Who is your accountant?

∆ Could your equipment needs change?

As you can see, these are mostly factual questions. Because Steve
didn™t ask any issue-based questions, he was unable to uncover Phil™s
122 the 24 sales traps

problems or needs. Nothing was covered that would prevent Phil
from shopping around. Valuable time was wasted, and it will take a
couple more calls to determine Phil™s exact needs and expectations
for a financing package”what Steve asked did nothing to uncover
that information.

If you want to learn what™s on your clients™ minds, it™s important
these days to do your homework. “Tell me about your business,”
which used to be an acceptable sales opener, now just shows igno-
rance. “Customers don™t want to educate you about their business.
Why should they? Good customers have more than enough infor-
mation about you. They expect you to know as much or more about
them,” say Kevin Hoffberg and Kevin J. Corcoran.33
Here™s an example of a preplanned and more effective approach:

Dave was calling on a customer in the live sound busi-
ness who had purchased 25 acres and built a 14,000-
square-foot building financed through a competing
bank. Dave had identified that the purpose of the call
was to determine whether there were any needs or
expectations that this customer felt were not being met
by his current bank. By thinking through the questions
he wanted to ask and spending a few minutes thought-
fully writing them out, he developed some really smart
questions he could ask regarding issues, concerns, and
need development during his one-hour-and-twenty-
minute sales call:

∆ Can you tell me about the issues you face using your
current system?

∆ Do you think the issue with collateral will eventually
affect your cash flow?
create value

∆ At the time, your biggest concerns were getting a
Small Business Administration loan and the personal
guarantee”which was the bigger concern for you?

∆ Did it bother you to give a personal guarantee to
your bank?

∆ Did the personal guarantee affect your financial con-
dition at all?

∆ What other challenges do you have currently?
(Problem question)

∆ Any other challenges”is your equipment up to the
level you need?

∆ How comfortable are you with leasing?

∆ Can accounting or data entry be a challenge for you?

∆ Are there other things, say in the next one to three
years, that you envision for which you may need
additional financing?

∆ And the implications of your having truck problems
are . . .?

∆ Is that something you™d like us to consider?

∆ Did the lender provide you with the flexibility you
needed? Is there a way you can see that we can help
you do that differently?

∆ Do you see any benefits from us being local in the
cash management side?

If you are serious about learning what™s important, it™s better to
write down key questions you might want to ask so that you don™t
124 the 24 sales traps

forget them during the sales call. Planning the sales call is essential.
“Good sellers have plans for territories, accounts, and career paths,”
says John F. Monoky, president of Monoky & Associates. “For com-
plex, multilevel, long-sales-cycle accounts, they have action plans
that identify the specific steps needed over two or three years to cap-
ture the business.” 34

” Establish the purpose of your call. What do you expect, anticipate, or
know is the reason for the consultative visit? The purpose is what
you and the customer will agree upon as the reason why you are
meeting; it is normally agreed upon prior to the meeting. For
example, the purpose might be to explore ways that we might be
able to manage your health care costs more effectively.

” Establish your call objective. What is it that you would like to accom-
plish during your visit with the customer? It should be something
that can be measured objectively. For example, identify at least
three client problems and secure a second meeting to explore
these three problems more thoroughly.

” Write out really smart questions before the call. Write out the signif-
icant information that you will need in order to explore areas that
you might be able to help with. Write out questions that will
probe into the needs of customers.

” Identify the potential impact to the customer of not solving those needs.
If appropriate, don™t forget to ask the customer why it is so impor-
tant to address those needs.

18: Skilled salespeople do need
to plan their sales calls.

focus on
TOP SALES organizations provide salespeople
with constructive feedback and a healthy learning envi-
ronment in which they can grow and develop.

Feedback is a key factor in a salesperson™s develop-
ment because consultative sales skills are easy in con-
cept, but difficult to execute. Feedback helps the sales-
person know which behaviors to change in order to
do a better job. In any sales organization, the most
crucial position when it comes to feedback is the
first-line manager. The manager should see to it that
126 the 24 sales traps

salespeople get the coaching they need and that they stay focused
on the customers™ needs. Principle 5 includes several sales traps that
managers fall into that adversely affect feedback, and in turn affect
salespeople™s opportunities to develop:

∆ Sales Trap 19, “Sales Skill Training Is Enough to Solve
Selling Problems”

∆ Sales Trap 20, “If You Generate Sales Activity, You™ll Close
More Sales”

∆ Sales Trap 21, “Top Performers Are the Best Teachers”

∆ Sales Trap 22, “Sales Managers Are Good Coaches”

Effective feedback uses the same language as the company™s sales-
skill training program and also offers an effective sales process for
salespeople to follow. Managers should monitor the sales feedback
and learning process.

Coaching is simple to understand, but difficult to implement. The
responsibility for developing salespeople and giving feedback usu-
ally rests with the first-line manager. Good managers provide feed-
back, using the common language of their company™s training
programs. But feedback alone is not necessarily effective when it
comes to sales-skill-based training programs.
It is actually very difficult to find companies in which the first-line
sales managers effectively coach the verbal behaviors taught in their
company™s sales-skill-based programs.1 Few companies do a good job
on this, as is discussed in great depth in Sales Trap 22, “Sales Managers
Are Good Coaches.”
Many companies struggle to get their sales managers to spend
time in skill-based coaching sessions with their reps.
focus on feedback and learning

In defense of the first-line managers, there are several reasons
why they do not find or take the time to coach, some of which are
beyond their control. These reasons include:

∆ There is a lack of rewards, recognition, and other incentives
that managers can use to develop their salespeople.

∆ Job and time pressures from within the company and with
clients eat away at valuable coaching time.

∆ The selling models are complicated and don™t make it easy
for managers to coach salespeople or measure their progress.

∆ There are conflicts between what the manager believes works
and what the particular sales training program states works.

∆ Managers fear coaching, either because they don™t know
how to do it or because they haven™t been trained to do it.

In the end, unfortunately, it probably comes down to business
priorities, but it™s unfortunate that many first-line managers have
never even participated in their company™s sales-skill-based train-
ing program.2
As one salesperson put it:

How can my company expect me to develop my skills as
quickly and effectively as they want me to”and as I want
to”when my sales manager hasn™t even been through
the sales skill program we™ve been using for the last two
years? How can he begin to give me feedback on the
skills I learned? I know the responsibility for my personal
development is primarily mine, but I am jealous of the
people who work for managers who know the language
in our skill based programs and can offer constructive
feedback to my colleagues in the same language.
128 the 24 sales traps

Companies that do a good job with feedback and learning place their
emphasis on developing a learning culture along with the sales cul-
ture. Such companies take steps to see that both cultures flourish.
They are committed to their salespeople™s personal development.
For example, some include “people development” in their managers™
annual performance appraisals. A few of the companies that stand
out from the rest in this area are Motorola, Northwestern Mutual,
and Hewlett-Packard.
Top companies encourage a learning culture by offering finan-
cial support for executive education classes, undergraduate degrees,
and MBA degrees, and then recognizing educational achievement.
Today, most of the Fortune 1000 companies, and many other smaller
companies as well, offer some form of tuition reimbursement. The
best companies tend to offer more attractive and extensive incen-
tives and reimbursements, ranging from monetary reimbursement
to career opportunities. This type of commitment sends a mes-
sage to the sales force: “We really do care about you and your personal

* * *
focus on feedback and learning

sales trap
Sales Skill Training Is Enough to Solve
Selling Problems
It™s a partial truth to say that sales-skill training works (or doesn™t
work) and that it solves (or doesn™t solve) selling problems. It can, but
it doesn™t necessarily, unless the sales skills are reinforced. Research has
shown that if you just send reps to training and don™t reinforce their
skill training, they forget 87 percent of what they learned in the
course within thirty days.3 Sales-skill training, by itself, is not the
answer to helping salespeople to learn to sell better. Without con-
tinued practice, feedback, and reinforcement by first-line manage-
ment (or some other experienced coach), the salesperson is unlikely
to make much of a behavioral change or improvement.

Here, I™m defining sales-skill training as a course, conducted in a
classroom, that discusses sales models or the concepts of the selling
process. This course is often a discrete training session held in a
training or conference room. What I mean by practice, feedback,
and reinforcement is face-to-face, real-time practice involving two
or more people in which verbal selling behaviors are applied, sce-
narios are rehearsed, and actual behaviors are modeled and cor-
rected appropriately. Another word for this is coaching. Without
feedback and reinforcement, sales reps are unable to translate their
knowledge of the sales models or process into more skilled behav-
ior in the sales call.

Sales-skill training may improve morale and reduce turnover, but by
itself it doesn™t produce posttraining improvements in sales results.
Many of the organizations that put their salespeople through sales-
skill training programs don™t achieve the return on their investment
130 the 24 sales traps

that they had hoped for or wanted because they don™t reinforce the
program afterward. “In most companies, sales training is an event,”
says Gilmour Lake, president of Computer Credit, Inc., located in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “[Instead,] it should be an on-
going process that is reinforced through coaching.”
In fact, coaching makes everyone money, from the company, to
the coach, to the salesperson. Knowing and understanding a sales
tool is one thing; using it effectively is quite a different story. Sales
reps need coaching in order to make this transformation.

One approach suggested by Learning International (now Achieve-
Global) is to redefine sales training to include postcourse coaching.
As Achieve-Global points out, coaching is “an individualized devel-
opment process designed to change a salesperson™s behavior to bet-
ter meet the organization™s goals for financial performance and
customer satisfaction.” And, Achieve-Global argues, “sales coaching
is not done in a classroom, nor by accompanying the salesperson on
the sales call.” 4
It™s hard to “walk the talk.” Many sales models are easy to grasp,
but hard to execute. Applying those models on the job is time-con-
suming, difficult, and usually frustrating. Most salespeople are more
willing to learn the sales models than to demonstrate them. Human
nature dictates that acquiring a new skill that involves changing
behavior requires considerable feedback and reinforcement.

” Ask for feedback. Research shows that if sales skill training isn™t
coached and reinforced, salespeople forget what they™ve learned.
The feedback and reinforcement part of coaching is what drives
the return on a company™s sales training investment because it™s
what leads to real behavioral change and improvement by the sales
staff. Ask for feedback from your manager, your peers, and your
focus on feedback and learning

friends when you plan and rehearse sales calls. Without feedback,
how will you know whether your sales behaviors are as good as
they can be?

” Focus on one behavior at a time. Beginners should focus on one or two
behaviors and master those before moving on (see Sales Trap 8,
“Beginners Should Start With Comprehensive Training”).

” Support coaching. Behavioral change requires coaching. Companies
should do more to support coaching. A good coach is just as
important in sales as in sports.

19: Sales training doesn™t work
without reinforcement.
132 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
If You Generate Sales Activity, You™ll Close
More Sales
The following sales management scenario is all too common. A sales
force is not achieving its performance targets, and neither is the
company. What is the quickest fix? To monitor, inspect, and increase
the sales activity levels of the salespeople. From senior management
down to first-line management, the mistaken consensus is often that
if sales activity levels are increased, an increase in performance will
follow. This belief is a fallacy. The conventional wisdom may say
that the way to succeed is to “increase your sales activity,” but sales-
people get themselves into a heap of trouble when they don™t dis-
tinguish between transactional sales (single visit, low dollar value,
low risk) and consultative sales (multiple visits, high dollar value). In
transactional sales, salespeople can increase their sales activity by
scheduling a sufficient number of appointments, making the required
number of sales calls, presenting as many proposals as possible, and
performing as many demonstrations as possible.
Salespeople in consultative sales tend to follow the decision pro-
cess phases of their customers. In a typical decision process, a cus-
tomer normally passes through three phases. In phase 1, the customer
is trying to determine if it wants to solve the problem. In phase 2,
after the customer deciding to solve the problem, the customer sets
about evaluating the alternative solutions. In phase 3, the customer
assesses the risk of the alternative selected in phase 2.
In consultative sales, it is what you learn from customers about
their needs that advances the sale, and that comes from quality, not
quantity. (Of course, you do need to make sales calls to sustain life.
However, it is a strong emphasis upon sales activity in the consulta-
tive sale that we are addressing in this sales trap.)
Increasing sales activity works only in transactional sales. In
consultative sales, what matters is not how many customers the
focus on feedback and learning

salespeople see (quantity), but what they say to customers once
they™re there (quality).
Here™s the familiar scenario.

Ralph, a sales manager for a leading telecommunica-
tions company, was reviewing the third-quarter per-
formance of one of his major account reps. “Meredith,
it seems that the last ninety days has been particularly
tough. You were only at 62 percent of plan, and you™re
only at 78 percent of plan year-to-date. We need to
decide what to do to help your performance improve.
Since we only have ninety days left in the year, we need
to do something that will get us immediate results. We
need you to work harder, Meredith. In other words, we
need you to make more sales calls, deliver more demon-
strations, and write more proposals. These particular
activities will have to generate business somewhere.
With increased sales activity levels, Meredith, some-
body will stick orders into your pocket. Therefore, let™s
increase your sales activity levels by 33 percent, and we
will review your progress against these activity stan-
dards at 7:30 a.m. each Friday morning for the rest of
the year. Meredith, you can be sure of one thing.
Things will start to happen.”

Things will start to happen, all right. Meredith™s performance will
probably go down. How can someone work harder and have sales
decrease? Because in increasing her activity, she™s only skimming the
surface of her accounts. She™s not learning what her customers need.
In the smaller, simpler sale, performance is driven by how many cus-
tomers the sales rep visits, but in the consultative sale, performance
is driven by how effective a salesperson is at learning and listening
134 the 24 sales traps

once he or she is in front of the customer. Therefore, it can be coun-
terproductive to primarily manage sales activity levels for larger,
complex sales.5
Ted Rubley, former Xerox sales manager and now president of
INYFX, says:

I recognized something early in my sales management
career. There seemed to be a difference between how I
managed my salespeople who were involved in transac-
tional selling (small sales) compared to my people
involved in consultative selling (major accounts). In
small sales, I could almost predict that if a rep were mak-
ing lots of sales calls, he would have lots of orders, too.
This didn™t seem to hold true with my major account
reps, though. They had only so many accounts they
could call on. In one sense they couldn™t work harder,
they could only work smarter. I discovered I was spend-
ing more time with them to help develop effective sales
strategies and tactics and more time with the transac-
tional reps inspecting activity standard levels.

Sales activity traditionally has been viewed as particular activities
that the salesperson needs to perform in order to be successful.

In smaller sales, the following transaction-gener-
ating activities will improve sales:

∆ Scheduling a sufficient number of appointments

∆ Making the required number of sales calls

∆ Presenting as many proposals as possible

∆ Conducting as many demonstrations as possible
focus on feedback and learning

∆ Determining a percentage mix between “new business” calls
and “customer care” visits and then managing to that mix

Sales activity can also include seeking referrals, sending direct
mail to solicit business, following up, and conducting postsale activ-
ities. The point is that these activities all work, but they are most
effective in the smaller, transactional type of sale. For example, sales
of small insurance policies, inexpensive office products, personal
pagers, and cellular phones would probably be considered transac-
tional sales. Measuring the number of sales calls, proposals, and
demonstrations works well for selling these products.

In consultative sales, the salesperson needs to
probe thoroughly and explore the customer issues, the consequences
caused by these issues, and so forth. This takes time. There is much
more for the salesperson to know and understand when she or he is
working with larger accounts. There are more people to visit.
Multiple decision makers are often involved, and working with each
one is time-consuming. In the consultative sale, it™s about working
smarter, not harder.6 It™s about learning at a deeper level. When a
salesperson invests much of his or her time with larger accounts
(which he or she should do because the performance reward is usu-
ally greater), that salesperson doesn™t have as much time left to make
lots of sales calls. In the consultative sale, success is about how the
salesperson behaves in front of the customer, not the number of cus-
tomers he or she is able to visit. Put another way, in the consulta-
tive sale, performance is about depth, i.e., “drilling” down into an
account. In transactional selling, it is about breadth, i.e., calling on
a lot of people. Since the solutions in a transactional sale are usually
not as complex or are more of a commodity, and since they are also
low-risk to the customer, only one or maybe two sales calls are nec-
essary to get an order.
136 the 24 sales traps

What might happen if a transactional approach were to be used
in the consultative sale? Imagine a salesperson who was used to clos-
ing business on the first or second visit trying to close an order for a
$1.5 million local area network (LAN) order on the same timetable.
No one would ever expect a Fortune 500 company to move its life,
health, and property coverages to the company of a sales rep who
tried to close on the second visit. In such cases, the prospect would
be thinking, “How could someone who has learned so little about our
business be able to make an intelligent recommendation to us? Do
we want to do business with someone who doesn™t care enough about
us to take the time to learn our business?”
Shelby Solomon, vice president and general manager for the
MEDSTAT Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says, “Of course, we
want our major account people making sales calls, but we want them
to be effective sales calls. They need to take the time to thoroughly
understand the customers™ needs and identify how they can create
value for our customers.”

” Consultative sales require quality. Remember that consultative sell-
ing (or major account selling) is about sales effectiveness”in other
words, how skilled you are when you are in front of the customer.

” Transactional sales require quantity. In transactional selling, perfor-
mance is primarily driven by getting in front of a lot of customers,
since a high skill level is not necessary for sales success.

20: Increased sales activity is
effective only in transactional sales.
focus on feedback and learning

sales trap
Top Performers Are the Best Teachers
The idea that top performers are the best teachers is a fallacy. It may
be clear from watching top performers that they™re good. But assum-
ing that because they™re good they™ll be able to teach others is a mis-
take. It™s actually hard to learn from top performers. Here™s why.

We have found that just because top performers are able to “do it”
doesn™t necessarily mean that they know what it is that they are
doing that makes them outstanding. For example, Neil Rackham
found that top performers believed that their success came from the
category of question they asked (grammatical form), when in fact it
was the type of question (purpose) that mattered.7

One reason why top performers aren™t necessarily good teachers is
that teaching requires a different skill set from doing. When you
teach, you are getting others to change their behavior. In self-man-
agement, you are getting yourself to change your behavior. The dif-
ference is almost the same as that between managing and selling.
The skill set for success in management is somewhat different from
the skill set used in selling. This is the reason why top salespeople
don™t always make the best sales managers, and top athletes don™t
always make the best coaches.

Some people believe that top performers can teach simply by letting
students watch them. If a salesperson could improve by watching a
top performer, then someone would have filmed a top salesperson,
shown the footage to all the beginners in the world, and thus elim-
inated the need for corporate sales training, sales coaches, and even
138 the 24 sales traps

consultants like me. Verbal skills, such as asking questions, are like
physical skills in sports: You have to practice new behaviors and get
feedback from a coach in order to know how you are doing.
Coaching will tell you what to continue doing and what to change.
Changing physical or verbal behaviors by reading books and watch-
ing instructional movies hasn™t worked very well in sports. I don™t
expect it will work in sales, either. Athletes know that they improve
most when they practice and get feedback and reinforcement from
their coach.

The Dartmouth Group, Ltd., asked successful salespeople from
leading companies throughout the world what they believed the
keys to their sales success were and what advice they would pass on
to others. Their responses were somewhat varied but almost pre-
dictable. Here are some of the more common ones:

∆ Ask questions, lots of questions, particularly open-ended
ones to get the customer talking.

∆ Be persistent and assertive, but not pushy and aggressive.

∆ Know your product thoroughly and be able to demonstrate
its uniqueness to the customer.

∆ Make lots of sales calls.

∆ Recognize that some people have it and others don™t.

∆ Strong interpersonal skills are important in order to be

∆ Be honest. The prospect senses it if you™re not.

∆ Listen for customer needs.
focus on feedback and learning

∆ Always be closing.

∆ Objections are your friend; they will often lead to a sale.

This list offers some interesting insights. First, the responses
from top performers were pretty vague. We weren™t always certain
of what they meant because the context wasn™t clear. For example,
were there any types of questions within the categories open-ended
and closed-ended that were more successful than others? If so, in
what situations? Should salespeople believe that they are successful
if they are generating lots of objections? Is one type of objection eas-
ier or more difficult to handle than another? Second, two of the
items on the list, doing lots of closing and generating lots of objec-
tions, work better in transactional selling than in consultative sell-
ing. (Rackham thoroughly researched this finding and published his
study results in SPIN® Selling.) Top performers weren™t always able
to identify the particular conditions under which some sales tech-
niques worked better than others. This kind of person would strug-
gle as a coach.

The Dartmouth Group, Ltd., has found that:

∆ Top performers ask significantly more questions than poor
to average performers, and they also ask really smart ques-
tions. (See Sales Trap 18, “A Skilled Salesperson Doesn™t
Need to Plan Sales Calls.”)

∆ Good salespeople try to gather pertinent information as part
of their preparation.8

∆ Top performers make certain that the customers talk more
than they do. They also display concern by seeking and lis-
tening more.9
140 the 24 sales traps

∆ Top salespeople offer solutions later in the sales cycle, after
they have fully explored the client™s needs.10

∆ Top performers place their primary emphasis on “under-
standing” the customer by asking really good questions.

As you can see, there™s a disparity between what top performers
said they did and what they actually did. For example, top perform-
ers felt that if you could handle objections effectively, you would get
sales results. However, the key is to reduce the number of objections
by using effective probing techniques. In fact, there were fewer
sales objections in successful sales calls than in unsuccessful calls.11
According to Rick Beller, former vice president of channels for Huth-
waite, Inc., and now with the Real Learning Company, “You can
learn from the best. You can also learn (what not to do) from the
worst, but in the end you learn best from those facilitators and
instructors who are the most skilled teachers”and the most skilled
teachers may not be the best performers.”

” In teaching, rely more on research and validated studies than on expert
opinions. Top performers don™t always know why they™re good, so
they aren™t the best teachers. For example, in our research, top
performers thought that they should be always closing, whereas
in the consultative sale, the more closing techniques are used, the
less chance there is for sales call success.12 People who are “stu-
dents of selling” but are just par or average performers might be
better coaches.

” Validate the teaching approach. Don™t hesitate to ask any salesperson,
sales manager, or sales trainer to validate the teaching approach
he or she is using. You might want to ask questions such as, How
do you know for sure that what you are suggesting or teaching
focus on feedback and learning

is correct? What was the research methodology or research
database used for your conclusions? For a fuller discussion of
courses and methodologies, see Sales Trap 7, “It™s the Content of
the Skill Training That Matters Most.”

21: Top performers don™t always
know why they™re the best.
142 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
Sales Managers Are Good Coaches
Our sales manager is the best coach. As the manager,
she™s in the best position to oversee the day-to-day skill
development of all of our salespeople through obser-
vation, feedback, and encouragement.

Does this statement sound familiar? It™s a good representation of
the common idea that sales managers are good coaches. In point of
fact, sales managers are rarely good coaches (though it™s through no
fault of their own) for the simple reason that they don™t coach.13 And
without coaching, salespeople don™t learn what they need to learn in
order to improve.
It™s ironic that most managers don™t coach because almost every-
one agrees on what the attributes of a good coach are, and many
sales managers have these qualities in spades. Most people describe
a good coach as being skilled, being supportive, and offering feed-
back.14 But why don™t most people coach effectively if they know
what a good coach is?

Many organizations do not separate coaching from the sales man-
agement function and believe that coaching is supposed to arise nat-
urally from the manager™s experience.15 Most sales managers became
sales managers because they were top salespeople. And when they
coach, they often want to emphasize the techniques that got them
to the top, whether or not those techniques will work in the situa-
tion at hand. And the techniques used by sales managers are often
outdated. Mike Lockman of The Dartmouth Group says, “Former
top salespeople who are now sales managers coach by mimicking
focus on feedback and learning

how they were managed and coached”more often than not with a
heavy, outdated push style.”16 Furthermore, sales coaches who were
top performers often don™t know exactly why they were successful as
salespeople, so they can™t effectively impart what they know to oth-
ers. (See also Sales Trap 21, “Top Performers Are the Best Teachers.”)
You can™t share the secrets of your success if you aren™t quite sure
what they are! Even when managers are able to pass along their
knowledge effectively, that knowledge is often outdated and there-
fore no longer applicable.
Many sales managers haven™t even taken their own company™s
sales training program, whereas the sales staff have. The reason for
this is that when a company changes its basic skill training pro-
gram, the sales managers who learned the old program never have
time to take the new one. Management wonders, Why should our
sales managers take this course? They don™t need training. They
can sell. However, while they may not need to take the sales train-
ing program to improve their own performance, they need to be
able to reinforce their salespeople who have taken the new pro-
gram using the labels and language from that program. Top com-
panies have a common language, which is reinforced through train-
ing. Admittedly, this can be expensive if you continually change
training programs.

Sales-skill coaching is a specialized skill, different from sales man-
agement. Sales managers are often simply not trained by their com-
panies to coach selling skills, so they don™t know how. Salespeople
complain that the coaching they receive is too basic to help them
meet their customers™ escalating demands.17 The critical coaching
skill that sales managers usually lack is giving effective feedback and
144 the 24 sales traps

Companies rarely reward managers for coaching (with incentives
such as compensation, promotion, good performance reviews, or
simple recognition). When was the last time you attended a recog-
nition or award meeting at which a manager was recognized with a
plaque for his or her development of people?
Marion Miller, a thirty-year veteran with Xerox in sales, sales
management, and human resources, had this to say:

We are committed to developing our people at Xerox.
We train them extensively, we have one of the best
training programs in the world, we include people
development in management reviews, and we genuinely
care about our people, but I can™t remember when we
have recognized a manager solely for the development
of his or her people.

” Salespeople need coaching in order to learn. Companies that want to
see a financial return on their training costs and want to see their
salespeople improve need to either train sales managers to coach
or subcontract coaching outside the company.

” Reward sales managers for coaching. It™s good to include monetary
incentives and to devote a section of annual review to their effec-
tiveness in developing their people, and it is even better to send
a message throughout an organization that says: “We do care
about our people. We want to recognize those who are respon-
sible for the development of our people”people who develop
the best in others. We want to recognize and reward them in
public and at departmentwide, divisionwide, or companywide
focus on feedback and learning

” Salespeople should take responsibility. No one else can take respon-
sibility for a salesperson™s performance. You must take the ulti-
mate responsibility for your own development. A company can
give you extensive opportunities to grow and improve”provid-
ing books, materials, training classes, and mentoring”but in the
end, you are the one who decides how much effort you will put
into your development.

SALES TRUTH 22: Sales managers usually aren™t
good coaches.

use the

TOP PERFORMERS and top companies use
the Internet effectively to enhance their sales efforts.
They recognize that the Internet can be a customer
acquisition tool, a low-cost distribution channel, and
a lead generator. Internet technology and its uses are
dynamic, limited only by the creativity of the sales and
marketing people using them. Top companies are
constantly figuring out how to use online selling as an
effective tool.
One clever sales use of the Internet is Dell™s
Premier Pages. Premier Pages are customized web
sites that Dell offers free of charge to corporations,
148 the 24 sales traps

governments, and institutions. Dell™s Premier Pages offer secure,
personalized web sites that provide:

∆ Order history

∆ Order status

∆ Contact information for Dell account teams

∆ Troubleshooting services

∆ Product specifications

Dell claims to have more than 40,000 Premier Pages being
accessed by customers in as many as twelve languages.1 Dell uses this
free web service to entice potential customers when salespeople are
making sales calls. “We use these as an acquisition tool”we can have
them up in less than 24 hours,” says Chris Hinkle, manager of Dell
Latin America Online in Round Rock, Texas. “These are especially
important for multinationals with offices around the world.”2
Overall, the effect of the Internet is to transfer low-value sales
functions to virtual networks because these networks are cheaper
than a direct sales force. This has meant a reduction in field sales
forces, but it hasn™t replaced consultative salespeople. Consultative
salespeople are still needed for important, high-value activities (such
as getting new business, negotiating complicated pricing structures,
and other key major account tasks).
Sales organizations that want to succeed today”let alone in the
future”must figure out how to use technology to give them a lead-
ing edge over their competitors in order to create customer value.

Of course, top performers have long recognized the importance of
technology (both hardware and software) in managing databases and
prospect lists effectively, as well as for communicating by e-mail.
use the internet

Today, those functions are all in the ever-present laptop, which now
also has wireless Internet access. Some sales organizations use lap-
tops extensively. As one advertisement suggests, they “don™t leave
home without it.” Salespeople at these organizations, such as Oracle,
IBM, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard, not only swap e-mails with their
clients, but also perform tasks such as inputting orders, updating
databases and forecasts, drafting proposals, and accessing informa-
tion, all the while being connected to their company™s central com-
puter. Salespeople also use such tools to do their homework and
research prospective customers before the sales call. (See also Sales
Trap 18, “A Skilled Salesperson Doesn™t Need to Plan Sales Calls.”)

Is e-mail too impersonal a mode of communication for consultative
salespeople to use to advance the sale and to develop meaningful
customer relationships? Opinions abound. On the one hand, a
strong sales personality we know says, “My customers want to press
flesh, not keys.”
But there are a growing number of consultants and salespeo-
ple who disagree. One colleague at The Dartmouth Group, Ltd.,
who heads up operations in the high-tech market, believes that
while it™s important to hold face-to-face meetings, these meetings
can be combined with e-mail when developing relationships. He
cautions against downplaying the usefulness of e-mail to build and
solidify relationships.
According to this source, e-mail is a two-edged sword. On the
downside, because clients may receive up to 100 e-mails a day, they
often don™t take the time to respond to each one. “On the upside,
however, e-mail provides people an opportunity to respond, docu-
ment, and offer pensive answers to thoughtful queries,” he claims.
“The key to e-mail is constructing concise, high-impact statements
and asking thoughtful questions that almost come across as ˜thirty-
second sound bites™ to the other party. Respect for one another can
150 the 24 sales traps

result if both parties use e-mail effectively.” Naturally, effective
writing skills are important to making e-mail work. As Jeffrey
Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, says, “Writing skills, grammar,
humor, and prose are integral in showing customers how sales-
intelligent you are.”3
Whether through web sites or web-based technologies such as e-
mail, the Internet is transforming the way companies buy and sell
and the way the sales consulting professions communicate. But com-
panies should be aware of the sales traps that prevent the effective
use of the Internet.

* * *
use the internet

sales trap
The Internet Has Changed Selling
People say that the Internet has changed selling. The Internet may
have opened up new venues for selling, but it™s actually just another
form of direct marketing. In moving selling online, the Internet has
opened up new sales opportunities and added new roles for buyers
and sellers. It has also changed buying patterns, giving customers
more choices. Despite these changes, virtual sales are still just trans-
actional sales.

Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce has changed the way busi-
nesses work with their accounts by offering new ways for accounts
to connect with service providers (or manufacturers), and new ways
for service providers (or manufacturers) to connect with their sup-
pliers. B2B e-commerce shifts low-value sales to virtual channels
because these channels are automated and electronic and are there-
fore more efficient and cheaper than personal selling. It is difficult
to create value in these sales (Sales Traps 11 and 12), and the cus-
tomer™s primary decision criterion is price.
One way sellers use the Internet to foster loyalty, boost sales, and
cut costs is by using web-based extranets for major accounts.
Cleveland-based Applied Industrial Technologies, Inc., added pri-
vate extranets for customers. The problem that this $1.5 billion
(1998) industrial parts distributor had faced was that customers had
difficulty choosing from among its thousands upon thousands of dif-
ferent industrial parts. Selling was hard to coordinate for its 900 field
salespeople and 1,400 inside salespeople because each customer had
individual price agreements determined by geography, sales volume,
and corporate negotiations. Therefore, a simple web catalog for all
visitors wouldn™t be appropriate.4 A private extranet for each cus-
tomer was the solution. An extranet is a para-enterprise network that
152 the 24 sales traps

organizations use to extend intranets to existing outside customers
and suppliers. Applied Industrial Technologies™ extranet:

∆ Shows the prices for the individual company

∆ Allows customers to purchase products

∆ Allows customers to check the inventory of local branches
in real time

Allows customers to review orders from the past two years5

The extranets increase efficiency. “They allow us to be more effi-
cient, and therefore more profitable,” says John Dannemiller, chair-
man and CEO of Applied Industrial Technologies, Inc. The
extranets are also expected to allow the company to open its market
to smaller accounts, whose small purchases wouldn™t make a sales
call by a field rep profitable.6 Interestingly, however, new customers
have to go through a local branch and salesperson first. Prospects
have the alternative of filling out a form on the site, which is sent to
the appropriate local branch within twenty-four hours. Salespeople
are expected to contact the customer within a few days.7

B2B commerce on the Internet has opened up opportunities for
buyers, too, allowing them access to purchasing opportunities they
didn™t have in the past. Procurement processing inefficiencies are
eliminated because automation is substituted for manual process-
ing of forms. Buyers are able to find the best price, product infor-
mation, and resources that are in short or excess supply faster and
more easily.
One way in which B2B e-commerce benefits buyers is by giv-
ing them access to markets they wouldn™t have access to otherwise.
For example, buyers in the paper market, traditionally a highly
use the internet

fragmented market in which over 500 printers buy paper from a
few giant paper manufacturers, can now take advantage of online
web exchanges, such as PaperExchange.com. An exchange is an
impartial site that collects quotes from sellers and submits them to
buyers, and vice versa. For example, in what is called a reverse auc-
tion, a buyer can post a particular material it needs and cite the


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