Online Sales Training

The Myth of the Sales Hero.

The Myth of the Sales HeroCustomers ask me all the time whether Upstream Group offers presentation training: can we help their average seller be more effective in front of a large group and really “own the room?”   The answers are no and yes.

No, we don’t do presentation training as a service – though I’ll happily share five helpful free tips and then recommend other firms who specialize in “stand and deliver” work. I’ll just as quickly tell you that the apparent lack of presentation skills is a red herring. Your people aren’t missing their numbers because they can’t present. They’re losing sales because they’re not present.

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The story of the seller who strides into a roomful of strangers, tells an awesome story beautifully and then walks out with an order is part of what I call The Myth of the Sales Hero. One awesome performance…one killer presentation….a blow-away moment is all it takes! It’s an entertaining story, but it’s just not true.

The truth is that sales is not performance art. It’s a ruthlessly disciplined process laced with intelligence and empathy. It’s not about “telling your story:” it’s about telling the customer his own story and then writing your company into the narrative during the second reel. What’s called for is a high level of presence: focusing not on your next line or slide, but on the critical conversation that’s happening – or not happening — in the room.

So let’s talk about that room you want your people to own. It’s not the one filled with a dozen half-conscious buyers languidly checking their phones: you could probably drop Tony Robbins into that room and it wouldn’t make a difference. No, the room you want to own is quite small: just the seller and one or two senior customers – those connected to important business and marketing problems who also have the authority to help solve them. Small, intimate, collaborative….real. That’s the room we focus on.

Being a great public speaker certainly isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that very few of us ever get there. And a misguided focus on “presenting better” or “telling our story more effectively” can keep you from addressing the behaviors that could actually change your sales future.

Not So Fast!

You there!  Yes, you!  DropNot so fast the mouse and back slowly away from the keyboard…hands where I can see ‘em.

Sure, sure…I’ve heard it all before.  You were just going about your business getting ready for one of those “sales calls” that your boss likes so much.  You finally wore down that 29-year-old Media Sup to the point where she agreed to “get the team together” for a sit-down next week.  And now you’re making sure you’re armed to the teeth and ready for battle.  You’re pasting the customer’s logo onto the front of a hefty PowerPoint that has it all:   company intro….partner logos….all your products….case studies….even the obligatory Questions? slide at the end.  You’re even packing up a few gifts to make them all feel engaged and included:  a little swag to grease the skids.

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But I just can’t let you go through with it.  I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.  It’s Fatal Attraction and you’re Glenn Close; it’s Thelma and Louise and you’re both of them.  In the name of all that’s holy, stop now and start over again!

Too many of our sales calls end up with both parties simply falling into their assigned roles.  Both the seller and buyer know they have to have a certain number of meetings, and they end up in the business equivalent of a bad blind date.  You share the same space, make polite but disinterested conversation, and part with some vague talk of keeping in touch or sending something.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is the meeting going to be about?  If you haven’t proactively identified a business or marketing problem and centered your entire meeting on it, then you’re simply another rep doing another “catch up” call who’s hoping for some of their money.

What exactly to you want to happen?  Write out the words of your closing “ask” before you walk in.  If you don’t know what you want to happen, you’re certainly not going to get it.  The right people might not even be in the room to give it to you.  Any answers that include words like update, education or evangelism are just too soft and meaningless.

What are you telling them that they don’t already know?  If you’re armed only with the information that the buyers themselves have given you, then you end up being another rep who’s describing their own product, rather than one who’s prepared to make something new happen.

Do you really need that PowerPoint?  People really looked forward to seeing PowerPoint decks….in 1995.  If you’re seeking a real, genuine conversation, then a piece of paper with some observations about the account is a better bet.

How will you use the first 90 seconds of your time together?  Sales calls have something in common with fistfights.  How they begin goes a long way in determining how they will end.  Hyper-awareness and presence right at the outset can change the entire character of a call.

If your sales calls are feeling less than fulfilling, look hard at your own approach.  You just may be sleepwalking into mediocrity.  You deserve better.

Change the Conversation.

Change the conversationLast week’s “MadMen” season finale featured some of the best one-liners of the year.   (My personal favorite came from Roger Sterling – of course:  “You know what they say about Detroit. It’s all fun and games til they shoot you in the face.”) But there’s one line that’s been repeated across many seasons, first by Don Draper and more recently by his protegee and alter ego Peggy Olson:  “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.”   This is a lot deeper than it looks at first glance.  Sure it’s a metaphor for the total self-reinvention of both characters (in Don’s case, he’s his own most successful image campaign.)  But it carries a significant lesson for both companies and individual sellers in our world.

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Over the last 16 years working with digital companies large and small, I’ve watched them squander massive amounts of time and resources answering a question nobody cares about:  “Who Are We?”  The thinking goes that if we can only write a clear enough description of who we are – if we can just nail the PowerPoint or the sizzle reel – then we’ll bring on that moment of epiphany and they will understand us, buy us, love us.  But then, of course, you have to account for all those pesky competitors with their rival claims and narratives.  So the adjustment, the tinkering and the fussing continue. But before you waste another minute tightening the bolts on your “identity pitch,” consider this:  you’re probably answering a lot of potential issues and questions that your customers don’t care about anyway.  (You think they’re obsessed about which box you’re in on the LUMAscape chart?  Really?)

If you don’t like what they’re saying about you….  What they’re really saying about you is….well, nothing.  Scratch the surface and you realize that if a client’s not already working with your company then their beliefs about you are almost non-existent.  You are a tabula rasa, a cipher.  And all the positioning statements and videos and pages of customer logos in the world are not going to change that.  The customer just doesn’t give two shits about your existential crisis.

…change the conversation.  As you’ve read here before, the very first thing you put in front of the customer is the problem you’re prepared to help solve.  Challenge them, disrupt their thinking, show them a new take on an issue they’ve not considered. Do something relevant.  Say something shocking.  Do anything but “introduce yourself.”  First, they will care that you’ve brought and agenda that’s about them;  then they’ll get emotionally connected with the problem or issue you’re prepared to take on; then – and only then – will they want to know your bio, credentials and track record.

Change the customer conversation now.  Especially how it starts.

Six + 140.

Six + 140Last week in this space, I posted a series of ‘Six Word Internet Business Stories’ to illustrate how a few clear, well selected words could have more impact than the longer, denser explanations and opinions we’re assaulted with every day.  That post struck a nerve with many readers, and one non-written comment really stuck with me.  “Telling a story in six words makes a lot of sense,” I was told.  “Our buyers scan the subject lines of emails to see if they’ll even read them, and even then will only read something shorter than a tweet.”

This comment gave me not one but TWO great ideas for helping sellers. (1) Come up with a “six word story” that identifies the business or marketing problem you’ll help solve.  This can serve not only as a powerful subject line for your emails, but also the driver of action in your subsequent phone call or meeting.  (2) Then see if you can communicate the essence of your idea or agenda in 140 characters or less. (The composition box on Twitter or any Twitter client app can be used in your creative process.) It’s not only an eye opening exercise; it’s an addictive new approach to strategy.

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What might your “six word story” to an advertiser or agency sound like?  If you‘ve got a great analytics or retargeting capability, “The best prospects you’re not seeing” will do a great job of provoking a conversation or – at least – getting a customer to read on.  The rest of the story?  Perhaps it sounds something like this:

Your best online prospects will spend $30 million in the next 6 weeks. They’re invisible to you, not to us. Let’s activate and drive sales.

In just 139 characters, we conveyed the size and immediacy of the opportunity, a marketing problem, our capability and a call to action.  Let’s try another example, using a native advertising concept.  The six word story:  “No More Ad Ghetto for You.”  Follow that with…

Brand value & results can thrive within the user experience.  It’s measurable & surprisingly simple. You deserve the advantage. Let’s talk.

You could dismiss this as a gimmick if you like.  But I’d suggest you table your disbelief for a minute and look at the underlying logic. Six word stories and 140 character “pitches” force the seller to distill ideas down to their most powerful essence.  We stop wasting time with flowery, elaborate paragraphs.  We give our emails and our meetings a sharp, piercing quality;  an agenda that says “This will be worth my time.”

Challenge your team – and yourself – to try this approach today.  What have you got to lose besides a bunch of words nobody’s reading anyway?


Back in July in this space I recommended Susan’s Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Hearing clips of the author’s TED Talk on NPR this weekend has me now doubling down on that recommendation and underscoring  some themes I didn’t call out in my brief mention of the book.

The core idea in “Quiet” is that our culture – especially in education and business – incubates and celebrates extroverts, while giving short shrift to the potentially powerful contributions of the introvert.  We organize our classrooms into “discussion pods,” and reward students for vocal participation and visible group “leadership.”  Our business culture revolves around committees, task forces and work groups, all so we can collaborate our way to success.  Along the way, we’ve come to the conclusion that the loudest voice belongs to he (and it’s very often ‘he’) who is the most confident, and therefore the leader.  If forced to conform to today’s cultural and business climate, introverts like Gandhi, Warren Buffet, Eleanor Roosevelt, Larry Page, Bill Gates and (!) Dale Carnegie would never have emerged as leaders.  The logic is inescapable, and there’s plenty of advice on how companies can better leverage the deep insights and massive potential of the introverted third of the world.

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But the thing that really grabbed my attention in the TED Talk was this:  Our celebration of extroversion has brought about the near death of our ability to work alone; to puzzle over a problem or incubate the germ of an idea.  Our individual inability to stay with a problem causes us to lunge at simple solutions.  In sales, this promotes a “grab and go” culture in which the seller over-relies on marketing services to “come up with ideas.”  Often it ends up a shallow, frustrating exercise for all involved.

In the workshops I conduct with sales teams I have started to look for the introverts and carefully draw out their ideas and solutions.   Having spent a little more time in their own heads, their thinking is almost always more complete.  And I’m encouraging all sellers – introverts and extroverts alike – to schedule 30 minutes of unplugged ‘quiet time’ during each business day (and 60-90 minutes on the weekend) to consider problems and ideas on behalf of your customers.  Call it your daily “time in the wilderness.”  You’ll be amazed at what it does for your confidence and effectiveness.

As Susan Cain says, “Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”  Try some today.