Invaluable advice from 73 sales mentors
Ivan R. Misner and Don Morgan have co-authored several books, including Masters of Success as well as this one in which 73 “masters of sales” share their secrets. What soon became obvious to me as I worked my way through this book is that I was exploring a paradox: peak performers in sales share much in common (persistence, rigorous preparation, a positive mental attitude, sharp focus, a high energy level, people skills, a thick skin, etc.) and yet each possesses a unique “something” that cannot be duplicated, or even quantified with any precision. Bill George calls it a person’s “true north, the internal compass that guides you as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you in terms of your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership.”
The subtitle of this book at least implies that by learning various secrets from top sales professionals, the reader will be transformed into “a world class salesperson.” That is, of course, nonsense and Misner and Morgan presumably know better. What their book offers, rather, is a rare opportunity to share insights from dozens of successful people, conveniently assembled within in a single source and presented sequentially in eleven chapters, each of which assigned a central theme. For example, “The Master of Sales Attitude: Aligning Your Inner Self with Your Outside Personal Image” in the first chapter and “Closing the Customer: It’s in the WOW Factor” in the final chapter.
Most of the contributors were unfamiliar to me but I greatly appreciate what they shared. Of course, Misner and Morgan include essays by “the usual suspects” such as Jay Conrad Levinson, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, and Harvey Mackay. There are at least two reasons why all of them are generally considered “super stars” in sales: first, they sell lots of their own stuff (i.e. books, CDs and DVDs, seminars and workshops); also, they have successfully trained thousands of others (who bought their stuff) to sell whatever their respective companies offer. But again I wish to stress that Zig Ziglar, for example, does not clone himself. His objective is to inform but also to ignite those with whom he has contact, directly in person or indirectly via his books and tapes. He urges those in sales to master basic skills, of course, but constantly stresses the importance of formulating or adopting strategies and tactics that are most appropriate to their own needs and interests.
In “Sales 101: What Every Sales Professional Needs to Know” (Pages 15-19), Ziglar makes several basic points of indisputable validity – citing ten highly desirable habits that he has found to be “extremely useful” in all aspects of his life — but this advice will be of little (if any value) unless and until another person grasps, indeed embraces its meaning and significance, then applies effectively what she or he has learned from Ziglar. The same is true of advice offered by other successful men and women who, like those who contributed to this book, share the lessons they have learned, especially from their failures.
My guess (only a guess) is that this book will be of greatest value if the Contents section is checked out first so that each reader can then determine which themes – and which selections clustered with each theme – are of greatest interest. (Caveat: It would be a mistake to ignore contributions by those who are unfamiliar.) I presume to suggest that there are three basic questions that each person in sales must be well-prepared to answer when in contact with a prospective buyer. The first two pose no significant challenges (or at least shouldn’t) but success or failure almost always depends on the response to the third. Here they are:
Explicit: Who are you?
Implicit: Are you honest? Do you know what you’re talking about? Have you made an effort to understand my business? Will you protect my best interests? Are you and your organization reliable? Can I trust you?
Explicit: What do you do?
Implicit: Which specific products and services do you offer that I need? Can you answer my questions? Can you help solve my problems? Will you “go the extra mile” when that is necessary?
Explicit: Why should I care?
Implicit: What differentiates you from other sales people? What differentiates your products and services from what competitors offer? What unique value-added benefits do you offer? Will doing business with you strengthen my own customer relationships?
Credit Misner and Morton with carefully selecting and then brilliantly presenting a wealth of material that can help to answer both explicit and implicit questions such as these. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out the aforementioned Masters of Success also co-edited by Misner and Morgan as well as two books by Tom Butler-Bowdon: 50 Success Classics and 50 Self-Help Classics.
Here is a recent post by Heidi Grant Halvorson at her website, The Science of Success.
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Everyone needs feedback.
It’s hard to get motivated to reach a goal or complete a project, and impossible to stay motivated in the face of difficulty, when you aren’t sure if you are on the right track. None of us are truly comfortable flying blind. For any leader or manager, giving frequent, carefully-crafted feedback is one of their most important (and most challenging) responsibilities (as I’ve written about here.)
Since feedback is a good thing, you might think that you really can’t have too much of it. But according to new research, if you thought that, you’d be wrong.
Receiving feedback, it turns out, comes at some significant cost. Processing what you are being told (whether it’s positive or negative) and responding to it appropriately (or even inappropriately) creates cognitive and emotional demands that can interfere with learning and performance.
In fact, if you plotted the relationship between feedback frequency and performance out on a graph, it would look like an inverted U. In other words, as feedback frequency increases, performance improves…until it starts taking a nosedive. Past a certain point, receiving and responding to too much feedback becomes a liability because it takes your attention away from the work you need to do.
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Unfortunately, there can be no hard-and-fast rule about how often you should give your team feedback. The ideal amount will vary according to the nature of the work they do – the duration of projects, complexity, how motivated they are, etc. But here are some strategies to keep in mind when you are trying to find the sweet spot:
1. When your employee is taking on a new project in an area in which they lack experience, be careful not to overwhelm them with frequent feedback. They will need their energy and effort to be focused where it belongs. Instead, make it clear that you will gladly provide feedback and guidance when they ask for it.
2. Keep feedback straightforward and to-the-point, to minimize the amount of time employees will spend wondering what you meant. Whenever possible, be specific about what they did right or wrong, and make concrete suggestions about exactly what they need to do differently.
3. When in doubt, ask your team directly if they would like more, or less, feedback. People generally have a good sense of whether it’s a help or a distraction.
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It is worth noting that one of the reasons for departure that highly-valued employees cite during their exit interviews is not receiving timely, honest, and actionable feedback from their supervisors. I agree with Ken Blanchard that feedback is “the breakfast food of champions” but only if it provides the direction as well as the nutrition needed.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. is a motivational psychologist, and author of the Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Hudson Street Press, 2011). She is also an expert blogger on motivation and leadership for Fast Company and Psychology Today. Her personal blog, The Science of Success, can be found here. You can also follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson.