Nailing your team’s talk-track, doubling numbers and finding their purpose

Sep 10, 2020
Author: Sarah Hicks

THE END OF TRANSACTIONAL SALES

Lisa Earle McLeod, on this episode of the Predictable Revenue Podcast, asserts that crisis is the death of transactional sales. While salespeople were certainly moving away from the “one-and-done” mentality, and starting to position themselves as partners or trusted advisors to their customers and prospects, the axe fell almost overnight when COVID struck and customers no longer had time for transactional sales at all. Prospects want to know if sellers are here to help them, or to close them, and if the answer is the latter then they are not interested. 

QUIET THE VOICE

This puts a lot of pressure on a sales rep. On one hand, they have customers telling them they don’t have time for transactional sales. On the other hand, they have panicked management telling them they need to generate revenue, stat. While these are seemingly opposing forces, Lisa maintains that it’s not a matter of one or the other, but rather of sequencing. Salespeople must quiet the voice in their heads urging them to “close, close, close!”, and lean into what the customer is saying. Lisa’s research shows that, in turn, it’s this mentality that leads to more closed deals.

COMMISSION BREATH

Commission breath is a phrase that refers to the metaphorical odour a salesperson blows onto a prospect when they are focused solely on closing. Even virtually, it’s as unappealing and as unmistakable as the garlicky emissions you used to breathe on your prospects over their desk after a particularly flavourful Italian lunch. So here’s Lisa’s breath mint. Like Billie Jean King shared in her book Pressure is a Privilege, you have to handle the pressure by having a system. That system asks you to take your mind off of yourself, and put it into your customer. You’re probably thinking, “yeah, tell me something I don’t know,” but Lisa takes it one step further. Not only do you have to focus on your customer, but you have to park your solution at the door. Google your customer. Find out what their CEO is saying, and think about how that might be landing on them. Figure out what the most compelling issue is in their business, and then don’t tie it back to your solution. 

The underlying fear doesn’t go away, but having this kind of system ensures you don’t act out of fear. And this advice isn’t just anecdotal – it’s rooted in science. Lisa and her team studied many types of people dealing with fear when researching for their book Selling with Noble Purpose. They interviewed soldiers, for instance, who had experienced extreme personal trauma, to learn what allows them to perform with a level head in the face of fear. The two things that drove them to push through were 1) Commitment to a cause bigger than themselves, and 2) Commitment to the team. 

Your commitment to a cause bigger than yourself as a salesperson is your commitment to the customer – not your own company. They’re in as tumultuous a time as you are, and if you can help them get through it, your commission breath will turn minty fresh. 

NOBLE PURPOSE

When asked what the mission or purpose of a sales team is, a lot of companies will respond that it is to close business. From a customer’s perspective, a salesperson from this team is there not to be helpful, but to close. And Lisa tells us customers don’t have time for this now. So sales teams and salespeople alike need to find a more compelling, “Noble Purpose.”

For example, Lisa and her team worked with a national commercial bank based in Atlanta, Georgia. Their existing company mission statement centered around improving wealth, but the sales team’s purpose was to generate business.

Lisa asked the team 3 questions: 

1. How do you make a difference? 

          This is about the business impact. Do you make something better for the end user? Do you save them time? Generate more revenue?

2. How do you do it differently?

              This isn’t just a rundown of your features. How are you truly different from your competitors?

3. On your best day, what do you love about your job?

               This one is for the sales people, and helps you find your personal Noble Purpose.

So Lisa went back to what senior leadership had said about creating prosperity. That is the company’s Noble Purpose – it’s not a tagline, it’s not a value prop. Focusing on a Noble Purpose is a guiding star for the whole company in good times, and a lifeline in times of uncertainty. 

IMPACT 

Lisa says there are 3 outcomes when a salesperson knows the answer to all 3 of the Noble Purpose questions like the back of their hand.

1. Your motives are more transparent on a zoom call than they were in person, so if you’re all “close, close, close!”, your prospects will read that and be repelled. But knowing your Noble Purpose will ensure you show up grounded and clear to your meetings, and you will see an immediate positive response from your prospects. 

2. It’ll show in your numbers. According to Lisa and her team’s research, sales reps close more when they are tied to helping the customer and the company than when they are chasing their own goals and quotas. When looking at the results of their studies there was a bell curve, and people at the top of that curve had this idea emblazoned in their brains.

3. It impacts the rest of your life. This isn’t just another sales tactic – it’s a way of life. Many salespeople measure themselves by how much money they make. When you ask these questions and measure yourself instead by the positive impact you have on your client, you reclaim your joy and sense of self.

SALES MANAGEMENT

Sales managers: You can be the most influential person in your sales reps’ lives aside from their partners. While what the CEO says about numbers and goals trickles down, you are the constant voice in your peoples’ ears, and what you say can make all the difference. A salesperson who hears “when are you going to close it and how much is it going to be” during a sales review is going to be fear-driven, plagued by commission breath, and ultimately perform worse. But a salesperson who is asked “how is this going to improve life for the customer” is going to be more inspired, more connected to their work, and ultimately drive better results. 

Sales reps: Your sales manager might focus on pipeline first and foremost (and rightly so, at a time like this), so indulge them. If they want to talk numbers, get that out of the way. Afterwards, say to them, “okay, now I want to talk about how this is going to help the customer.” Not only will this inform future conversations with your manager, but you’ll build new neural pathways in your brain to reinforce this new mindset and the accompanying talk-track. You’ll be more curious, ask more thoughtful questions of your prospects, your pitches will become more polished, and you’ll ultimately be more compelling.

So what’s the one question sales managers need to ask in sales reviews to improve both sales rep performance and reliability of pipeline? 

How will the customer be different as a result of doing business with us?

This question acts as a coaching opportunity and a Litmus test for pipeline. If your rep doesn’t have an answer, they aren’t ready to make a sales call and that deal is not likely to close. If they have a compelling answer, their mind is where it needs to be and if all other boxes are checked, this deal is a shoo-in. 

CONCLUSION: 

The age of COVID has brought transactional sales to a grinding halt. In such a tumultuous time, prospects and customers don’t want to simply be sold, but they are in need of partners to help them solve their challenges now more than ever. In a time of uncertainty, when salespeople everywhere are struggling to hide their telltale commission breath, Lisa Earle McLeod has a box of tic tacs on hand that teach us to set panic aside, sell with a Noble Purpose, and drive results for our customers above all else. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: 

More on pipeline reliability: How zendesk is able to forecast revenue within 1%

Another perspective on selling less and supporting the customer more: How to deliver empathy as a prospector and increase sales
How to structure outbound if your sales are highly transactional: Building an outbound program right the first time

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