Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tips for getting out of a tailspin

Everyone I know who is in sales has had at least one. The successful long term people have had several. There never seems to be an easy way out, yet when you get out of it it seems like getting out was such an easy answer. It's a quandary. I'm speaking about those times when you can't seem to do anything right. Everybody you speak to has an excuse and every sale you thought was going to close doesn't. It's been my experience that rarely does this situation start with the sales person causing it, but virtually every time the sales person makes it worse and extends it.

Some call it tilt, some call it free fall, some call it crash, some call it a tailspin but it's affected all of us at one point or another. The catalyst for these bad periods could be something in your personal life, something in the industry, something at your company or even just the stars misaligning themselves and a bunch of bad things happening in a row causing a downward spiral of frustration. What separates the good from the great from the legendary is how you get yourself out of one of these periods, and how quickly.

I remember one day I had long ago, early in my sales career. I was working in a situation where the majority of my contact was done via telephone, even though it wasn't a strictly inside sales position. I got to work like any other day, earlier than everyone else and bright eyed, excited about the day and what it would bring. I started (as I often do) with the "low hanging fruit"; the customers who are about to close and just need to get that last nudge into sending the money and signing the contracts. Well, needless to say it was a veritable night mare. Customer number one: Called my contact, he answers the phone and follows up with "I got fired yesterday. I'm not sure who is running that project now." In and of itself that shouldn't cause any problems. But...

Customer number 2: "My father in law died last night, so I need to go make the arrangements there; let's talk in two weeks". Customer number 3: "Our CFO had to leave the country on an urgent matter, let's reconvene when he gets back in 2 weeks." Customer number 4: "We had a re-org this morning, and I've been moved to project 'y'". And finally customer number 5: "Yeah, there was a corporate decision to shelve this project until next quarter. Let's talk then."

Now...none of these situations are all that frustrating on their own. lie, these were my first 5 calls that day. All of which were to customers who's sales I was counting on to make my number that quarter, which was ending in 2 or 3 weeks. As you can imagine this was a bit frustrating. It put me into a brief tailspin, and I stormed out to grab a juice and cool down. When I came back to the office I found I was afraid to call anyone else right away; more bad news would not have been the right thing.

So after futzing around with some paperwork and things, I made a decision to do two things. First, I left the office and had a brisk, aggressive walk for about an hour. My goal was to get my blood flowing and my heart pumping and build a little bit of a sweat. It's always been a mood changer for me to go to the gym or get some exercise. So I figured I should do that. Plus the fresh air couldn't hurt, right? Secondly, I made a decision that as soon as I got back I would make cold calls until I recieved a positive response. Now, I hate cold calling; it is the hardest thing to motivate myself to do. There isn't a part of your day that has the potential to create angst as much as cold calling. However, the flip side is that there is nothing in your day that can be as rewarding, short of seeing the payment on a large deal come in.

During my walk I rehearsed my 30 second pitch, and determined who I was going to go after for it. When I got back, I picked up the phone, and the very first call was a success. It was enough of a success that I was actually able to run thru and complete the sale within that quarter, and it covered all the lost revenue from earlier in the day. Now THAT's a mood changer!

Obviously exercise and cold calling aren't the only ways to get out of a tailspin, and often it takes more than one or two things to do so. Here is a list of things that I use to escape when things are getting tough:
  1. Take a vacation. Often easier said than done, this is a sure way to allow you to clear your head. The worse the tailspin, the longer time off you should take. You need to be out of the office enough to get re-energized and to step back a bit from your troubles.
  2. Go to the Gym. It's a proven fact that exercise is essential and beneficial to good mental health. If you're someone who never gets exercise, do me a favour and try this, just once. When you're having a bad day, when you get home get on your bike and go for a ride if you can. If you can't, find a steep hill or large number of stairs to walk up. Or go for a swim. Whatever you choose, decide to do it and do it fully. It will hurt, it will make you wheeze and it will make you sweaty and stinky. And when you've taken a shower after and caught your breath, I guarantee that you will feel better mentally than you have in ages. Exercise does this to us. *note* don't over do it and give yourself a heart attack...listen to your body.
  3. Change your diet. I don't know about anyone else, but one thing I've noticed is that a tailspin and low production period tends to follow a period of excessive bad eating for me. Doctors know that bad food (besides the physical health risks) can cause mental and emotional health risks too. If you find your mindset heading to the wrong place, try taking a week where you eat low fat and lots of fruit and vegetables. It will do wonders. Part of this, yes, does include reducing or removing alcohol intake for that period.
  4. Try something new. Access your inner child and go somewhere you've never been or do something you've never done. This can work wonders on your mental state and has the added bonus of forcing you to think outside of your box.
  5. Do something you don't like. You know the old saying "Do what you fear most and you conquer that fear"? It's true. Do it. As I mentioned earlier my nemesis is cold calling. Rarely does it fail; making some cold calls always brings me out of a down period. It's probably because its like #4, and forces me outside of my box.
  6. Access your creative side. Write something. Start a blog. Take music lessons. Join a theatre group. Paint. Whatever, accessing your creative side should be of utmost importance to you regardless of what kind of situation your work is in. This is the root of all growth, and I can't stress enough how important it is. Me, I write or else try and create a new recipe. I know a guy who paints. I know a girl who likes to act and goes and finds a little troupe she can perform with. Failing that she takes a drama class of some kind. No matter what, accessing your creative side exercises your right brain and starts you on a path that allows you to view problems differently and come up with valid solutions. In sales, your creativity is your biggest asset and if you don't have any, you're doomed to a career of mediocrity. Do something creative.
  7. Learn something new. Learning new things is the ultimate way to increase your other abilities. It does the same thing as accessing your creative side, in that it exercises the brain and makes you take an objective view of problems from a new angle. As a sales person (heck, as a human!) you should be striving to learn new things anyways. So take this low revenue opportunity to learn something new.

You may notice a trend with all of these tips; they all have to do with movement and change. If you're in a rut, shake things up, darnit! Nothing gets you out of a rut quicker. Everyone in sales has had and will have periods where nothing they do works. So fix it, it's easier than you think. I've been in situations where I've had to try more than just one of these ideas, and that's ok. Heck, at the end of the day it's allowed me to grow a fair amount, and pick up some new hobbies and friends along the way.

Until next time, continue to sell with integrity.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Advanced Tip - Differentiation

One of the keys to being remembered by your prospects is to differentiate yourself. Unless you're lucky enough to be in a purely niche market and selling for the company that owns that market, that is the de-facto leader in it, you can assume that you are one of a myriad of sales guys hitting the prospects up on any given day. Obviously your product has some merit and value to the prospect or you wouldn't be selling it, but how do you make sure you're top of mind when it comes time to make a buying decision? The easy answer is to be the best. Which is, of course, easier said than done.

In the meantime what other things can you do to make yourself memorable? Remember, the key here is to make sure that when the prospect decides it's time to make a purchase, regardless of product YOU are the name they remember. Nothing is worse than having a customer call your company's receptionist asking for "sales" after you've spoken to them. Except maybe calling up a customer and finding out they had forgotten about you in the purchasing decision because another sales person was better and more memorable. Come up with tricks that go beyond just the product and your presentation.

Everybody knows someone in their industry who always wears hawaiin shirts or has bizarre shoes or something like that. You know that person because of that item. You know their company or product based on the company or product, but you remember the individual because of their quirk. Not everyone has the chutzpah to wear bright orange shoes or go to an executive meeting in a casual shirt, but there are other ways to get around that. The first key is to be an individualist. Steve Jobs doesn't wear a hawaiian shirt to every presentation, but everyone knows who he is because of his individuality. It doesn't matter if you work for a staid old company like IBM or some other highly corporate group with so much process that it quells individuality; at the end of the day you have the choice and the ability to be yourself. How you express this is purely up to you. Perhaps you have a unique hobby that you can throw into conversation. Maybe you did something interesting in a previous career life. Perhaps you know someone famous.

I can't stress enough how important it is to drop these tidbits in as early a conversation as you can. Every sales person in your industry has your exact same training, and run with the assumption that they have more experience and better product than you. And are better sales people (they probably aren't if you're reading this site, but run with that assumption; it will make you work harder, which in and of itself will make you better than most sales people). Because they have the same training, they are saying the same things, and because they have better product and more experience, they're saying it better than you. So you need to make sure you're the memorable guy.

You: "Hello Mr. Customer...this is Bob from Acme Widget co"
Customer: "Oh...the hang gliding guy who once went on a date with Gwen Stefani! How are you Bob? Nice to hear from you!"


Customer: "Ohhh the guy with the wierd green hat, right? How are you? Good to hear from you!"

The alternative is not nearly as much fun:
You: "Hello Mr. Customer... this is Jim from Second Place Widget co."
Customer: "Hmm. Second Place Widget co... who are you people again? Oh right. The Widget guys. Have I met you before? How did you get my number?"

Obviously these are extreme examples, but we've all been on the other end of the line with either response. The idea is to make sure you always get the first one. This is even more effective if you can twig on a customer's hot button; if you can access some piece of their outside life that grabs their interest. If Mr. Customer happens to also be a hang glider or a Gwen Stefani fan, you've just made a friend as well as a prospect. If the customer thinks Gwen Stefani is a useless waste of radio time and is afraid of heights, well you haven't made a friend necessarily, but he'll still remember you. Of course having a friend inside a customer's organization is always a benefit when it's time to close the deal.

There is a bit of an art to this showing individualism. You can't go into a cold call bragging about your dating history or open with "You ever been hang gliding?"; that will just anger the customer and make him feel that you're wasting his time. You need to find a way to slip it in unobtrusively. One thing I always do is comment on the hold music if there is some; having been a jazz musician in the past I can always throw in something about the music and if it garners a response carry on from there. If there's no hold music or that comment gets ignored, I wait until another opportunity and slip in a comment about something else that's a bit unique and interesting.

In closing, remember to always strive to find a way to differentiate yourself from the other sales guys trying to sell your customer something. It can be as simple as dropping a single sentence in or just showing up with a funky tie, or it can be more elaborate and involve the whole conversation.

As always, keep closing and sell with integrity.

A slight course correction - being unique is the key

One thing that all good sales people have is flexibility. You have to be able to adapt to changing situations and changing moods in both your customer specifically but also in the industry you're in. If you are unable to adapt, you go the way of the dinosaur. So in that vein I am going to slightly alter the direction of this site.

Instead of being a purely training site I'm going to move this more into an exploration of sales craft and make an open forum for people to suggest ideas, tips and tricks for enhancing all of our abilities. As readership grows, this should allow us all to make more money and create a community of growth and flexibility. As you can see it's not all that different from how it started last week, but this slight change is what will differentiate The Sales Coach from the myriad of other sales training blogs and sites out there. Differentiation is utterly important in any career, market or industry, and my first new post in this forum will be to explore that a bit.

If you saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross (and most sales people with interest in their craft have) you know the ABC line: Always Be Closing. The other line that all sales people need to remember is ABL: Always Be Learning. It doesn't matter if you're a million dollar a year presidents club member or a beginning jr. inside sales team member; we all have things to learn about our craft and as soon as you stop learning, you've lost the ability to improve. In that spirit, I encourage everyone to send me tips, comments and ideas. I have no problem putting up a guest post and crediting the author, and would welcome your input. So feel free, send the e-mails to and let's all watch the commissions roll in.

As always, continue selling with integrity.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sales Rule #1

From time to time I'll put in here my top rules for sales. These are the key philosophy's and points of knowledge that I first learned as a beginning salesman, and the ones that have stuck with me ever since. Although alot of what I blog in here will be more advanced subject matter, these rules are the basics, and you can't win without knowing the basics. One of my tricks is that everytime I go through a slow period (and they do happen) I go back to these basics. Without a strong foundation, a house will collapse, and these rules are the foundation. They will be written in here rather randomly, and not in any numeric order, but that's the joy of basics...their really isn't a first and last.

Since this is like the first real post with any substance here, let's start with rule #1. Rule #1 is actually three rules, but they all kind of roll into one and are all tied together. It's all about product knowledge. Know your product, know your inventory and know your competitor. IF you don't know any one of these things you will be at a severe disadvantage at some point. If you don't know your competitor, you have no idea how to defend against competing sales people. If you don't know your inventory, you run the risk of selling product you don't have, or not selling the right product at an opportune time. If you have pricing flexibility in your job knowing your inventory will help with that as well, as you may have a bit more leeway with something you have a surplus of. And finally, know your own product. You really don't ever need to know the engineering roots of a product, that's someone else's job. And you really don't need to know how to fix, configure, set up, prepare your product; again that's someone else's job. BUT...if you do know those things, you give yourself a huge leg up on your competitor.

Two things I positively HATE to hear from a sales person: 1) "Uhhhhh.... ummm... uhhh" and 2) a lie of any sort. If you know your product well enough, you don't need to do either of those things. There will always be occasions for you to say "Well, gosh, you got me; I actually don't know the answer to that. Let me find out and get back to you as soon as I can. Is this a deal breaker for you, or a curiosity?". Never be afraid to admit you don't know the answer, but if you can limit the instances of having to admit that you're 4 steps ahead of 90% of the sales people out there.

So, to summarize: Know your product, know your competitor and know your inventory. And don't ever lie about not knowing it. Thanks to Tom Hopkins for giving me this rule oh so many moons ago.

Until next time, continue to sell with integrity and honesty.


Welcome to Dr. Sales Pro's new blog. Am I a doctor? Well, no. Is my name really Sales Pro? Well, no. I am, however, a seasoned sales pro with over 25 years of experience selling everything from guitars to logistics services to batteries to software. For the past 20 years or so the majority of my sales has been in high tech world, mainly telecommunication of various types, and mainly in a B to C or B to B environment. I've successfully not only closed, but developed strong and lasting relationships with the largest telco's and telecommunications equipment manufacturers in the world. In this process I've learned ways to access the inner workings of a large company and how to make my way around the labyrinthine org charts these companies have. At the same time I've learned how to quickly close a walk in or call in customer and maximize the revenue there. In the interests of protecting privacy, I won't mention names of companies I've worked for or with, but they are definitely names you'd recognize, no matter what part of the world you're in.

The basic philosophy of this blog is that "Sales is sales is sales". It doesn't matter if your average transaction is a 50 dollar widget that a grandparent might buy to do hobbies with or a 50 million dollar core infrastructure system; the basic principles are the same. Hard object or soft object or service, sales is still sales, and you can take my principles and apply them however you want. So check in often for tips, case studies, ideas, or just to have your own questions answered. If you do have a question or a problem you'd like a solution to, please email me at . Your sales level doesn't matter; I still learn every day and from everyone I work with, sales person or not, and all winning sales people have that same attitude. If you wish to leave me tips, the same email address will work.

So sit back, enjoy, comment, question, and learn with me and lets all get rich!