By Kevin Dixon, Founder at Boxxstep

Sales effectiveness for sales success

After over 30 years in B2B sales, including 20 in sales leadership roles, and having managed, worked with, trained, known, met or interviewed thousands of sales people I can safely say that most of them couldn’t sell a black cat to a witch, and if there was ever a relatively easy sale that would be it. This is not to say that they weren’t good, honest, and hard-working people, this is about the sales ability required to succeed today and very few have sales effectiveness.

OK all sales people should have secured some sales at some point in time, however, in many cases it was the customer that brought from them rather than the salesperson selling to them. By their nature salespeople are confident and have ego’s that like to be fed and so this read may be hard to swallow for some, but I hope that it triggers a rethink about what they need to do for a successful future selling.

If a study was done with each of the customers that bought from them in the past and why it would be fascinating to see the results and feedback. How many of them would say they purchased because of excellent salesmanship, how many of them would say they bought because they were sold too. I suspect that the percentage would be embarrassingly low, this would undoubtedly be disappointing because by the nature of being a professional the added value that they bring should be obvious and stand out. Many salespeople will point to the deals that they have won where they had a great relationship with the customer, but if you look at why they had such a great connection only a few customers will state that it was created before they purchased, most will claim it was once they were a customer. The reality is that most of them didn’t make a favourable decision because of the sales person, it will have been because of the company brand / reputation, product or service capabilities, price or other influencing factors, the sales person was purely the order collector. I’m not saying that this means they failed because sales are normally made for various reasons including the combination of product, price, and people, so they will have played a part.

Even the best salespeople will admit that not every order they have received was primarily due to their salesmanship, even the best will have won a bunch of deals where their input was minimal, but they will have also won deals where their sales skills were the difference maker, where their knowledge, preparation, and ability enabled them to undertake a structured and effective sales engagement that resulted in success. The need for this type of sales mentality and process is now more important than ever.

The Don’t Sell

Let’s simplify the business world into those that sell and those that don’t, and in this example, the sellers are the ones that receive the commission. This is often the cause of friction within many companies as the non-sales commission staff see many salespeople benefit from big fat payments without adding much value to the process, instead relying on the company or product to sell itself or the sales support team to do most of the work to win the deal. Right now there will be a bunch of you nodding your heads and a few shaking them, it’s obvious which side of the fence most of them will be sitting.

Many sales people have built a career by telling their prospects about what their product or service is and how it works. So they don’t sell they tell. This was all fine and dandy for a long time as they did what they needed to do, and for the majority of situations, telling is all that was required. Prospects were not well educated on the subject matter, so they needed to be told the information to enable them to make an informed decision. Nice and easy, especially for any sales people with product or price superiority.

We know that these scenarios are now becoming few and far between. The way that B2B customers want to engage and buy have changed forever, and ‘Tellers’ will no longer be required and will be going the way of the dinosaurs (if we want to give them a dinosaur name it would be Trisellertops!). I truly hope that the ‘Don’t Sell’ sales people adapt their approach and that we’ve seen the end of so many ‘telling’ pitches. They no longer work, and as they say, one definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.

 ‘I would rather stick my head into the open mouth of a lion and flick their love spuds with a wet towel than have to listen to one of those telling pitches again’

Nb. It’s not a quote from a customer but I thought I would throw this in to lighten the mood!

The Won’t Sell

Now we come to the won’t sell salespeople, who despite their best intentions are also destined to failure in the modern sales world. These are the sales people who will have sold in the past when the trees were full of low hanging fruit and easy to reach rewards. These guys are the sales equivalents of past major technology companies such as Polaroid, Kodak, ICL, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, Palm, Sony, and Commodore. They all failed to adapt to new ways of communicating, the same principle applies in sales today, prospects expect sales people to engage, communicate and add value in different ways than they did in the past.

Here are just a few examples of the ‘won’t sell’s’ communication problems:

  • They don’t prepare
  • They act like sales people
  • They think what can they sell rather than how can I serve
  • They heavily focus on the pitch rather than understanding
  • They deliver PowerPoint presentations
  • They try to sell benefits before they understand and apply against the need for change
  • They’re not prepared for objections
  • They try to use manipulative persuasion tactics, which most prospects resent
  • They fail to get a conditional commitment to do business at the beginning of the sales process, therefore wasting too much time with prospects that have no intention to buy
  • They lack enthusiasm and positive attitude (both of which can be infectious)
  • They focus on being liked rather than building trust

The Will Sell

To turn from a potential loser with no sales effectiveness to being a potential winner the ‘Don’t’ and ‘Won’t’, have to change, if they can.

Here’s a few area’s they will need to improve upon in prospect engagements:

Subject Matter Expertise

Make sure you know what you’re talking about. This is not just about your product or service but also about industry drivers, pain points, and needs of buyers. Even though buyers are better informed than ever before and engage with sales people later in the process, they can still become overwhelmed with so much information from different vendors. Make sure what you say adds value to what they are trying to achieve. Modern selling requires more time spent on researching prospects and learning about the market. Solid facts and personal relevance will earn their respect.

Always be learning, they say that the day you stop learning is the day you become uneducated. Such is the speed of change, new knowledge, and new ways mean that to stand still is going backwards.

Plan and Prepare

My sales career started within the Art of Selling era, where the skilful salesman could wing it. Today it’s as much about sales effectiveness and the science as it is the art and those who master both will enjoy success. Now you need to do as much discovery in advance of the meeting, the prospects want the time to be of value to them not to feed you with all the information you need about them, their business and their marketplace.

Good modern salespeople spend a good deal of time researching prospects on social networks to learn about their professional role and issues as well as their personal interests. Whether it’s on LinkedIn or Twitter, it helps get to know your prospect as an individual, to give you the intel to try and establish a personal, meaningful connection.

The principle of researching a prospect in advance of meetings is nothing new, yet so many salespeople still think that they can cut corners and use the prospects time to do their research.

Think about who you’re meeting, what their role might be in the process and what could be important to them. Plan some well thought out questions for each of them that position you as a problem solver and advisor, not a product or service sales person.


Nothing new here right you know all about this, so move on? Hold on there ….don’t fall into the typical sales mistake of questions about their business, budget, order date, who are their competitors, pain questions without context and are they the decision maker. If you do you might as well just stick YOUR head into the open mouth of a lion whilst I flick the towel.

So let’s imagine an opportunity to sell a black cat to a witch arises, the witch has been thinking about a new black cat for a while as the current one is getting a bit mangy. A few black cat sales people had already noticed this and had engaged with her in advance of this opportunity through social media and drip fed her with relevant content and Insights (a great proactive and positive move if done well). To ensure she gets the best black cat and the best black cat deal she also invites some of the biggest black cat suppliers to bid.

Unfortunately, the majority of the black cat sales people will still be from the Don’t Sell and Won’t Sell groups and will just tell the witch about what spell their cats can be used for, the quality of their black fur, their performance in dealing with rats as well as ability to bring bad luck. The classic features pitch (with a few assumed benefits), each of them failing to differentiate themselves, their company or their black cats.

Here are a few examples of useful questions that you should be asking in the Black Cat opportunity:

  • What’s driving the need to buy a new black cat?
  • What urgency is there to buy a new black cat?
  • What does the witch need the black cat to do?
  • What criteria will the witch use to decide on which black cat to buy?
  • What are the consequences if the witch doesn’t buy a new black cat?
  • What concern or challenges does the witch have around buying a new black cat?
  • Who else is involved in deciding which black cat to buy and what are their roles?

What has to happen for the decision to be made and what process has to be followed before the black cat is purchased?

This is not rocket science guys and I’m not the inventor of common sense. The witch needs to feel like you’re trying to help her not sell to her, make the questions conversational with contextual framing, after all, it’s not the Spanish Inquisition.

Create Value

Yep, the value point that just about everyone in sales training, coaching and mentoring is telling you is super important. Providing value is not a definitive moment in time, it is a continuous process through your ongoing engagement and the buying process with the prospects. Sell and emphasise value, not features or price. By building value, you’re building the relationship so think about continuously adding value. Value varies according to the point in the buying process. If you break the modern buyer’s journey down into three stages of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision you can provide appropriate value to the stage. In most cases sales people get involved during the Consideration and Decision stages, but as we know engaging as an advisor during Awareness gives you greater opportunity to influence and build trust.

But remember it’s incredibly important to get to know the buyers well because the value of anything is in the eyes of the buyers rather than in the eyes of the seller. What adds to the sales complexity is the increasing size of the buyer team, don’t make the schoolboy error of just focusing on the decision makers. Create relevant value for each member of the buyer team to increase your chances of success.

Use of narrative

Prospects have become incredibly bored and turned off by the typical sales blah blah about your company, what you do and how it works. When we listen to a standard presentation or boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated (left side), this is the part of the brain that deals with language and logic. In contrast, when we are told a story with rich meaning and visual cues, things change dramatically as both the right and left sides are activated. The right side is our creative side so getting this engaged and stimulated will increase your impact as stories grip us and help us experience emotions. When you recount good stories and take your prospect buyers on an emotional journey, buyers don’t just understand where they want to be, they visualise it. If that feeling is different and better than how they feel now, they’ll be compelled to do something about it and preferably do it with you.

You need to weave your product or service information into stories that will interest your prospects, do it this way because listeners have been proven to remember stories up to 22 times more often than facts and figures alone.

I love the expression that ‘People make an emotional decision to buy then find logical reasons to justify it’. Generating those positive emotions through relevant storytelling and use of real-life anecdotes of user cases, issues, and possible challenges will help to establish a real connection with prospects. Good story telling even beats good selling.

I’m not sure there will be many likes or shares from sales people (hopefully I’m wrong), but I suspect there may be a few comments, maybe one or two defensive ones. But putting aside professional pride for a moment, this is not a sweeping statement and damning verdict on sales people as a whole, because the business world continued to revolve and sales were made, sales people did what prospects needed, and in many past cases telling was enough. But not anymore, around half of all B2B sales people have no sales effectiveness and don’t achieve quota, and the percentage is rising. It’s understandable that the ‘Don’t sell Tellers’ will most likely already form a large chunk of them, but the ‘Won’t Sell’ will be the big growth area, the salespeople who have regularly made quota over the years but will struggle to meet the expectations of an increasingly complex buyer environment.

Now I’m no sales guru, you could say that I’m a sales nobody because I’ve not written a book (if I had I would use this opportunity to promote it), done podcasts, or preach a sales methodology. But I know what it takes to get the job done and have been doing it very successfully for 30 years by continuously improving as a sales professional to stay ahead of the competition and in line with prospects needs and market knowledge. Everyone needs to constantly evolve, as the saying goes ‘The day you stop learning is the day you become uneducated’, and that applies to sales as much as any other profession.

People buy from people, so what do you know about the people that are buying?

Read my blog on What Most Sales People Don’t Know

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