How to sell without being a jerk so that you can take your foot off the brake and hit quota.


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According to Sales Benchmark Index, only 57% of salespeople achieved quota in 2011.

Why? Did they lack motivation or a sense of urgency? Well, according to a recent study, only 1 in 7 seriously at risk heart patients were able to follow through and make the “change or die” lifestyle changes- diet, exercise, and no-smoking. That’s right, only 1 in 7.

If patients can’t make the life-saving changes to their lives, then there must be more to it than Reps are just too weak or lazy to hit quota.

And a pair of Harvard educators, Kegan & Lahey, seems to agree. They argue in their new book, Immunity to Change, that our best-laid plans often fall through for smart, self-protective reasons.

So, even though the Reps really want and need to hit quota, haven’t you seen them routinely do things that seem to kneecap their success such as: a) reluctance to make the calls; b) make the call but not put their heart in it or; c) not being 100% committed in their sales role with the customer.

Instead of looking at these behaviours as bad, Kegan & Lahey would argue that these change resistant behaviors have a good reason for being. The problem is that they are serving a hidden and contradictory goal. “And until you can get below the waterline, you can’t see why this behavior is brilliant.”

For the Rep, this contradictory goal could be that they are uncomfortable with the traditional sales approach of convincing, persuading and hearing 3-NOs before a yes. Because they realize that they wouldn’t wish to be treated this way, they put one foot on the break to avoid being a jerk while the other foot is on the gas to hit quota. How much more could they sell if they could finally take their foot off of the break?

Even if the Rep isn’t using a traditional sales approach and is instead using questions to make the sale, sophisticated Buyers can still become defensive because they feel painted into a corner by manipulative questions. On the other hand, if the Rep just presents the facts, crazy busy Buyers can use their own facts to build a wall around the status quo so that they can avoid being overwhelmed by yet another new project. So, there is the unfortunate below quota salesperson, trying to overcome the status quo with logical arguments, against a hostile Buyer who is both judge and jury. No wonder they try to protect themselves by putting on the brakes since this is a very difficult argument to win.

So how can a Rep find a sales approach that doesn’t make them feel like a jerk? Well, one approach is to use mini customer stories. This approach works for two reasons: 1) They make the abstract concrete by showing how real people solved real problems and; 2) they present a scenario that allows the Buyer to draw their own conclusions. Without feeling pressured, the Buyer can now relax and listen to the Rep’s message and possibly tell themselves a new story where new choices make more sense.

Since this approach is congruent with how the Rep would like to be treated, the Rep can take their foot off the brake and go full speed ahead towards achieving quota.


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