There’s a story that goes –

A group of scientists placed five monkeys in a cage, and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on top.  

Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. 

After a while, every time a monkey would start up the ladder, the others would pull it down and beat it up. 

After a time, no monkey would dare try climbing the ladder, no matter how great the temptation. 

The scientists then decided to replace one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did was start to climb the ladder. Immediately, the others pulled him down and beat him up. 

After several beatings, the new monkey learned never to go up the ladder, even though there was no evident reason not to, aside from the beatings. 

The second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. The first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed and the same was repeated. The fourth monkey was changed, resulting in the same, before the fifth was finally replaced as well. 

What was left was a group of five monkeys that – without ever having received a cold shower – continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder. 

If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they beat up on all those who attempted to climb the ladder, their most likely answer would be “I don’t know. It’s just how things are done around here.”

(originally published on Wisdom Pills)

Culture and set behaviors are incredibly powerful. They affect every new employee, so that they, too, become engrained in the cultural norm. Oftentimes, we are not aware of them just because “that’s how it’s always been”, and we assume we asked the right, challenging questions before. However, it’s not the case. Sprinkle in hubris, and you have a never-ending cycle.
Of course, these establishments also promote loads of opportunities for entrepreneurs and challengers to come in with a fresh take. Once value is realized amongst a few, change can happen. Then, perhaps it’s just a matter of time.
Start with the challenger.
On Tuesday, I talked about the importance of coaching – Coaches, Coaching, Coach. Today, I want to build on that with sales call coaching. It’s on my mind as we, as a company, start to leverage a new tool to get better visibility and analytics of our calls. I start with Gong.io’s 9 Data-Driven Call Coaching Habits of Effective Sales Leaders.
First, here are the nine habits:
  1. Coaching by “using” your team
  2. Invest in the “middle of the pack”
  3. Don’t water the garden with a firehose
  4. Establish a coaching cadence
  5. Meet for a team coaching session every Tuesday at 2PM
  6. Recorded calls > live shadowing
  7. Positive reinforcement
  8. Theme du jour
  9. Leverage technology

Of these, I want to point out habits 1, 3, 5, 6, and 8.
  • Coaching by “using” your team. Your team is your best asset to act and react for coaching. Using the team creates a collaborative environment. It enables the team members to coach each other. This creates a sustainable environment where the team acts as just that – a team.
  • Don’t water the garden with a firehose. Odd phrasing, admittedly. However, the habit is recommending focus on parts of the call, not the whole call. Trying to improve on too many facets is ineffective and usually ends up causing calls to degenerate.
  • Meet for a team coaching session every Tuesday at 2PM. If you don’t read the article linked above, know that this doesn’t mean to schedule on Tuesdays at 2PM. Instead, it’s an example of scheduling time on the calendar and making a regular cadence of it. Remember: you make time for the things that matter.
  • Recorded calls > live shadowing. Trying to coach in the middle of a call is good, but similar to garden watering above, sales professionals should be focused on the call. They should not try to adapt on-the-fly. Do the autopsy of the call when it’s over. Adapt for the next.
  • Theme du jour. Focusing energy and improving on skills requires repetition. Thus, it’s important to coach on a specific goal several times in succession. Don’t shift until the goal is effectively achieved or improved upon.

Sales coaching is paramount for our industry to improve and adapt to changing times. As technology makes outreach easier, sales skills will be the differentiator.

My startup’s product gives companies automatic visibility –no added work or key entry from anyone— into their business relationships – everyone involved, the ongoing discussions, meetings occurred and upcoming, and more. We’re built on the premise that transparency yields greater sales results. This shouldn’t be too much of a shock when you consider how teams (sales teams, sports teams, etc.) frequently put communication as the cornerstone of team strategies.
Of course, visibility gives leaders and managers capacity to coach team members. Coaches review game film with players for coaching – pre-game or post. For our customers, it’s enlightening when leadership tout the coaching aspect of our product. For many, it’s a key one benefit they hadn’t thought of, but rises as just as powerful as their original buying intent.
I’ve always been a fan of coaching. Coaching is how players (in any role) get better (+ practice). It’s how C players become B players, B players to A players, and so on.
When was the last time you were coached? Why? Did you ask for it? Did you accept it? What was the outcome?
Heck, reviewing history, especially our “last game” (soccer game, sales call, etc.), enables us to coach ourselves. This was a great point I noticed after reading Inner Game of Tennis. Self-reflection –watching and listening to ourselves– is a fantastic way to coach ourselves.
For the most part, we want to be better versions of ourselves. Sometimes, that means trying harder. Sometimes, that means trying more often. Coaching by a peer, a leader, or ourselves gives us the chance to make whatever effort we use moreeffective.
Look for coaches. Ask for coaching. Be a coach.
Last week, I shared a post about negative churn – when revenue from existing customers is greater than revenue lost from customers churning (see article). The relevant question, then, is how do companies achieve negative churn? Here are a few options:
  • Additional licenses – This one is common in today’s SaaS companies – selling based on licenses or “seats”. As a team grows, more seats may be required to gain access to a product/ service. 
  • Cross-sell – This type of sale captures cross-functionally opportunities within an organization. For example, a CRM may first be sold to a sales team to manage pipeline. Then, marketing may buy access to the CRM to understand lead and prospect-flow. And so on…
  • Up-sell –Many products and services have tiered business models (packages). Tiered packages allow for companies to address a market’s consumer surplus – sell packages that capitalize on differing price considerations, typically. Think: silver, gold, platinum packages with options that are locked for specific packages.
  • Additional products/ services – Up-selling largely occurs with tiered packages. However, packages are typically within the same product. This sell-on type is about selling a different product/ service. These tend to be complementary offers. For example, a product seller may sell professional services. This can also include things like accessories or service plans (think: cellphone cases or insurance plans).

There are many ways for businesses to continue to sell to existing customers – plenty of latitude to supplement the company’s business model. These are the opportunities that give investors excitement to grow a market beyond its existing.

Tuesday’s post about constructive criticism (Constructive Criticism Gone Awry (As a Receiver)), especially my “unappreciative” reception, made me think about business and sales. In many ways, giving and receiving constructive criticism is similar to selling.
  • The lack of understanding (and lack of trying to understand) lost me as a receiver.The man offering the criticism came in with a solution based off a few brief observations. He did not realize that the gym is a very important place for me – my “safe haven”. As such, speaking at the gym, to me, is unwanted.
  • The validity of the man’s constructive criticism was derailed early from a misunderstood position. Again, without understanding what was happening, the man stated I was being rude by not facing another man – the chiropractor. He did not observe how I was pointing and craning my neck in various positions while talking to a knownchiropractor. How quickly, then, I dismissed his observation.
  • The lack of empathy creates friction and defensiveness. I want to hammer home this point – for successful criticism, product, or service [sale], empathy is imperative. Being a 3rd party observer, the perspective can be objective. However, coming in with a harsh hypothesis can create unwarranted tension – hypotheses such as being rude, the business prospect’s process is broken, etc. Influence without empathy falls on deaf ears.

As a receiver of constructive criticism and a prospect for many products and services, I get it. I want to be the best version of myself. For my company, I want us to excel. That means I am open for feedback and useful products or services. Approach tactfully and with empathy.

I overheard a discussion between two execs recently about the idea of working closer together. One exec was pitching another way to earn incremental revenue from existing customers. Except, the conversation stopped there – regarding more revenue anyways. Instead, the execs shifted focus to discussing how working closer together could add “delight” to customers.
It’s hugely telling when an entrepreneur pauses a discussion to shift the focus away from “more money” to “more delight”. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of thinking about the customer-first. Here, the entrepreneur understands the importance of creating emotional value.
Thinking revenue-first means thinking about the company first. However, the company does not exist without its customers. Thinking customer-first puts the company on a path to bringing customers in and retaining them [especially against competition].
When thinking about the services and products you can’t live without today, think about the ones that you wouldn’t leave the brand. Think about how delight surrounds your decision to use that service or product. Think about the people you surround yourself with, and how your interactions together are delightful. Think about how driving customer deliver shifts how employees engage with the company mission.
Think about delight. Think about customers first.
SalesLoft and Gong.io recently shared a Discovery Call Benchmark Report that lined up well with my recent thinking on sales calls. A couple stats from the report that rang loudest:
  • Optimal number of questions a salesperson should ask is between 11 and 14 – about key topics, too, vs. small-talk.
  • Question flow should be throughout the discussion, not front-loaded.
  • Top performing sales professionals have a talk-to-listen ratio of 46:54.
  • Positive correlation of call success with speaker-switches-per-minute.

These findings weaved well together with my two current readings You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David Sandler and the Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. (Book reviews to come.)

The overarching story in my head is the gap between the number of questions and type of engagement in sales calls (read: the lack thereof during calls). Reflecting on a few sales calls I’ve made recently, I realize how I was focused on a specific problem or outcome. This put me heavy in “pitch mode”. When in pitch mode, there’s not much engagement from the other side of the table. Instead, it’s me talking atthe prospect.
An analogy of this could be like a sports game – take soccer. In sales, we’re on the same team looking for a mutually beneficial outcome. (Sales is not an “us vs. them” game, right?) And in a soccer game, it’s highly unlikely to win if one player hogs the ball the whole time. Nor will there be a successful outcome if the passing is only done upfront. A successful – and fun – game is one where both parties are involved passing the ball together. The ball being the conversation in a sales call. In a sales call, it’s important to pass the conversation back and forth, and ensure engagement throughout.
In soccer training in my past, we sometimes played games like “one-touch” or “two-touch” which limited how many touches each player could make with the ball. It encouraged fast-thinking while discouraging ball-hogging. A similar game can be played in sales calls for practice. For every pass (question or comment) from the prospect, a sales professional can pass a question back.
Sales professionals today tend to ask less questions anyways, so the practice here will be to simply boost the number of questions. Creating this habit will naturally drive more comfort and confidence specific questions to ask – what, when, how.
Give it a go. Pass the ball.
Recently, I was asked what my favorite book was, and my mind went straight to The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox. I read the book back at Georgia Tech as part of a supply chain class. The book is set at a manufacturing plant with the protagonist being a plant manager trying to save the plant. He runs into a professor who helps him think about the plant in new ways and drive greater productivity.
It’s one of my favorite books because it was perhaps the FIRST book that captured my attention with a subject and real-life situation that I found fascinating. Even today having ignited a zest for reading, it sits at the top of the heap as a favorite. And though it was written in a manufacturing setting, its lessons shape my journey today – personally and professionally in sales, marketing, general business.
One of the lessons that stuck out to me was the focus on “Herbie”. Herbie referred to a boy in a Boy Scout troop who was a slower hiker than his fellow Scout members. The plant manager, Alex, realized how the placement of Herbie in line could create gaps while hiking. Place him in the middle, and the first half of the troop was rapidly walking away from the second group. Place him in the back next to the adult leaders, and the whole group would walk away. Put Herbie at the front, and the whole group would stay together – limited by the pace of Herbie. Herbie is what’s called a bottleneck in manufacturing.
When thinking about any process today, it’s important to realize the Herbie. Where is the process being slowed down to prevent throughput and scale? Where is there fallout? If a bottleneck is identified and remedied, would another bottleneck arise? Is a current improvement effort focused on the wrong part of the process?
There’s much more from The Goal that I enjoyed, but the notion of Herbie has stuck with me, and makes me think in a broader context like sales. In a sales process (think: funnel), there are chronological sales stages like an assembly line. And just like an assembly line, there’s a possibility of a Herbie where prospects either fall out of the funnel (good thing? Bad thing?) or get stuck (bad).
After the next couple books I’m reading, I’ll likely give The Goal another read, and I’m very much looking forward to it more than 12 years later.
In sales, process is king. Process enables repeatable actions and decisions to advance and obtain a sale. In this way, every step along the way should be an advancement towards a sale (or, close sale, good or bad). To do this, it’s often appreciated and strategically advantageous to be aware of not just the objective, but sharing the objective(s) with prospect as a means to guide them through a sales process. Otherwise, you may be thrust into no man’s land or harshly left to the buyer’s process (which could pit you against more competitors and into a price war). Though the overall objective is a sale, it’s not always attainable in a complex sale depending on the stage. Shooting for such an objective can be off-putting and lose the sale altogether.
With any call, it’s important to understand what is the objective of this call, this interaction. This will weigh heavily on where the prospect is in the sales process. From here, the objective may be to get confirmation of a buy-sell agreement. Or, in an early discovery call, the objective is to agree to a next call where more influencers and decision makers are present.
Walk through the objective(s) early on in the call to manage expectations. This doubles as confirming to the prospect that you’re here for business, and s/he should be assessing today’s interactions to make some commitment at the end. Then, at the end, be sure to close for the objective.
These objective-based calls help sales professionals stay on track on their own objectives. They also encourage commitment from the prospect to advance vs. stay stranded.
Understand, too, there are stretch objectives (maximum) and conservative objectives. Stretch objectives can be attained in the absolute best-case scenarios where the prospect commits to a “larger” objective like bringing on an integration team. A more conservative objective, then, may include introducing other key decision makers to evaluate a product or service. The objective of that call may be to bring on an integration team.
Before the next sales call, know where you and the prospect are in the sales process. Then, outline what the objectives are before the call to ensure proper alignment and talk-points are on track.
Get the objective.
One of the most important sales lessons I learned from my retail days when I was younger was the concept of options. Specifically, I was taught to offer no more than 3 options. As long as the options fit what the customer was looking for (or at least fit by some prioritization of features), 3 options drove customers to buy. Anymore and you risk of overwhelming customers.
Today, this is still true, too, in B2B sales. I’m using a similar offer of three options in everyday life, even. Though, in my current role, I am not offering three products. I am providing three options to get an advancement of a sale.
Curious about where this Rule of 3 came from, I did a little research and found a study between professors Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University and Mark Lepper of Stanford University – “Why Choice is Demotivating”.
In the study, Iyengar and Lepper provided samples of 6 or 24 flavors of jams or chocolates to passers-by. With 24 flavors, 60% of people stopped to try the flavors, while only 30% stopped when shown 6 flavors. Clear winner for flavors, right? Not exactly.
When the researchers looked at who actually bought, only 3% of those provided the 24 flavors made a purchase compared to 30% who were shown 6 flavors. When you shake out the numbers, fewer choices drove more than 6 times the sales.
I’m not sure where 3 came from, however, providing options (and few of them) drives sales. Providing options provides confidence for the customer. It provides a sense that the sales professional knows the customer’s needs. Too many, then, overloads the psyche – we can only remember “3 data points” before degrading.
Remember when sell or getting commitments – provide options, but stick to fewer.