5 lessons Dr. Seuss can teach you about sales

Green Eggs and Ham makes clear that although sales professionals often catch a lot heat about their expediency, greed, and a whole host of other vices, it actually takes a person with a well-developed character to be successful in that role. Here are five lessons to keep your team patient, persistent, productive and proud to sell your products:

1. Stay persistent

There is a popular statistic floating around in the sales field presenting a pyramid of sales success, with only 10 percent of sales made on the first through third contact, while 80 percent are made on the fifth through 12th contact. A closer look reveals that the statistics themselves are probably phony, but the point is still valid. Before Sam’s prospect even tried his product, Sam was rejected 13 times, with escalating vehemence. Yet Sam persevered to win the day.

2. Learn your customer’s needs

It’s not enough to simply offer up a product for your customer’s consideration; that customer must understand how it will meet his or her needs. A sales person cannot help the customer with that analysis without first understanding what the customer’s needs are. Consider Sam’s approach with his prospect. The reason he was rejected 13 times prior to sale was because he explored 13 (or more) different contexts in which his product could be used (“ Would you eat them . . . in a house? With a mouse? In a box? With a fox? On a train? In the rain? etc.”).

3. Don’t take rejection personally; be polite and professional

As the opening lines make clear, Sam’s prospective customer directs his disdain not only to Sam’s product, but to Sam himself (“ I do not like that Sam-I-am”). Despite the prospect’s disdain for him, Sam does not take it personally. Instead, he stays focused on finding a way to help the prospect, showing him all the different ways in which the product can be used and enjoyed. Sam is a role model for the tough ego required of a sales representative. Easily wounded souls don’t last in sales.

4. Adjust your goals to the situation

Despite continual rejection, Sam adjusts course. Sam began by trying to sell his product outright. Then, Sam tried to offer his prospect the product in various circumstances that he believed would close the sale. Yet when that approach didn’t pan out, Sam offered something simpler: the free sample. Sam knew the prospect would be hooked once he sampled the wares, so Sam lowered his sights: “ You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may I say.”

5. Stay confident in the good of the product

Sam is no snake-oil salesman. He knows the product is good, and this is the source of his confidence. His ability to look past the rejection and disdain of the prospect comes from his confidence that he can satisfy the customer. So, too, you must help your sales people understand that your product is good. Show them how it has been used with success and how it can be used with success, and you will give them the confidence that it will be used with success again by their prospects.

Much of the content for this article was found at: Leader Time: 5 lessons Dr. Seuss can teach you about sales – The Business Journals. Green Eggs and Ham book cover (image found on Wikipedia  – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Green_Eggs_and_Ham.jpg)

Reading upside down – are you twisted or do you have a sales skill

This image of upside down text (and similar ones featuring a minion or two) are everywhere on the Internet.

In case you struggle with the wording it is:

“If you can read this with ease you are twisted! And have an awesome talent! This is both backwards and upside down!”

To be clear, the image is slightly wrong. It is not “backwards.” It is just upside down. If you rotate this image 180 degrees in image viewer, it will look normal. I also didn’t fix any grammatical mistakes that may be in the text of the document.

The claim in the image is that you have an awesome talent because you can read upside down text, but you are twisted. Actually, I prefer the former since most salespeople need to work on being more observant. This is especially true with documents on the desk – which are upside down for you.

Salespeople visit the working environments of others. While some will say that it is “quaint” to look for pictures and quotes to gain clues about the prospect, I disagree. There is nothing more important than trying to create a personal bond with the person you are speaking with during the sales call. You can obviously try to talk about things that are interesting to you (outside of the product and service that you sell), but it is much easier to talk about something of interest to the prospect. There is no harm in asking about golf if there is golf memorabilia in the office. Or, if there are pictures of children playing sports, asking about those is completely relevant.

Try not to be so obtuse and shallow that you see a picture of your prospect with children and spouse that you ask how old the children are now. You can do better than that!

It is important that you notice documents on the prospect’s desk. You aren’t trying to be nosy, but you are trying to understand your prospect. You don’t need to read his personal email, but you should look for logos on documents from your competitors. You should also look for literature or reading material. Books on the bookcase on topics in your industry will be helpful as well.

When you are in front of a prospect, your job is to completely understand his or her world. Don’t just assume that you will be told everything that you need. A professional Trapper salesperson is looking to understand the lay of the land. Where are the game trails? What other competitors are in play? All of these skills are important – even reading upside down.

upside down minion

Image source

Do you prepare for the sales call like a SCUBA diver?

SCUBA divers prepare more fully for the dive than most salespeople prepare for the sales call. SCUBA diving is a popular hobby and sport. It allows the diver to see a beautiful world under the water filled with fabulously decorated plants and animals. While the environment is beautiful, it can be dangerous if the SCUBA diver is not prepared.

Very few SCUBA divers have accidents, and that is because they are prepared. Before every dive, there is significant discussion and planning. The dive site is discussed in detail including:

  • What currents that are prevalent?
  • How deep is the dive?
  • What possible dangerous animals and plants might they encounter?
  • Which SCUBA diver is going to lead?
  • A review of various hand signals to communicate.

Not insignificantly, the divers also agree when the dive will be over and the safety of the ascent.

All of this makes sense. Diving is incredibly fun, but there can be disastrous repercussions.

Your sales call will probably not cause injury or death if you screw it up. You will be much more effective if you simply prepare for the conversation – especially if you are going on a sales call with a buddy.

In the worst case, a bad sales call could mean that you lose the order – and financially that can be devastating. It can also be a mortal problem for your career if you screw up too many sales calls.

Here are some suggested topics to prepare for your sales call. You should think of these topics even if you are making a solo sales call.

  • What is the major and minor goal of the sales call?
  • Who is going to lead the conversation?
  • When is the sales call finished?
  • Do you need to review some verbal signals to change course during the sales call?

Prepare for the major and minor goal of the sales call?

This conversation is probably the easiest and most important item to discuss during the preparation. You should have two goals for each sales conversation – a major goal and a minor goal. The major goal is your best outcome for the sales call. The major goal is the outcome that you are working towards and you will “high five” your sales partner as you walk out of the building.

The minor goal is the minimum you can settle for without being disappointed at the end of the call. If you don’t get this, you have failed. Failure is bad. You need to work hard to avoid this outcome.

Prepare for whom is going to lead the conversation?

With multiple people involved there needs to be some coordination on which person is leading different parts of the conversation. Your life will be much better if everyone agrees to this plan. Your chances of achieving your Major Goal are much better if this is structured.

A general problem happens here when you have your manager with you. Let’s face it, managers typically are not great coaches and wish they still had your job. In too many situations, they don’t want to sit there passively and let you lead. If your manager suffers from this problem, politely discuss it with him/her. If the problem continues, have him read my post on coaching, and then call him “Coach” repeatedly in your daily interactions with him. It is a sad reality of life that you may have to teach your manager how to be your manager.

Prepare for when is the sales call finished?

It is an old statement that you need to stop selling when you have won the order. The end of the call needs an advance agreement. Do you need to fill the entire time slot or is there some signal that everyone agrees it is time to leave? Figure that out in advance.

Prepare for verbal signals to change course during the sales call?

The main reason for your buddy to be on the call is probably because that person needs to say something important. You may have a technical partner, subject matter expert (SME), or your manager. However, when the customer says or questions something, who is going to take it and what is everyone else going to do?

It only takes a few minutes to plan a sales call, but it is very important. You will have more predictable results, if you prepare. Spend those couple minutes in the car before walking in, in the office earlier that day, or on a quick conference call. Being prepared for the call is not as important to your safety as in SCUBA diving but it can be just as rewarding when it all works out.

You may have other ideas of things to cover in the sales call. If you do, drop me a note at @soshaughnessey on Twitter or leave a comment below.

Photo by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten

Is it unethical to change the configuration? Dilbert thinks so!

Is it unethical to change the configuration of a solution to ensure that a customer has a greater chance to be a success?

Dilbert is describing a common problem. Customers often think that an unethical salesperson is leaving things off of a bid to win the deal. The unethical strategy is to update the configuration or deployment after winning the order. This updated configuration is more expensive than the original bid, but the customer will not be successful without it.

While it is convenient to make fun of unethical salespeople for this problem, it is not always the salesperson’s fault. Frequently, it is the prospect that wrote an unrealistic or unworkable request. In this case, the lack of knowledge of the prospect significantly contributes the problem. The prospect refuses to take good advice from the professional salesperson and then complains when the salesperson refuses to accept a bad configuration for the order.

There is an old adage that the customer is always right. Unfortunately, in the world of B2B sales, the customer rarely is correct. The customer simply is not educated enough in the technology or market of the product being evaluated. In contrast, the salesperson is a professional and has gone through this process dozens if not hundreds of times. While I am not suggesting that the customer sit back and let the salesperson run amok, it may be better than an uneducated prospect leading the way.

The best solution is that the prospect learns to trust the professional and ethical salesperson. Dilbert is not the trusting sort, so I am not surprised that the salesperson took advantage of him. This lack of trust is unfortunate as sales professionals have a great deal of wisdom to offer a prospect.

While it is unethical to intentionally leave off required additional configuration items just to be the lowest priced proposal, few professional salespeople will use that strategy. Instead, it is usually a case of giving the prospect the configuration that is requested. If the salesperson tries to do the right thing, the competition may undercut the price. A much wiser approach is for the Dilberts of the world to work with their professional salesperson to make sure the request is complete and, therefore, the configuration is correct.

frozenhikerphotography.com polar bear

Did you win or did the competition lose?

You may not have won the deal. Instead, it is possible that your competition lost the deal.

You have probably been selling for a long time. Personally, I have been selling for three decades. I have sold tens of millions of dollars of products. If I tabulated it all, I might have sold in the hundreds of millions of dollars of products. I have probably won 500 deals in my career and thankfully have lost much fewer. I have sold deals measured in multiple millions of dollars and sold deals much smaller. My sales cycles have taken years, and they have taken days.

In short, I have seen a lot in my career, and I know that I still have 10-20 more years to build on my success.

With all of the deals that I have done, I can think of many times that I have screwed up and still won the deal. I am sure that if you tried to remember all of your closed deals, you could remember a few times that you didn’t do everything correctly.

Of course, when I say doing something correctly, I am saying following the specific steps of the published masters. The books teaching selling skills such as Solution Selling, Strategic Selling, Conceptual Selling, The Challenger Sale, Power Based Selling, Spin Selling, World Class Selling, and Customer Centric Selling.

This observation leads many people to say that these books are wrong. Since you violated every rule in these books and still won the deal, the books must be junk. Their advice is useless and irrelevant.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that you do not need to follow the advice of the masters. All you need is a competitor that does a worse job than you do! Let’s face it, many times a prospect is going to buy, and they are going to buy the best product that they can afford. If your competition is lousy, you just might win the deal because the competition lost the deal, and you didn’t screw up as badly.

In other words, you might be lousy at sales, but your competition could be even lousier.

There is an old joke. Two men were walking through the woods when a large bear walked out into the clearing no more than 50 feet in front of them. The first man dropped his backpack and dug out a pair of running shoes, then began to lace them up as the bear slowly approached them. The second man looked at the first, confused, and said, “What are you doing? Running shoes aren’t going to help, you can’t outrun that bear.” “I don’t need to,” said the first man, “I just need to outrun you.”

And now you know the reason there is a polar bear image in my header (BTW, the image was taken by one of my very good friends, Don Tredinnick).

Did you outrun your competition or were they just slow? Maybe you should invest in some self-learning and read a few of those books so that you can beat faster runners! Better yet, subscribe to this site so that you can read my book when it is published.

Sean's profile image

Your LinkedIn profile image should be professional not goofy

What does your profile image look like on LinkedIn? Is it a profile image that you are proud of or is it a profile image that makes you proud?

A profile image you are proud of could be one where you are on the 18th hole of a favorite golf course. Or, maybe it is you hauling in a big bass. On the flip side, a profile image that makes you proud makes you look like a successful business person ready to give advice to your prospect as a trusted adviser.

Regardless of what you put on Facebook, your LinkedIn profile image should be a professional looking image. It is fine to put a profile image with your best friends at a game on Facebook. Facebook is for friends. LinkedIn is for work. Don’t confuse the two social sites! Your LinkedIn profile image is supposed to make you look like a mature adult that is ready to give your prospect sound advice. It is also supposed to give prospective employers the feeling that you are trustworthy and ready to help them achieve goals.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to get a good profile image. Choose a neutral background, put on professional clothing (at least from the chest up), and have someone take a couple of shots from their smartphone. Take a couple head-on like a mugshot but also take a couple slightly so that your shoulders are not square with the camera. You may also want to take a couple shots where the camera is a few feet above your head and a few shots where the camera is looking up at you. Don’t forget to vary your smiles from a big toothy smile to a small grin.

Avoid using the photo that your company uses for the identity badge. Let’s face it, it looks like a photo that is used on an identity badge (or worse the image used on your driver’s license).

Watch the video below to get some other ideas and understanding on your LinkedIn profile image. Nick Miller of Clarity Advantage explains the importance of having a professional image on LinkedIn.

The image at the top of this article is my current LinkedIn profile image as I write this article. I don’t see a lot of value in changing it too often as Nick advises but I do change it every 6-12 months. As you can tell, Abercrombie is not going to hire me for their next marketing campaign, but that is okay. Surely, your profile image looks as good or better than mine so put it up there and look professional.

Tweet length on Twitter is important

It is very difficult to create a brand within Twitter, so it is important to manage your tweet length. The service is a streaming service, and the flow of tweets is constant. This problem is even more true if your user community follows a large number of sources. In that situation, your tweet may only be on someone’s page for a few seconds or, at best, a few hours. Retweets help to increase your brand by delivering your message again, but if you don’t manage your tweet length then your tweets become less viable for retweeting.

When readers retweet your tweets, your influence in the community will increase. You need to think of two parameters if you want to maximize your retweets:

  • The tweet has value to your target audience.
  • The tweet length makes it easy to retweet.

I am assuming that you are only tweeting things that are valuable to your target audience. I talk about content for tweets elsewhere on this site, so I am not going to spend time on that here.

To maximize your reach, you must manage the tweet length of your message. This tweet length management allows the reader to hit the retweet button, put a short comment, and hit send. If the user has to edit your tweet length to get it under 140 characters, then you make it more difficult for them. If it is more difficult to do a retweet, then it is likely they will not retweet your original wisdom.

Twitter currently has a tweet length of 140 characters. That is not a lot of characters to share your wisdom, and it is even harder if you have to manage the tweet length to allow effective retweets. That is your life though, so let’s work on the technique.

Your first task is to count the letters in your Twitter name or Twitter handle. In my case, my Twitter name is “soshaughnessey.” That handle has 14 characters. That is a lot of characters, and I wish that I would have chosen a shorter handle, but it is too late. I didn’t realize the information in this article when I first established my account, and now I have too much of a brand among my readers to change it.

There are some other constants that you need to consider to manage the tweet length. A retweet is designated on the Twitter stream with “RT @” before the Twitter name of the original tweeter. That is four characters. This means for me to have a tweet retweeted, it will start with “RT @soshaughnessey” which is 18 characters.

We also want to leave some room for the retweeter to say something. Think of things like “Great article!” (14 characters), “I agree!” (8 characters), or “Must read!” (10 characters). My rule of thumb is that we want to give the retweeter ten characters but the more, the better.

So what is my personal tweet length target? I aim for no more than 112 characters. That is 140 characters minus my Twitter name, the retweet constants, and the room for comment.

112 = 140 – 14 [soshaughnessey] – 4 [RT @] – 10.

Tweet Length = 140 – your handle length – 4 – 10.

If you leave your Twitter handle and the length of your target tweet length in the comments, I will be sure to follow you. Better yet, if you retweet the tweet for this article, I will follow you. You can find the original tweet for this article here. You can also follow me at @soshaughnessey.

Photo by marek.sotak