Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

The Bonfire of the Challenger Salesman - my worst sales call

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Oct 30, 2012

I still cringe when I think about it. One of the worst experiences in a 30-year career and it was entirely my fault. Only in sales are you able to make a bad call and move on to the next one, with almost no repercussion – hopefully having learned a lesson.

Background

MicroStrategy in the late 1990's and early 2000's was successful in selling Business Intelligence software into the retail vertical and had secured a number of high profile retail customers. I had been successful in data warehousing sales at premium supermarket operators on the US West Coat at Safeway and American Stores and had worked with partner NCR in the retail market for the past year.

Flush with the success of engineering the biggest deal in MicroStrategy history, an OEM deal to NCR and recent success in the supermarket business at Safeway, we visited the CIO of a rack and stack supermarket operator.  
The meeting goal was to introduce MicroStrategy and share how our retail clients were using data warehousing and analytics in their supermarket business using MicroStrategy analytics in partnership with IBM to better manage their inventory, avoid stock-outs and improve margin.

After the greeting formalities, I opened the sales call with an introduction to the recent work we had done in data warehousing at high-end retail customers and the investments they had made and the results they were seeing. I could see the buyer getting uncomfortable in his chair before I had finished my introduction.

He then launched into an angry tirade about how they were a pennies on the dollar retailer and they had no interest in doing what Safeway or anyone else were doing. Their customers wanted to buy groceries at the lowest cost. They had no interest in category management or householding or market-basket analysis. Their business model was to buy low and sell low….at which point he got up and walked out of the meeting….the meeting had lasted less than 5 minutes.

What Happened?

  • My selling style has always been assertive and it has at times been deliberately provocative, which is why The Challenger Sale caught my attention.
  • In this call on a retailer at the opposite end of the market to my former clients, Safeway and American Stores, I came across as arrogant and condescending in my brilliant and challenging opening.
  • The Challenger Sale is great in theory. In practice you need empathy and sensitivity or it can blow up in your face, just like it did for me.

Lessons learned

  1. Before you open your mouth about product or launch into your Challenger idea, you had better have established rapport to the point the buyer is ready to listen to your message. 
  2. Know your customers business… it was clear that I had not done sufficient homework on the customer….they were technology laggards and data warehousing was still in the early adopter phase. IBM invited us into the meeting, but it was a meeting we should never have attended.
  3. Empathy is a natural human trait, but for some, it is undeveloped or suppressed due to circumstance and environment and has to learned in a voyage of self-discovery. My wife told me I had no empathy and this call triggered a journey of self discovery, starting with a series of sessions with a psycho-therapist.
  4. Communication and rapport skills are assumed to be innate for anyone in sales; in reality, most salespeople grossly overestimate their ability to connect at an emotional level and truly listen. 
  5. NLP Practitioner training would be a good start for anyone in sales or presales struggling with empathy, sensitivity or connecting emotionally with others and it will serve them well outside their business life. 
I have integrated important communication and language concepts from NLP as well as sales survival skills in an adaptive elearning course for anyone wanting to communicate more effectively and connect emotionally with buyers.
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Topics: challenger sale, sales, soft skills, rapport, empathy

Learning to Listen - the most Important Sales Skill - (video)

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Jun 21, 2012

How important is listening as a skill for sales and support people? I would rate it as the #1 skill and an essential development area for salespeople to achieve their potential.

In our Selling in the Internet Age sales training courses, I ask individuals to rate their listening skills at the outset of the program. Typically salespeople rate their listening skill as above average. We then videotape a listening exercise to calibrate actual skill level. Having trained thousands of salespeople we have observed that most salespeople’s listening skills are average at the start of the program. Naturally the top performers stand out with highly developed skills, but for the core group, this is a priority area for development.

I rate my own listening skills as an area for development and I am aware of this problem as my wife reminds of it often, which is why I tuned into a recent McKinsey video excerpt of AMGEN’s CEO Kevin Sharer talking about his own epiphany when it came to listening and how he became a good listener. 
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Topics: consultative selling, soft skills, selling in the interent age

What is the Difference Between Qualifying a Sales Prospect In or Out?

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Jan 10, 2011

If you ask any group of salespeople what the difference is between qualifying a sales prospect in, or qualifying out, you are bound to get an interesting and varied set of answers. If you asked what the impact would be of each of these approaches on their bank balance, you still might get a quizzical look.

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Topics: diagnosis and qualification, soft skills

Soft Skills - Hard Currency for Sales Professionals

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Sep 28, 2009

I was explaining our sales training approach (which is based on improving communication, language and inter-personal skills and applying these skills in selling situations) to a corporate sales training professional recently, who made a comment to which I took exception.

He said, “Yes, well of course that’s soft skills training, and we are not planning on doing any of that. We offer it for our management team, but our sales training is focused on product training, overcoming objections, negotiating and closing the sale and we are currently implementing the TAS methodology and training.” The implication here is that soft skills are touchy-feely and somehow optional or nice to have, or something that sales people are born with....not the hard skills sales people to need to crunch deals and close hard. Needless to say it was a short meeting.

According to Wikipedia: Soft skills is a sociological term relating to a person's "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.
I continued to consider what the training buyer had said, because it called into question our recent experience and the sales performance improvement methodology we had developed.  I began to analyze the selling process and dissect its elements and offer the following insights.

Selling is a craft or skill that can be entered as a profession at a minimum by anyone with the ability to use a telephone. The craft of selling is innate in some individuals with highly developed interpersonal skills and intellect, - these people (about 5%-10% of the sales population) are known as naturals. For the rest of us, selling is a skill that is learned both by doing it and through training, - and with practice and coaching it can be mastered.

The B2B selling profession is underpinned by process (this resembles a science) where every move and transition in the selling cycle is captured and as such can be analyzed and optimized. Selling methodologies and CRM however will not help salespeople engage buyers, diagnose needs and qualify if capabilities are relevant, which to my mind are the highest order elements in the whole sales cycle.

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Topics: sales performance, differentiation, soft skills

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