Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

“SALESMEN ARE WINNERS.” “You’re a Champion.” “Yes, you can do it!” All perfectly good slogans for a sales team but does this “rah-rah” motivation really work? No one is more scathing about motivational training that me! At least, when permanent change is to be effected within a sales team, motivational training has limited benefits. Not sure who the quote is ascribed to but “Motivation is like bathing — You have to do it every day” sums up the limited value of telling your sales people how good they are.

Nonetheless, I think there are some occasions when a bit of encouragement and motivation will work wonders and produce a change in behavior and attitude. One of my roles is to recruit new sales people into our sale team. And this, as I have mentioned before, has proved to be tricky. Finding the right people is tough; once they are on board, it is equally difficult to get them to perform. Sales take time; a couple of months or so before business can be closed. This means we cannot expect much from a new hire for the first three months.

We eagerly await our new salesperson’s first sale, usually commenting that he or she has finally been “de-virginized!” What is notable about this milestone is that with a first sale under their belt, they find it so much easier to close the second and subsequent sales. So, hopefully within six months, we have a productive addition to the sales team.

A positive attitude to selling is essential. “Yes, you can do it!” is meaningless unless this has been proven (at least once) with a sale. And our salespeople have got to follow the sage advice of Journey — “Don’t stop believing!” I have come across many sales executives in the past who have performed well and suddenly hit a dry spell. Allowing self-doubt to creep in, they begin to believe that they are at fault; that they are poor salesmen. Urging them to do better, to bring in more sales, to see more clients, etc. rarely has the desired effect.

As a young child growing up in East Africa, I used to do a lot of horse-riding. I would see chums of mine, trying to ride a horse for the very first time, struggling to maintain control of the most docile animal. Sure, I can understand why the difficult beasts might be difficult to handle, but why would a good-natured creature suddenly take on a wild or wayward personality as soon as a novice was on his back? The same thing applies with dogs; act a little scared and the next thing you know you are faced with an unnaturally aggressive animal.

Cesar Milan, the “Dog whisperer,” impresses me greatly with his command and control of dogs. He doesn’t have to wield a big stick or shout to get dogs to obey his commands. He exudes confidence in his own ability, is consistent in his delivery of rules, and, perhaps more important, never for one minute thinks a dog cannot be trained and rehabilitated. In truth, some of those hounds would be on a one-way trip to the veterinary surgeon’s office if they were mine! But that’s because I do not enjoy the same level of confidence or ability.

Encouraging a sales executive to close more sales cannot be achieved if the individual has no self-confidence. Yet the advice, “Be more self-confident,” isn’t going to work either. While the salesperson continues to believe it is his behavior, skills, and actions (or lack of them) that is leading to poor results, no improvement can be effected. I’m a firm believer in analysis to determine the root cause of unsuccessful performance. Sitting with a sales executive to determine what went wrong during an unsuccessful sales call allows the focus to shift from self-doubt and blame to “Faced with a difficult situation (acknowledging that it was the situation and not the direct action of the salesperson) what could be tried in a similar situation in the future to deliver a better result?”

To share an example from my own work place, I have young sales engineer. She is a qualified and certified civil engineer who had a disappointing first six months in the company. We sat down to discuss her progress and she immediately told me that despite wanting to work in sales, she felt she was underqualified (underqualified as a civil engineer?) and not very good at her job. She also said her lack of success had made her think about her suitability in sales and consider moving to another company where she could do technical work.  Fortunately, we prevailed on her to stay and helped her understand the significant advantages she has over the other members of the sales team. She talks the engineers’ language, has experience with the structures they build and understands the problems they face. With this simple encouragement, she has suddenly leapt forward and now brings in impressive sales results.

Motivation doesn’t change behavior nor will it offer more than temporary improvement in results. However, work with your team to so they achieve sales and this will build self-confidence.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.