The India Journal of Mercuri International Jan – Mar 2021
What hasn’t changed in Sales … and won’t, ever
Basics of Selling Are like the Law of Gravity
Humour, Seriously : Why Humour Is a Superpower At Work And In Life
Sales Keeps Donning New Colours, But the Pupa Is the Same
What hasn’t changed in Sales … and won’t, ever
In times of unprecedented change like we are in, it is human to feel awed, overwhelmed, even threatened by the change that we experience. This issue of Mercuri Mail is dedicated to all in our Sales Community, who feel that way. Bentinho Massaro, the teacher and author, said “You are right to fear change, if you don’t know the changeless”. So, here we are, into a journey to revisit some changeless basics of Selling. Let’s go!
Basics of Selling Are like the Law of Gravity
*Photo credit: Bithin Raj Unsplash
Terrains can change. The weather can change. The earth can shake and quake. To find one’s way through this chaos means to follow a compass. That needle always pointing true north, is as changeless as the law of gravity. What is it about sales, that has remained changeless? Well, the basics. Take two here for example. Selling is about (a) managing your sales effort (b) being of value to the Customer. Sales literature highlights these basics since 1800s! Changeless!
(a) Managing your Sales Effort:
What’s the one race, where you are celebrated for being at the bottom? If that sounds like a trick question, here’s another clue. Name the utensil that is usually a hollow cone with a tube extending from the smaller end and that is designed to catch and direct a downward flow
Ok, if you’ve been in sales for even a short while, funnel would be a familiar word for you. An astonishingly simple concept, the sales funnel represents a Customer’s purchase journey starting with Awareness of a product or solution, turning into Interest that becomes Desire which triggers Action to buy.
The Story of Sales Funnel
Did you know that, like many other sales basics, ‘The Sales Funnel’ has been in service for – here is a surprise – over a century?
A blog by Julia McCoy on the Content Management Institute’s website traces the history of the funnel like this – “the AIDA model – awareness, interest, desire, action – (was) developed by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. As early as 1904, the model was illustrated as a chart, with each stage influencing and leading to the next stage” The 1904 January-June issue of Salesmanship: A Magazine, had a picture depicting it (See illustration)
The idea of a “funnel” was introduced around 1924 when William Townsend wrote about it in his book, Bond Salesmanship. Townsend wrote: “The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact….”
How the Sales Funnel is Still Relevant
Almost a hundred years later, is the Sales Funnel still relevant? We find an answer to that question in this quote from Mike Weinberg’s book New Sales Simplified:
“Every business and every salesperson should have a handle on some type of sales math as it relates to the progression of a potential sale through the stages of the process. Over time, when engaged in enough sales activity …. we should know, on average, how much activity at the beginning of sales process it takes to produce a closed sale … Obviously, the math is different for every business, and it’s easy for cynics to poke holes …But the point remains. We need to put a certain amount of new business activity into the top of the sales funnel to generate the amount of closed new business we need coming out the bottom … It is tremendously helpful to know how much activity you need to generate in order to hit your sales goal. Generally, we cannot control the result, but we certainly can control the volume of activity”
So, stay focused on measuring and managing your sales efforts. Changeless!
(b) Being of value to the Customer – Become the Trusted Advisor
Earning the trust of the Customer by being a credible source of relevant and valuable information is a surprisingly old principle that’s been tried and found successful. Consider the story of Furrow, US tractor maker John Deere’s popular magazine.
Garrett Moon’s book 10X Marketing Formula tells Furrow’s enchanting story:
In the late 1800s a tractor company pioneered a marketing strategy that would catch fire a century later. John Deere started a magazine called The Furrow. It was squarely aimed at their target audience: farmers.
The publication was filled with pages of high-quality content that helped farmers solve their unique set of business problems.
In fact, the magazine persists to this day and is focused on the same audience. The first issue was hot off the press in 1895. And by 1912, they had grown to a readership of over four million.
…. It’s become an incredible asset for John Deere over the course of a century. Today, 45 percent of its readers read every word of every issue. Almost half go to the website to learn more about their product lines.
One-third of readers buy John Deere as a result of learning about new products and services in the magazine. And 90 percent of its readers say The Furrow is their sole source of industry information …
Add unique, expert value to your Customers in every sales encounter. Do it with a cadence and regularity. A simple but demanding formula of sales success that’s worked for companies and salespeople for more than 100 years. Changeless!
So, what’s our takeaway?
Going back in history, we discover that the unforgiving logic of sales math explained through the funnel remains the same. Also unchanged is the magic of making yourself a trusted advisor to your Customers by adding value with regularity. When you are armed with the changeless basics, the pandemic is just one more change in terrain that you navigate with poise and skill. Like the Law of Gravity, selling basics continue to work! It is up to us to stay tuned!
Sales Keeps Donning New Colours, But the Pupa Is the Same
*Photo credit: Suzanne D Williams Unsplash
How to sell in a world that never stops changing?
A freshly minted 2021, post pandemic book from Harvard Business Review Press by Frank Cespedes (Sales Management That Works) explores answers to this rhetorical question.
The Focus feature of this Mercuri Mail are on 2 themes discussed in the book, which prove that, the more sales seems to change, the more it remains the same.
1. ‘Everyone Sells’ needs to be lived – Says Cespedes “In many firms, sales is still treated as a mysterious black box – essential for meeting quarterly targets, but hermetically sealed off from other functions as a tactical tool that’s rarely part of strategy formulation”
What could be the possible reasons? The book makes a fascinating point. It shines a light on how the number of executives reporting to the CEO on average has doubled in large companies in the 4 decades starting from the 1980s. While the number of “general” managers and COOs has come down, the specialist-manager population has gone up significantly.
Business becoming more conplex, extensive availability of data and the use of data for actionable insights, the arrival of AI, have all created a need for more managers responsible for specific activities. Examples include – CIO, CMO, CTO, Head Legal & Regulatory Affairs, Head of AI and Data Analytics. “Running IT, marketing or the supply chain is a full time job” Cespdes points out. It demands focus to stay on top of best practices, and it’s harder to span such functional domains.
So, today’s C Suite, by historical necessity has many executives without long enough exposure to Customer facing or profit and loss responsibilities. As a result, there is an increasing need for other functions to understand what makes sales tick and how they can help Sales serve Customers better or differently. Equally, Sales should be able to articulate its requirements to other functions to find ways to keep adding Customer value.
Sales Insight – “Everyone sells” was a credo that many organisations tried to promote in the past. Today, more than ever, the sales oreintation of other functions has to scale up. Permeating a Customer focused mindset across orgnanisations is a strongly felt need. Trainings for orientiation and basic selling skills can make ‘Sales for all and all for Sales’ a reality.
2. Sales has to develop ‘organisational ambidexterity’ – Cespedes explains organisational ambidexterity as an ability to manage today’s business activities while adapting to changing demands by putting in place processes that move beyond the status quo products and performance. The pressure to “make the numbers” has to be balanced with the equally and sometimes stronger push for “making it new”, by creating fresh revenue sources through new products, channels, applications, markets or segments. All of this has to happen when the buyer universe is constantly changing. Today’s hybrid omnichannel B2B markets calling for a whole new set of sales skills like virtual selling and higher digital literacy, is a case in point.
Sales Insight – The situation is almost akin to fuelling an aircraft while it is still in flight. This is one more characteristic of Sales that hasn’t changed. Sales being an activity that is always engaged with a dynamic external world, the need for renewal is constant, towards managing today’s results while creating the resources for tomorrow.
Humour, Seriously: Why Humour Is a Superpower At Work And In Life by Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas
It takes two high profile Stanford faculty to confirm what we always suspected - Humorous people are more successful at work. And in sales. This is something that hasn’t changed since people started transacting with each other. Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas got serious enough about humour to not only write a best-selling book but teach courses on the subject with hundreds of Stanford MBAs and executives.
Should this book interest serious minded, Customer obsessed, deal driven and quota consumed sales professionals? Of course, it must, because, all other things being equal, a salesperson with a funny bone and sunny disposition will always score over a grump, however knowledgeable and professional. If people buy from people, wouldn’t they want to engage
with someone who brings a smile to their faces? Which is why, old sales wisdom paraphrases Marilyn Monroe “If you can make a Customer laugh, you can sell anything to her”
Aaker and Bagdonas start off by busting four deadly humour myths:
Myth 1. Humour has no place amid serious work (Studies reveal that there is a 98 percent preference for employees with a sense of humour, the presence of humour in team interactions predicted more functional communication and higher team performance and humour earns status and respect from followers and peers)
Myth 2. Your attempts at humour are doomed to failure (So long as your humour is appropriate and generates laugher, smile or approval, there’s no such thing as failed humour. And you will not end up offending anyone if you exercise sufficient sensitivity)
Myth 3. To use humour in workplace you have to be “funny” (“To signal you have a sense of humour, all you need to do is something as simple as laughing at others’ jokes, or jumping on opportunities to lighten the mood. Even a friendly smile can work wonders”)
Myth 4. Humour is an innate ability, not a skill you can learn (Humour is not some binary feature on our genetic code. It’s a skill we can strengthen through training and use)
The recurring, central theme of the book is that levity (humour) and gravity (seriousness at work) are not at odds. Humour, in fact, helps serious work thrive.
The book covers a vast expanse of humour territory, including –
| Common myths about humour at work |Individual styles of humour |Behavioral research insights on how humour increases perceptions of status, quickens path to meaningful connection, unlocks creativity and innovation and boosts resilience |Tips on how to train ourselves to look at the world through a funny lens | Techniques drawn from professional comedians to craft appropriate humour | Simple strategies to use humour in real life situations |Harnessing humour as a leadership strategy | Ways to create a culture of levity | Why humour fails and what recovery strategies to use in case it happens | Why humour is a secret weapon in life
Below are 2 frameworks, adapted from the book that can be used in sales interactions:
1. Correctness Barometer
When deciding to employ humour, the above matrix can work as a correctness barometer. Mentally run a self-check as to where the joke or remark you intend to share is likely to fit in
i. Low on appropriateness/Elicits only a little/no laughter – Doesn’t create a positive impact. It may invite contempt
ii. Low on appropriateness/High on laughter – Lines being crossed. Laughter produced is at the expense of your reputation. Parties at whose expense the joke or remark is made will regard it as villainous behaviour
iii. High on appropriateness/Low on laughter – The attempt at humour may not be a smash hit. But you are seen as a person with a sense of humour
iv. High on appropriateness/High on laughter – It’s jackpot. You should try more of this brand of humour.
2. What’s Your Humour Style?
Not everyone is humorous in the same way, say the authors. Each of us have our individual styles around what we joke about (content) and how we deliver (the way we do it). The 4 humour styles identified by the authors are:
- 1. The Stand -up (Aggressive/Expressive)
Stand-ups are aggressive in picking their content, which means they “aren’t afraid of ruffling a few feathers to get a laugh”. They deliver their jokes or remarks expressively. They are generally good sports and don’t mind jokes at their expense just as they poke fun around others.
- 2. The Sweetheart Affiliative/Subtle)
“Sweethearts are earnest and honest, and they often fly under the radar.” Because of their affiliative nature towards other human beings, they choose content that doesn’t risk hurting feelings. Sweethearts tend to be sensitive and may not enjoy being the butt of jokes. So, they deliver their funny cracks in a subtle way without treading on anyone’s toes.
- 3. The Magnet (Affiliative/Expressive) Aaker and Bagdonas describe Magnets like this -.
“Magnets have an ability to boost people’s moods with unwavering good cheer. They keep things positive, warm and uplifting, avoiding controversial or upsetting humour while radiating charisma” By nature they are affiliative and like to carry people along with them, even when they are using humour. But they are expressive in their delivery, animated and often even slapstick. This makes their brand of humour irresistible.
- 4. The Sniper (Aggressive/Subtle)
Like Stand-ups, Snipers don’t mind picking content with aggression. As the authors put it “Snipers are edgy, sarcastic and nuanced, unafraid to cross lines in pursuit of a laugh.” But since their relational style with others tends to be distant and aloof, they prefer to deliver their humour with subtlety, even if it’s not understood sometimes
Where would you fit in? In a sales conversation context, the most suitable style appears to be that of a Magnet. That is the quintessence of being joyful humorous without being flippant. But it takes practice to get there. As the authors sum it up “A sense of humour is like a muscle – it atrophies without regular use”
“By understanding the science, mechanics, and applications of humour (in our brains, in our businesses, and in our lives), we can shift the way we look at the world – and the way it looks back at us”
Author Bio: Dr Jennifer Aaker is a behavioral psychologist, author, and the General Atlantic Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Naomi Bagdonas is a Stanford lecturer, a strategy and media consultant and a professionally trained comedian.
Timeless Sales Person
*Photo credit: Debby Hudson - Unsplash
- To be of value
- To establish trust and credibility
- To understand and be understood
- To be a reliable partner
- To learn from failure
- To adapt, renew and ride the waves
- The path ahead is uncertain
- Technology governs change
- Get Going..
- A fresh toolbox, earnest effort and ageless principles
- The new is made up of the old
- The Customer will only buy from someone he likes and trusts
- That’s the truth, has always been
- Are you listening Dear Timeless Sales Person?
1. "To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science." - Albert Einstein
2. “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer
3. “A good coach will make his players see what they can become rather than what they are.” – Ara Parseghian
4. “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." - Albert von Szent-Gyorg
5. “It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” ¯ George Eliot
6. “If plan A doesn't work, the alphabet has 25 more letters - 204 if you're in Japan.” ¯ Claire Cook, Seven Year Switch
7. “Resilience is the capacity of a system, enterprise or person, to maintain its core purpose and integrity, in the face of dramatically changed circumstances”. - Andrew Zolli
8. “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else”. - Henry Ward Beecher
9. “Real competitive advantage is your people using their ingenuity to save your customers time or money, solve a problem, or make them feel good.” - Anne C. Graham
10. “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out” – Robert Collier
Most successful sales conversations don't end by closing the sale
Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema Unsplash
In a post Covid world, relationships seem to be getting impersonal and majority sales meetings are virtual almost by default. But sales will continue to be driven by relationships you forge by continuously adding value to Customers with no expectation except the joy in being of value.
For proof, consider this 12-year-old blog post by Tom Peters that advocates checking if your relationship has deepened after every sales conversation. Closure will take care of itself!
“This may not be true for you if you're a timeshare salesman, a clerk in a retail store, or an airline reservations agent. But for most everyone else it is true.
You are an independent graphic designer and you meet someone at a party ... the sales conversation is successful if the future customer enthusiastically remembers the conversation, and goes to your website to check it out when he returns home after the party.
• You sell large software projects and you have finally been invited to meet the CEO of a company you are trying to sell ... the sales conversation is successful if the CEO tells his team he really likes you and your offerings, and tells them to move forward with you.
You are a CPA, and you have breakfast with a long-term client ... the sales conversation is successful if the client shares his fears about his own business, and gives you the name of a friend desperately in need of your services.
The common thread in each of these examples is that your relationship with the customer was better at the end of the sales conversation than it was at the beginning. Successful selling is usually not about going for the close. It's about advancing your relationship.
Try it today ... don't go for the close!”
Mercuri Mail is a thoughtful compilation of meaningful articles drawn from Mercuri India archives, and from timeless management literature. Edited by Jaishankar Balasubramaniam & Sridhar Srinivasan of Mercuri Goldmann (India) Pvt. Ltd. This publication is for private circulation only.
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