Conversation Skill

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2 [Video]

Video Transcript  >>>>

Mike Adams, back with part 2 of sales conversation mind games.

In Part 1, I talked about how a sales person with a bright shining sales idea can use questions, teaching, metaphors and stories to prove the value of that idea to a prospective customer.

Most vendor organisations (and I've worked in quite a few) put tremendous focus  on the bright shining idea – they stockpile them, count them, forecast them, track them on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis .... They make PowerPoint presentations, write blog posts about them …all this effort directed at the bright shining idea.

Unfortunately, your customer can tell that you are 


 mainly only your idea and not on them – it’s a difficult thing to hide.

But what if you were able to meet  - with no sales agenda? With an empty, Zen mind?

That's something good business development people can do. I define business development as creating and proving a new sales process and you just cannot do that while 


 on your products and services - the green square.

It’s interesting, that often non-technical people and outsiders from your business can succeed in business development where insiders fail.

That's because they don’t know about and are not wedded to the green square – they take a curious, imaginative and open attitude in their customer conversations.

A conversation, 


 on the customer’s outcome, is simply not possible with an overt sales agenda. 

But an open agenda, a blank mind, allows the business developer to learn about the customer’s goals, challenges and plans (draws yellow shapes) and importantly to see the white space – the shape of areas that the customer does not appreciate about his business and your area of expertise.

When you have understood and built this mental picture you are in a position to facilitate meetings between your own organisation, the customer 

and relevant third parties to develop solutions that can radically affect your customer’s business.

If you have been in sales for a while, I challenge you to have an agenda-free conversation 


 only on the customer’s outcome and see how that feels and what results.

So in part 1 we looked at the mind of the sales person using effective persuasion techniques such as questions, stories, metaphors and teaching. Now in part 2 we see the mind of the business developer. Both mindsets are critical to growing your business.

I'm Mike Adams. Please post a comment and join our story selling group. You can see the link below.

Thank you

Mike's other posts

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

The art of persuasion. Mindjacking with metaphors.

The art of persuasion. Mindjacking with metaphors.

Change is at the heart of sales. Our best prospects are companies that need to change, whether to grow, be more efficient or to avoid trouble. When a company needs to change then the minds of the people involved in the change program also need to change. As sales people we want to influence that mind shift to the mutual benefit of the customer and our company.

We use questions to understand the mind of the customer but at some point it will be necessary to change or expand the customer’s view and that requires teaching or rhetoric, or both. This post is about a specific persuasion device, the metaphor.

For guidance on persuasion we should look to the masters; politicians, film makers, authors, comedians, artists and advertisers. Through stories, images and evocative language, master persuaders hijack our attention, taking our minds hostage with a metaphoric knife to the neck reshaping our thoughts to suit their purpose.

Here are some examples you may know

“I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC”, Apple Ad

“Ideas that stick”, 3M Post-it notes Ad

“Let’s say the foot is your company and the banana skin is a change in interest rates”, Continental Bank Ad

A hospital bed is a parked taxi, with the meter running”, Groucho Marx

As sales and marketing people we may not be in the same league as these masters, but we can learn from them. Here is a favourite business example from my experience.

Many years ago when I was selling software systems to the oil and gas industry, we marketed two database systems; a geoscientist's project database for interpretation work and a master database for raw data and final interpretation data.  Unfortunately, the two databases were somewhat incompatible, had different user interfaces and our main competitor sold a single database that served as both a master and project.

Our customers could not understand why we didn't have just one database and we were constantly defending two database architecture. Even internally it was a contentious issue.

Then one day, our marketing manager put up the image below and the debate and arguments stopped.  

I believe this image was a competitive turning point. Its simple image metaphor eloquently explains why two databases made sense and how they could have similar characteristics but different functionalities and purposes.

The beauty of this metaphor is its transportability. Imagine, that after seeing it, your customer contact attends an internal meeting and the discussion turns to your master/project databases. Your contact introduces the metaphor and the mid-air refuelling image effortlessly and magically does its work on the buying committee.

Marshall Thurber calls metaphors “stories on steroids” because compelling metaphors can have near miraculous persuasive power.

But how are compelling metaphors created? And what is a good topic for metaphors? The first step is to notice and appreciate their power in everyday conversation and discourse. James Geary in his Tedx (  talk on metaphors claims that we average six metaphors per minute in normal conversation. Have you noticed?

As you start to notice, you will observe that many are overused clichés (which should be avoided like the plague ;-)). You will also note that metaphors which persuade tend to have an element of surprise. George Orwell (1946) said “never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”.

Think about what your customer does not appreciate about his business that your products or services would solve and see if you can come up with an image which can expand your customer’s point of view. You can use images and ideas from nature, popular culture, business, science fiction, historical stories and fairy tales. It doesn't matter, as long as the chosen metaphor will resonate with your target. Brainstorming metaphors works well in a multi-disciplinary workshop with sales, service and marketing.

Happy mindjacking!

As a side note, my father, no fan of business clichés, once stopped a management consultant in his tracks (sorry) with;

“but if we drop the ball, and it’s a level playing field, the ball will be where we dropped it and we can just pick it up”.

Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

Danger Minefield

How do you find and recruit a good B2B sales person?

A simple question, without a simple answer.

It’s also a question of high consequence because a poor sales hiring decision can be extremely expensive. Even an excellent sales recruit will take sales cycle time plus 90 days to become effective, assuming that your on-boarding process, training and sales readiness kits are in order.

A poor hire can be a threat to your company’s reputation.

There is another factor at play: your chances of finding a good candidate are not good. Over the last few months, we have been surveying buyers and procurement specialists from tier-one and tier-two telecommunications and resources companies about their experiences with salespeople.

The feedback has been uniformly and disappointingly negative. For example, to the question "

Out of ten salespeople that you meet, how many provide value to you and your business?" We received answers between none and two.

To the question "

…of those ten sales people, how many, in your opinion, created a negative impression and damaged the brand of the companies they represented?” The answers were between two and four. 

Is there a good test for sales people?

A normal sales recruitment process at the companies I've worked with goes something like this: a recruitment company is given a brief and presents a couple of ‘qualified’ candidates for consideration. The recruitment company will have employed a testing process often with a secret sauce recipe such as a favourite psychometric test. Short-listed candidates then face a series of company interviews with the various department managers for ‘culture’ fit assessment. Whichever candidate interviews best, gets the job - after the candidate's proposed references are checked. 

This process puts heavy reliance on information sourced from the candidate (cv, references, psychometric tests results) and the recruiter - a person who may not be an expert in your business (or sales). Furthermore, and importantly, there seldom is a perfect candidate for any role; almost every new hire needs development and training in some aspect of the role, and the process just described does not uncover what those development needs might be.

Testing Sales People – it can be done

At our company, we use three objective tests for salespeople that cannot be gamed or side-lined by fast talking. These tests take a bit of extra effort but are extremely illuminating. 

Test 1.

Sales Conversation Skill

.The fundamental sales skill is mastery of the customer conversation and the best way to test that skill, short of observing  actual customer meetings, is to perform and video record a sales  role play simulation.

The video should be analysed in comparison to a conversation model to see whether the sales person is able to establish credibility, probe for the customer’s ambitions and issues, evaluate the business and personal impact of those ambitions and issues and close to a sensible next step.

This is one of the very few ways of measuring real sales skill; it doesn't take more than an 30 minutes per candidate and almost no company does it. The result is a highly predictive of actual sales skill and a poor result is a red flag because there is no guarantee that you can train for conversation soft skills.

Test 2 - Written Proposal

It is also necessary to test a candidate's written skills. Take the same scenario from the sales role play and ask the candidate, under supervision and without electronic aids, to write a one-page sales proposal. This test will show his or her writing skills and whether or not he or she has been trained in proposal writing.

Test 3 - Knowledge Test.

Finally, you should employ a formal knowledge test. Conduct a survey of your best sales people and determine what industry and generic product and service knowledge is required for the role. Prepare a written test that all candidates perform under your supervision.

The result of this test is a good indication of how quickly candidates will adapt to your sales situations and any gaps they may have in their knowledge. A poor result in this test can be overcome with industry and company induction training but be sure that you retest before putting a new hire in front of customers on their own.

Finally, to reference checks: it is fine to ask a candidate for customer and employer referees but you are making an important decision - and you should be looking for independent referees. It is well worth searching your own and other staff member’s contacts and social media databases to see who knows the candidate. Most business people are happy to take a short reference check phone call. Your conversation should focus on the candidates’ integrity, reliability, coach-ability and work ethic.

Hiring a B2B sales person is a risky proposition but you can reduce that risk and home in on a suitable candidate with a thoughtful selection methodology that favours objective tests.


Footnote on psychometric tests

A company I worked for had accumulated several years of psychometric test results covering the majority of their sales force and I thought it would be interesting to see if any aspect of those tests correlated with sales performance. I noted the wide range of psychometric test scores in our sales team and the similarly wide range in sales performance, but unfortunately (for the test) there was no correlation between any psychometric test parameter and sales performance, the correlation factors were close to zero.

It’s not a surprising result. Psychometric tests present information mined from the candidate and rank low in prediction value. If you are considering the use of a psychometric test then ask for evidence of test validation for salespeople from a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Image courtesy

Is the Sales Pitch Dead?

Is the Sales Pitch Dead?

Is the sales pitch dead? How to sell complex services?

When should you pitch your products and services?  A good answer is “only when and if the customer asks, or never”.  However, if you only pitch when the customer asks it won’t seem like pitching ….so, “never" is the right answer.

How can you sell without pitching? Let’s first define what we mean by “pitching”. You’re pitching if you extoll the virtues of your product and services with the intention of convincing a customer to buy. If you assume (or hope) that your audience wants or needs your products and services - you’re pitching!

We experience pitching every day; on TV, watching YouTube, browsing the web and I think I can safely say that most of us are highly irritated by it. So why irritate your customer?

You’re not pitching when, while introducing your company, for example,  you passionately describe your products and services and what they do for other customers - that is quite ok. Most people like to interact with people that are passionate about their business.

If you learn to consult instead of pitch you’ll find that customers will trust you and become curious about how you might be able to help them. Unfortunately, many salespeople (especially part-time salespeople such as managers and technical people) have learnt their sales technique from movies and TV programs and they automatically pitch.

How can you learn to consult instead of pitching? I recommend looking for a  training program that teaches consultative questioning techniques and offers plenty of opportunity to practise. Like any new skill, it takes time and practice - but your customers will thank you by giving you more business. 

If you like to read you, I recommend “The Secrets of Question-based Selling” by Tom Freese, for more on the concept.

Happy consulting!.