• Reflections on becoming 50

    So on the 4th of November I am 50. Seems like a time to reflect not so much on what I have done, good or bad but what I have learned. So, if your Facebook feed is a little empty perhaps you can allow me the self-indulgence of sharing my thoughts.

    I have probably learned more in the last 5 years, perhaps even the last two than all the rest put together. Learned that is about the fundamentals of the human animal that is us all.

    So in no particular order:-

    Listening: very few people can truly listen. When I say listen, I mean to be aware of every single tiny nuanced emotion that is triggered within you when the other person speaks. To be truly aware of our biases, our assumptions, our generalisations and our ability to distort, even subtly, what the other person is saying to suit ourselves, without judgement.

    That is listening. To be truly in the moment for the other person. Take that listening to another level and being able to see and feel how that other person sees and feels, even if what they say appears ludicrous or even insane to us, it is what they think. That person has a set of beliefs and biases that they may not even be aware of. It’s their model of the world. You can recognise it but don’t have to go along with it. However, it is them. I understand this may be called compassion. This is a new thing for me!

    Communicating: more of the time human beings are probably miscommunicating. If we can’t truly listen, if we let our beliefs cause judgements then we can’t communicate effectively. At a basic level this leads to disputes or misunderstandings between partners or on a global scale, leads to wars. Waring over religion is such an example. One set of brainwashing competing with another.

    We become the people we surround ourselves with: This is both positive and negative and probably quite a subtle and medium term effect. This has been a massive lesson for me in the last two years since I joined Glasgow Triathlon Club. I have not met a group of people so supportive, open minded and encouraging. No adventure is too mad or crazy. In no time at all this becomes infectious and you start to achieve more than you even imagined possible. You then share and support newer or less developed members.

    A fellow club member is also the coach of a woman’s Gaelic Football team. He has instilled a very simple but hugely powerful ethos in that team: be positive and have fun. In no time at all they have become the Scottish Champions, The British Champions, beaten the European Champions and will now play against the very best in Ireland. They love being surrounded by such positive people.

    Our body is amazing: If you give up on your body, it gives up on you but never lose hope, with a little bit of nurturing and patience it will repay you many times over. We often are in awe of the Olympians and para-Olympians but they are biologically no different from us. They have just put some time in. We don’t have to become super athletes but we all have an inner athlete which is bursting to come out. I was belted at school at P.E. I hated it, the teachers and sport in general but in the last year have participated and even won events.

    There are 80-year-olds who complete marathons and Ironman Triathlons, who ski, cycle and run. My better half was told by her GP she would need one or perhaps two knee transplants. She took up swimming, then cycling and now running. She no longer takes pain relief for her knees or struggles with bad knees. Give our bodies a chance and it repays with much better health, better sleep and a longer and higher quality of life.

    Our minds are amazing: For sure I am only on the early stages of this journey. Understanding where our motivation comes from or goes to. How our imagination works. What brings on depression and what improves it (exercise for me).

    Facebook offers us great lessons: some of the above thoughts have been triggered by seeing the posts of so many people. We learn that our friends who seem so “normal” can have very, very different views. Scottish Independence, Brexit, Religious views, even Rangers/Celtic fans re-enforce in me every day that there is no absolute. It’s just opinions and mine is as ridiculous to some people as theirs can be to me. I was a pretty black and white guy for a long time. The world is grey and ever changing. Reality is just an illusion created by our cultural brainwashing.

    Life is a series or stages of understanding: When you are a teenager you perhaps first become aware of what “childish” means. You have passed through “childish” and hence can look back. Then as you become a student you can look back at what being a “school kid” was. Same goes for your twenties, becoming employed, a parent etc. As we go through the various stages of life, up and down, we can look back and see what we learned and perhaps have some compassion for others in that “stage”.

    What excites me is the thought that I am currently just in a stage and at some point, I will pass through to another level of self-awareness. Who knows how many stages people go though. I think many are stuck in one level or have very low self-awareness. I was stuck in a level of materialism for a long time. I now care far less for possessions and more for my health, adventures and a few close people.

    If you got this far, well done. Here’s to another 50 years of learning and growing and of course our good health!

    Alan Mackie

    Alan Mackie

    Alan has been in various sales roles for 25 years and works with businesses struggling to grow revenue and profitability to the levels they wish. Often their sales people are using excuses to hide lack of prospecting or perhaps saying everything is down to price when really it’s their ability. Often the business doesn't have a successful sales culture.

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  • Is your message getting through or lost in your words?

    So you have done your research on your big prospect, you have used LinkedIn and all other avenues to gain access to the account and, ultimately, the person you want to speak to. You have the appointment; perhaps you have even prepped your meeting.

    You could just be about to fail.

    While a fair few sales people fail because they can’t get appointments many more fail when they do have appointments.

    You see when they go in they are full of hope, full of their research, full of their company information, full of their assumptions and perhaps full of xxx.

    In my experience most salespeople fail because they don’t have a sales process and they don’t communicate well enough.

    You see communication is the response you get.

    The response you get will be influenced by several factors and this applies to both the salesperson and the prospect.

    Those factors are the filters they use (distortion, deletion, generalisation) and their beliefs and values.

    Our brain has so much information coming from our senses and our recollections and feelings that the brain has to shortcut the information to make sense of it all. Another way of looking at that is that it filters, looking for things that are important or useful or dangerous.

    The distortion filter is one we use to convert any information to suit our pre-existing views. All politicians are liars, there are no good estate agents, IT never works etc are examples of that. As is cold calling never works.

    The deletion filter is similar, we chose to delete information. When someone says they are happy with their existing supplier. What are they really saying? What is it we hear? Are they saying they are absolutely delighted with absolutely everything their current supplier does? – Unlikely. Does the sales person hear something like “no thanks we don’t want to buy from you?”

    Generalisations are used to short cut or pigeon hole. “No one ever got sacked buying from IBM”. “Your company never gives great service”. “Big IT companies overcharge”.

    So if the seller isn’t aware of his or her own filters and how they work against him or her and, is not aware of the prospect’s filters, then how can they communicate effectively?

    The seller’s job should be to spot these filters and ask great questions to get behind any statements or to test any generalisations they hear.

    Great salespeople are great communicators, but that is very different from the stereotype who could “Talk the hind leg of a donkey”.

    Great communicators get great responses by asking great insightful questions. Ones that the prospect may never have even thought to ask themselves.

    After all communication is the response you get. Great questions get great responses… ask them and you will win.

    Alan Mackie

    Alan Mackie

    Alan has been in various sales roles for 25 years and works with businesses struggling to grow revenue and profitability to the levels they wish. Often their sales people are using excuses to hide lack of prospecting or perhaps saying everything is down to price when really it’s their ability. Often the business doesn't have a successful sales culture.

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  • The number one thing sales people DON’T do

    It has probably taken me nearly all of my 25 years in selling and 5 years training sales people to really understand their number one problem.

    It applies to all of us, almost all of the time. It is both very easy to recognise but very difficult to do anything about.

    The problem is most sales people are completely oblivious to it, and when I mean sales people I mean from the MD downwards.

    Oddly, you do have people who are very good at it in your organisation; they are probably in customer services or perhaps engineers.

    Some of the best I have met are not even in the commercial realm. I have been lucky enough to train groups of nurses on selling and they get this immediately, in fact they are surprised it has to be taught.

    If you haven’t guessed already, it was a key element in the title of Richard Branson’s latest book “The Virgin Way: How to Listen, Learn, Laugh, and Lead”.

    He dedicates a series of chapters to listening.

    Sales people tend to be hired because they are very focused and driven. Nearly universally this drive comes from them wanting to do the best for themselves firstly, the company next and the customers thirdly. Although it is often all about themselves, and this is the root of the problem. You cannot listen at all effectively if there is any of “you” in the conversation.

    Many salespeople are stuck in transmit mode, telling to sell. The better ones start to ask questions, some even ask good questions. Few really listen to the answers or try to understand what is behind what has just been said and ask further questions. That is because they are trying to steer the conversation in a way that suits the sales person, so their brain is focused on the next “great” question and not on absolutely every aspect of what and how the prospect is communicating.

    The very best sales people develop a mindset that I call, curiously sceptical. Being curious is fantastic because you will keep on wanting to find out more, understand why and what is happening in the prospect’s world. Sceptical drives the mind to want to dig deeper to try to figure out why someone may be saying something, perhaps what they are not saying is even more important. In a meeting with several prospects at a time there is lots of non-verbal interaction. It takes real skill to observe and detect everything going on. Again you can’t do this if “you” are in the conversation.

    There is a lot written about non-verbal clues and body language. I am not a fan at all of the “mirror and matching” approach to bonding and rapport. When you are in rapport you can’t help “mirror and match”. Gain that rapport by deep listening.

    And a final tip – we all have a noisy head, a gibbering monkey, distracting us during meetings. It is easy to calm this annoyance. Once you have noticed you are thinking up the next question or wondering what you are having for tea or the weather forecast for the weekend, just pause and become aware of your breath. Don’t try and control it or change it. Just become aware for a couple of moments and refocus that curiously sceptical mind on your prospect.

    I was once told I was the most interesting person an Academic Lawyer had ever met (probably says more about the circles they move in than me). All I had done was truly listen with my curiously sceptical mindset.

    So the next time you are in company with anyone why not practice truly listening? You never know they might think you are the most interesting person they have ever met. Or failing that just decides to buy from you…

    Alan Mackie

    Alan Mackie

    Alan has been in various sales roles for 25 years and works with businesses struggling to grow revenue and profitability to the levels they wish. Often their sales people are using excuses to hide lack of prospecting or perhaps saying everything is down to price when really it’s their ability. Often the business doesn't have a successful sales culture.

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  • How is your final quarter looking? Bad? In control?

    We are now in the final quarter of the year. So what is going on in your head. Panic? Relief? Delight?

    How are your numbers stacking up against your goals? How are you and your team performing? On track? On target?

    So many questions. But, never the less, how many times are you asking yourself them and what sort of answer are you getting?

    As businesses enter their final quarter, really all the ground work should be in place and you start thinking about the year ahead. What do you mean the year ahead, I still have this one to close out!?

    How to avoid a bad quarter.

    1. Know your numbers.

    How many of us really know who our perfect customer is? Do we have their profile absolutely nailed down? How many of them are we prospecting? Of that number, how many conversations do we need to have to finalise the sale? Do we really know the conversion numbers? Sales is often described as a number game but the prospecting funnel suffers from garbage in and garbage out. I worked for a big company who kept piling garbage in the top and guess what… the final quarter was a mad panic as it was realised all those great deals were vapour.

    2. Set goals but not for revenue!

    We are all used to sales people being measured on revenue, profit or margin but is that really the best measure? And we know that you can’t manage anything you can’t measure. So what should we be measuring our sales activity on then? How about activity itself? How many calls, visits, networking sessions. How many first appointments? How many “on profile clients” identified and put in the funnel?

    3. Create success out of habit

    If you know your numbers and know your activity goals then you are almost there. What is needed is that this is habituated in an organisation. At least on a weekly basis. The great thing about habit is that habits are automatic, easy and self sustaining. As a sales leader creating your organisational habits are absolutely core.

    So perhaps you can start your next quarter with a clearer of picture of how to make sure it ends well and builds nicely into the next one. The right habits are what will build a consistent and predictable business. And don’t we all want that?

     

    Alan Mackie

    Alan Mackie

    Alan has been in various sales roles for 25 years and works with businesses struggling to grow revenue and profitability to the levels they wish. Often their sales people are using excuses to hide lack of prospecting or perhaps saying everything is down to price when really it’s their ability. Often the business doesn't have a successful sales culture.

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