• Are you tuned-in?

    Don’t we have some great radio? I often think how fortunate we are here in the UK –  it’s one of the things the BBC does fantastically well, commercial radio would never produce some of the stuff we get.

    On Wednesday evening this week I was driving and absentmindedly tuned in to Radio 4, the subject was the Glasgow Art scene  and the lady being interviewed was very fond of the word ‘conversations’. Art in her world was a conversation. Odd, I initially thought, not a word I would have used.

    Hang on a minute

    Now bear with me here – Mulling this over for a few seconds I converted conversation to communication and the fact that what I’d just heard was her attempt at communicating to others this particular concept. The concept was that ‘Art’ was a conversation –  a means of communicating a view on a particular subject – but one that illustrates the problem of communication – it’s actually fraught with risk –  what the sender is trying to say (en-coding) will not be received in the same way by the receiver (de-coding)

    Conversations are the iterative process that qualifies, refines and restates to improve the quality of the communication.   At least that’s what I took away and that may have been nothing to do with what she was trying to say. That’s the beauty of thought provoking radio!

    What do you hear?

    Communication is at the heart of the modern world.  It’s becoming rapidly more complex – email, social media are adding to the mix, yet communicating well is not a skill we generally spend much time learning about.

    Her comments had set me thinking about just how many opportunities we have to mis-communicate, particularly in business – what are the key elements of communication – how many opportunities are there to get it wrong? In sales it’s a minefield yet its vital to ensure we understand what our prospects are saying and that they understand us. So how can we communicate effectively with the people we do business with ?


    Well before you even speak you look and listen for clues on your prospect’s preferred communication style.  This gives you a better chance of en-coding your message in a way your prospect will be able to de-code.

    You tailor your communication with respect to that and to further understand how they are going to attempt to understand you.  Too often with salespeople, through either laziness or ego, it’s about their preference not the prospects’.

    Permission to speak

    You will also need to get permission to actually have a conversation. Your prospect is expecting a sales message  – if you don’t do what they expect they are likely to be confused.

    You are aware of the things that often prevent that happening – your prospect may short change you on time so you feel time pressure and end up short-circuiting the sales process. Or you fail to establish at the outset what your respective expectations are for their meeting or to discuss what might be acceptable outcomes.

    Subsequently the conversation becomes a game of trying to guess the others agenda- which more often than not results in both sides failing to clearly understand each other.

    Get permission to deal with those issues before they cause problems.

    Become a Conversationalist

    You continuously develop your sales conversational skills and you change the focus of your conversation. For most people their focus is to demonstrate their credibility or earn the approval of their prospect so they are not listening to understand but to impress, listening for their cue to metaphorically jump onto the stage and earn their prospects applause.

    You could say they are present physically but mentally they are not ‘tuned in’. They gloss over potential issues, fail to allow their prospect to work out their questions, often because they believe they have heard something negative and they are worried that it will jeopardise the outcome they want – a ‘Yes’.

    The failure to communicate effectively results in the seller focusing on painting the picture they want their prospect to see – a ‘Features and Benefits’ pitch. The prospect knows it’s not quite what they are looking for, so they try to spot the flaws. They avoid making decisions, they think up objections, they go into hiding.

    Instead, invite your prospect to have an open and honest conversation about the problem they are trying to solve, the money they might be willing to spend and help them work out if and how it’s something they can decide on.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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  • Who is defining your success?

    Each of us have different definitions of success, that point at which we say, enough, I’ve reached my target, or I’ve haven’t but I will redefine success to equal my attainment.

    Perhaps you are someone who uses each level of achievement to set your next target, to see how far you can go.  Adopting this mindset brings the possibility of failure, but you’re comfortable with that. Setting a personal target is one thing, setting targets for other people is almost a futile activity. If they don’t share your belief that it’s an achievable target or have the drive to work towards it then it’s likely the target will not be achieved.

    If we consider this in the context of employees, their personal definitions of success and their attitudes will have a huge effect on the outcomes they achieve and consequently the success your business achieves.

    Consider further what it is that delivers success – what are the key activities you require people to perform? How well do they do that? Why do some produce better outcomes than others?

    Levels of skill and knowledge will be a factor but what about their levels of ambition?  Is failure something they cannot contemplate?  Factors such as these can impact the most fundamental levels of their performance. For example will they look for opportunities for self-advancement in how well they perform their roles or does the scale of the task fill the time available?

    Ask yourself this question. Am I managing people who are bringing me opportunities or am I drained by people bringing me headaches? Do I constantly have to ‘motivate’ individuals, listen to excuses about why it didn’t happen and will never happen or do I see people who are continuously challenging themselves, failing and improving.  Possibly you think it’s perfectly reasonable to take four meetings with a prospect before securing business or even that it’s OK to take four meetings and then not secure business. You haven’t challenged this definition of success, therefore it is has become the norm, reflected in the performance of your employees.

    So what is your definition of success? Is it matched, or bettered by your employees? Are you taking the time to really understand them and what makes them tick? Helping them to become target setters and adopt a culture of improvement will bring a huge change to your experience as a manager and to the performance of your business.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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  • 3 questions to ask yourself when hiring

    Over the past few months, I have had a number of conversations with owners and directors which are broadly similar.

    ‘We’re becoming more confident, seeing more opportunities. I’m thinking about hiring a sales person’. OK and..?  Well, I really need somebody in position within a few months, they need to be performing straight away,  I can’t afford to get it wrong, the last one hired wasn’t that good, we tried for 6 months and then had to get rid of them’.

    So, what are you going to do differently this time?

    I don’t know – do you have any ideas?

    Yes, start 6 months ago.

    Sorry, that wasn’t very helpful, but it’s the truth. You are where you are, but with that sort of approach you are setting yourself up for another hiring failure.

    If you are thinking you might need to recruit a sales person in 2015 or even next year, the time to start is now.

    Let’s just ask ourselves a few questions, starting with the obvious.

    1. Do I really need to add another person?

    For a moment let’s draw an analogy with a machine. If you were running a factory and you kept adding machines without optimising the output from your current capacity you would become uncompetitive and ultimately go out of business. Yet people add headcount to sales teams without even questioning if they can get more out of what they have.

    Do you have the data to analyse the performance of your current sales people? Have you compared the best to the worst? Do you understand where the differences occur and have you tried to develop/coach them to adopt the best practice?

    Have you templated your prospecting/sales process and examined where efficiency gains could be made? Could adopting a systematic approach to sales drive continuous improvement across the board?

    To hijack an old phrase from the quality manual ‘Do you even know what good looks like?’

    If training and developing your current team could enable you to achieve the same or greater sales growth than adding another person – which option would you take?

    1. Should I add or replace?

    Let’s assume you have done all of the above and you have seen some improvement. Have some not demonstrated an improvement or even a willingness to try? What is the impact of retaining them in your business?

    Potentially a risk that they pull others back down and possibly they themselves feel under pressure and unhappy in the role.  Certainly it requires a conversation and an examination of the possibility of redeploying them elsewhere or finding out if they are also looking to move on and need some assistance to find a better-fit role.

    1. Am I really ready to hire someone?

    Hiring is usually one other thing that managers can barely afford to devote any time to. After all, if it doesn’t work out it’s probably only going to cost £20-30K by the time you add up all the costs of the 6 month they get to prove themselves. Not much?

    So don’t make it an event. Continuously build links with people who you would like to add to your business.  Using the understanding you have developed in 1, build a picture of the type of qualities you need in a good hire. Don’t forget, having improved the current team you will no longer be replicating ‘average’ but adding in at a higher level. Consider also strengthening your hiring process through the use of a systematic approach and tools such as behavioural profiling.

    Stop thinking that your next sales hire is still 6 months or so away. Start evaluating and improving your current sales resource and preparing the ground for your next recruit to join an already high performing team.

    If you want to talk further, contact your nearest Sandler Trainer about how we may be able to help save money on hiring and get more from your current sales resources.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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  • Are your salespeople too smart?

    Recently I called a local trade seller with an enquiry, from a sales perspective it was a car crash, but provided a great example of why it pays to be a ‘Sales Dummy’ even in the simplest of sales situations.

    I had a couple of questions about which product would suit me best. Before I’d finished asking the first question, the sales assistant decided they had heard enough and could answer the question, so they jumped in.  Second question, similar result. He contradicts me on a factual but irrelevant point and gives me an answer which again doesn’t help. I won’t go on with the rest but it didn’t get any better.

    After I’d hung up and was sadly reflecting on how many  sales rules had been trampled, the one that came to mind was ‘Dummy Up – in sales it’s smart to be a dummy on purpose.’

    What came across on the phone was an affliction that traps many sales people, particularly if they have been selling for some time. They start to see themselves as an expert who is expected to dispense knowledge and they compound this by indulging in a bit of mind reading. They hear what they want to hear, some part of them gets excited and they can’t wait to jump in and start talking.

    Why does it happen? Fundamentally it’s a behaviour that is rooted in our own individual psychology and the beliefs we have built around that.  Interestingly the same drivers are often why people have found sales an appealing career in the first place and some sales people just don’t have the humility that’s required to change this behaviour.

    How would it feel if you went to see your doctor and within a few seconds of describing your symptoms they decided they knew what the problem was and you were on your way. What actually happens is  that your questions are answered with other questions and they carefully build up a clear picture of your situation, ambiguous answers are clarified and only then will a diagnosis start to form. They use their expertise in the background and the questioning process also helps you build confidence in them and accept the diagnosis.

    It’s a great approach for salespeople to adopt. Getting your prospects talking enables them to qualify their issues and you‘ll find out information that will help you either close the sale, or disqualify them as a prospect.

    Preparation is the key – think of some typical sales situations where you find yourself talking too much. Come up with some ‘Dumb’ questions to ask that will shift the focus  back to your prospect and keep them talking.

    PS. The next call to a similar supplier was answered more professionally, they took time to understand my enquiry, asked a few questions that enabled them to discover that there was an alternative product that could help address my fundamental pain, which, even though its more expensive, will be worth the extra.  I wonder how much business the first person misses out on.

    The smartest sales people know its best to be a dummy on purpose.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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  • Have you realised you’re in Sales ?

    Take a moment and think back over the last few days. Did you find yourself putting a business related case across to your colleagues? In a negotiation with an investor or supplier? Or possibly convincing your kids to eat their meals?

    The chances are that you have been involved in some or all of these situations, so if I was to suggest that this means you’re effectively a salesperson you would probably reject the idea.

    Hold on though, could it be that you do so because your ideas about what it means to be a salesperson are constructed from assumptions and perceptions that really no longer exist? Certainly, I meet a number of people in business who say something like “Of course, I don’t really need to sell.” Perhaps their idea is that to qualify as a salesperson you need to be a slick talking, deal making individual who leaves behind a win/lose experience.

    Daniel Pink in his 2013 book ‘To Sell is Human’ puts forward the idea that in the modern world, with its abundance of information and choice, we are all in sales. However most people are stuck with outdated view of what that means.

    Being successful in sales in today’s world is built around establishing greater levels of trust and mutually beneficial ‘business partner’ relationships, requiring skills in emotional intelligence, insightful questioning, attitude development and behavioural discipline to name but a few.

    Think again, could your ideas on selling be a bit out dated? If you haven’t read Pink’s book I’d recommend you put it on your list, if you have, let us know what you thought.
    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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  • Being Smart about Attitude.

    There has been plenty written about the importance of attitude in determining the outcomes you enjoy and the direction your life will take.signpost

    We are no different in Sandler. Attitude sits firmly at the peak of the three elements of our ‘Success Triangle’ – in fact, your attitude will determine whether you will read this any further. Whether you will settle for ‘average’ or strive for excellence.

    Think of something you want to change – could be your house, your job, how much you earn – your aspirations in respect of these and what you are prepared to do about it. All come back to this thing called ‘attitude’.

    Given it’s so important, isn’t it worth spending a few minutes considering what is meant by ‘attitude’ and how you can develop your attitude in a beneficial way?

    Changing Attitudes

    To develop yourself means to be at least open to the possibility of change. This involves a degree of humility – being open to the idea that you can learn from others. If your belief is genuinely one of having no need to change, you won’t.  Of course at its worst this can come across as arrogance, the balance is to blend confidence in yourself with the humility that acknowledges you may not currently have all the answers.

    Changing your attitude is usually not a one off event but happens gradually as a result of continuously ‘challenging’ the beliefs you currently hold. It requires commitment and a reason to get out of your comfort zone.

    In a business sense it is useful to think of your attitude in terms of three key areas; you, your company and your market. You must feel good about and believe in these three.


    This is about your self-image. This has the most influence on your attitude, it determines how you respond to situations.  People with a low self-image tend to blame external factors for set-backs. A strong self-image means that people take responsibility for situations and look to themselves for solutions. They also recognise that life has bumps on the road. Its not the bumps that determine your life but how you choose to handle them.

    Think of development in this area being like investing in ‘You Ltd’. Below are some key areas where you can focus on improvement. It’s worth remembering if you are not growing, then in relative terms you are going backwards.


    What are the principles you operate by? Are they serving you well? For some their principles stem from a religious base, for others it is their own intrinsic life philosophy. Whichever it is,  it’s important you are clear on these and strive to live by them.


    What you are currently doing to develop yourself mentally;  your life is a manifestation of your thoughts and you will not be served well by thoughts are negative, anxious or fearful. Consider meditation, affirmations or other techniques to help you keep control of these and not allow them to become barriers to your development.


    Are you taking care of yourself physically ? More and more research is showing how exercise & diet directly affects mental well-being. Are you paying attention to your diet and exercising?


    Outside of your concept of ‘you’, your attitude will be influenced by your feelings for your company – are you proud to be part of what they do? Do you feel you are treated fairly, and have good relationships with your colleagues, or do you feel uncomfortable when you think about going to work ?


    What beliefs do you hold about your market? On the one hand you could hold the belief that the market is limitless, on the other you could impose limitations through your beliefs. These limitations are not real, just something you have formed and decided to accept. What are your beliefs about the economy, your competition, the region you operate in? In many cases and for most companies it is their belief about these things that affect their performance. For example, a colleague has a client who runs a printing business that has doubled in size in one year and plans to do the same in the coming year. Their belief is that with so many print companies struggling, this is the time to invest in plant, process and skills. The economy for them is no different to the economy their failing competition are in, yet they are growing revenue and profitability.

    “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” – Charles Swindoll

    You hold the power over how you choose to develop your attitude.  Be aware of the emotional, victim based reactions which feed negative attitudes.  By adopting a more adult response you will see different outcomes which will support your attitude change program.

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney

    Gary McKinney runs Sandler Training in Yorkshire, based in Leeds, helping business owners regain control of sales and achieve significantly improved sales results.

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