Great Meetings, Redux.

The following is an edited version of what I originally posted in The Drift in 2003. Nearly a decade later, just as relevant. Here's hoping all our readers had a great 4th of July and wishing you all a summer of rejuvenation.

At birth we possess all the tools we need to be great salespeople.

We focus...we listen...we show emotion...we create empathy. Throughout much of our early lives, we use these qualities and talents to develop and foster relationships. We share. We take turns. We make things together. Then some of us go into sales and it all falls apart.

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I've been speaking to audiences recently about what I call "sales call culture." Too much sales training and literature seems based on conflict theory, treating the customer as an adversary to be vanquished or a set of objections and issues to be neutralized. The young salesperson who brings optimism and empathy to the profession soon has those qualities stripped away. In their place, he learns about "objection management" and presentation skills and how to create a really spiffy PowerPoint deck. Quickly, he becomes the very embodiment of sales call culture. The answer? A fundamental restructuring of how we think about sales training and strategy.

  • TEACH ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS. Too many sales people still don't listen to understand. Instead they're simply thinking about the next point they'll make or the next detailed follow up question they'll ask. Active listening is the cornerstone of a great meeting, but it's not something that just happens. You may be born with it, but unless it's stressed and nurtured, it soon fades away.
  • LEAD WITH NEEDS. Every customer meeting should be maniacally focused on one or two well-researched customer needs. Tight schedules and short decision-making cycles have rendered the "capabilities presentation" and the "fact-finding call" purely anachronistic: You simply won't get a second call to talk about "the really important stuff." You also won't get much time on your first call to get to the point.
  • HAVE A DISCOVERY PLAN. The most effective sales people aren't those who simply learn about their customers: They're the ones who systematically learn about customer needs. I recommend having sales people structure discovery around a specific set of potential client needs. An informed point of view about what the customer might need can be an outstanding door opener.
  • STOP TRYING TO CONTROL THE SITUATION. Every "objection" doesn't need a response and every random question doesn't need a detailed answer. Sales call culture stresses the parry and thrust of the sales process; as though coming up with the "right" answer or the "correct" response to an objection will automatically win the business. It's not about winning and losing. Often reps feel like they got the better of a customer in a sales exchange, only to lose the business to a competitor. Focus instead on strategies that keep your customer talking about problems, opportunities and concerns. This is the fertile ground where deals happen.
  • QUALIFY. THEN QUALIFY AGAIN. Woody Allen said "90% of genius is just showing up for work." I'd amend that by saying that 90% of sales genius is showing up in the right office. Sales call culture says that any meeting is a good meeting. Time being our only finite resource, I disagree. Before scheduling a meeting, ask two questions: "What do I really want and need from this meeting to move the business forward?" And "Is this person going to be able to give it to me?"

"No More Sales Calls" means no more rote sales behavior. It's an invitation to challenge your team and yourself to invest in the human relationships that underlie all great sales relationships. The result will be not only more high quality client meetings, but also more long-term business and a more satisfying sales life.