Selling Successfully is Like Losing Weight

There is a proven formula for success. No matter what you want to achieve – including increasing B2B sales success – there is a simple process to follow. We explore this formula here as introduction to a series of future posts on the cutting-edge of human productivity and how we can optimize all the terms in the success formula in all aspects of our life, particularly, B2B sales.

The World’s Proven Success Formula

It’s time to get a bit personal here for a moment. I have a confession to make: I am a self-help junkie. I’ve spent a lot of my spare time in my adult life studying “success”. From self-help courses and seminars, to life-hacking blogs, to books on positive psychology and behavioral economics, I’ve tried to absorb everything I possibly could around one central topic: what makes people more successful than others?

Now, you ask, what have I learned from all of this? While I certainly cannot recap all of the myriad ideas presented to me across my journey, I can share a common pattern that I’ve found. There does seem to be a general formula for success. Most successful people apply this formula – even if not consciously – and most reputable coaches (life or regular), trainers, and self-help gurus pontificate on some version of this formula.

The formula for success in anything you do is simply this:

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  1. Set a Goal
  2. Make a Plan
  3. Take Action
  4. Measure and Respond

Applying the Success Formula to a Sales Call

In my non-self-help junkie day job, I get to observe and synthesize the selling motions of the best B2B sales teams in the Fortune 500. And it occurred to me that the best sales reps are applying a micro version of this success formula to every call they make. They treat each call with a customer or prospect as a project with a goal, a plan, execution, measurement, and course correction as necessary.

To illustrate, we’ll go through each step with two examples: one example will apply the step to a common personal goal – losing weight; the second example will show how the success formula is applied to a typical sales call.

  1. Set a Goal
    The point here is to get clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Be concrete. Tie a number to it if you can. The difference between “lose weight” and “lose 10 lbs” may seem subtle at this stage, but it is critical to success, as we’ll see later on. It is easy to get lost if you do aren’t absolutely clear about where you want to go.

    Setting a Goal for a Sales Call: The best – and most successful – reps here are not setting a vague goal like “sell something”. Instead they’re being specific. They’re setting goals like “Have them agree to let me send them a quote for our new mobile workstation,” or if they’ve already sent the quote, they’re setting goals like “Get them to send me a PO this afternoon for 6 mobile workstations, try to upgrade the memory to 32GB DDR3 SDRAM, and continue conversation on lease financing option.” The goal for goal setting is maximum specificity, and best sales reps do the same thing.

 

  • Make a Plan
    Figure out how to get to the goal from where you are now. What actions do you have to take? This can be a simple to do list or a complex Gantt chart of interdependencies. The point is that based on your experience, or your research, you have a recipe to get from point A to point B. And it should be clear that the better you were at describing B, the better the plan will be. A plan to achieve our goal of losing 10 lbs could be “Do this exercise routine 3 times per week and follow this diet,” while obviously detailing exactly what those exercise routines and diets will be.

    Planning a Sales Call: While every salesperson has a different style and each customer needs a different approach, the point here is to have a plan. What small-talk am I going to lead with? Why am I calling and how can I make it valuable for the customer? How am I going to overcome the obvious objections? Call planning is a standard part of sales curricula. Utilizing sales intelligence can help guide these talking points and set your call agenda.

  • Take Action
    While this is probably the easiest concept to understand, this is also where the real problems arise. Many people are great at setting goals and even coming up with a plan to achieve them but when it comes to actually taking action, they don’t even get off the couch. Other folks lose momentum half-way through or get caught up by other common pitfalls. The key here is to take action, to execute your plan, leveraging whatever tools and tricks are at your disposal. It is in this step that the rubber meets the road and we skip the drive-thru and go straight to the gym.

    Making a Sales Call: Here is where we pick up the phone and execute our call plan. The good news here, is that given how many calls sales folks have to make in order to make quota, picking up the phone is seldom a challenge. Salespeople are inherently action-oriented, Type A personalities and the best ones have no challenges taking massive action on their call sheet to achieve their desired results.

 

  • Measure and Respond
    Here is the real reason we needed to be specific about our goals in step #1: we need to evaluate our progress. How are we doing towards our goals? Are we on track or are we behind and if so, what is working and what is not working? If things aren’t working, let’s make some fast changes so we can still meet our deadlines. If we’re a week in and we’ve gain three pounds, maybe it’s time to take another look at our diet or get some outside help. As Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

    Evaluating and Adjusting Our Sales Calls: Here is another place where the best salesmakers have an advantage. Great salespeople are skilled at reading their customers and prospects, even over the phone. They can go beyond the actual words, to sense their customer’s disposition from their voice, their delays, and the subtext. They subconsciously hear when things aren’t working and course correct, trying an alternate approach until they get the sale. Beyond this “measurement and response” during the call, there is obviously the post-call measurement and review. CRM pipeline and deal reports, win/loss reports, and reviews with sales managers all provide an opportunity to evaluate and improve techniques and strategies to reach sales goals.

So the success formula really is versatile and applies as equally to sales goals as it does to personal goals like weight loss and typical business objectives like launching a new product or growing market share.

Going to the Next Level

But we shouldn’t stop here. While I’ve presented a generic success formula that can be applied to any situation, this is just the entry level. There are strategies, tips, tricks and tactics that can be applied to each stage to maximize performance and likelihood of success. Whether you prefer to get your advice from Oprah, the pages of “The Secret”, motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, scientific research from Harvard positive psychology professors Tal Ben-Shahar and Shawn Achor, cutting-edge business research from Daniel Pink, Geoff Colvin, and Tony Schwartz, or even self-promoting but undeniably effective life hackers like Timothy Ferriss, there is a lot more to learn.

In future posts I’ll share some of these additional ideas. I’ll show ways to optimize each step of the success formula using proven techniques for increasing the likelihood of success. Of course I’ll focus specifically on the world of B2B sales by showing how the top salesmakers apply these evolving success strategies to their day to cross-sell and prospect more effectively.

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