For anyone who has been in sales for a few years, and has tasted some success, this book would come across as plain “common sense”. However, if you frequently pause for self-introspection and acknowledge application of some of the principles in your sales routine, you will spot nuggets of Gold in Jill Konrath’s Agile Selling.
That’s what I did. Some plain observations to my successful sales routines and more importantly, not so successful ones – I learnt 4 sales concepts that work.
1. Understand and acknowledge that today’s buyer has changed
There are tons of facts to support that buyer behavior has changed. Some studies show that 70% of the buyers make a decision online before they send first touch email to a vendor. They are way ahead in their research towards a buying decision.
Consequently, the role of sales person has also transitioned from previously guiding him through the “traditional sales process” of identifying need, confirming pain points and determining solution fit before hustling a closure. If the sales person is not able to usher the buyer from awareness to consideration to decision phase in timely, non-intrusive manner, doing so while offering valuable insights, he will be sure to lose his position of trust.
“You’re dealing with educated people who want conversations and collaboration, not pitches of any sort.”
– Jill Konrath
Interestingly, Jill puts the power back in the hands of sales people by saying “by turning yourself into the primary differentiator” a sales organisation can still stand out from the ” online”crowd of vendors. Sales Deals still happen very often with eye contacts, handshakes and if not, with friendly voice over phone that earned trust.
2. Sales success is all about the mind-set
Even more so today! As much uncertainty that changing buying behavior offers, a salesperson with pigheaded determination is ready to succeed. Succeeding in sales is a ‘pivotal decision’ as she puts it. It starts with a curious mindset supported by “Doggone it. I’m going to figure this out” attitude.
In my recent experimentation with prospecting, where I am finding hard to book appointments in Central European market I have seen myself transition from “acceptance of failure” to “experimenting and learning” behavior. As soon as that happens, I realize problems become challenges. The US market is flooded with traces of best prospecting methodologies, email templates, studies on prospects email consumption behavior. Most of these insights from experimentation by leaders in sales prospecting in US do not apply to German market. For example, sending an email with subject title with first name of the prospect does not deliver high number of open rates here in Germany.
For the part of my brain that rationalizes, justifies this as a problem and my failure to trigger responses to my prospecting emails. However, tapping on “always ready-to-learn and experimental” side of my brain, it poses a new challenge with many possible answers. One of which was to use email with subject title of ‘referral from <colleague name>’.
The key to sales success in todays ever changing sales world is ‘re-framing failure’ because it isn’t one-bit personal.
– Agile Selling
3. Developing personal toolkit focused on speed to deliver / agility to adapt
My connection with this concept in the book was least subjective. There are exact tactics, aligned with long term learning strategies that make the difference between “superstar” sales person and average performing one.
(i) Chunking – Sequencing – Connecting – Dumping – Practicing – Prioritizing:
This methodology is fundamental to both – learning rapidly in sales and achieving sales targets year-on-year. I will save trouble to explain this (self explanatory) section. For the more interested ones, you can read this section in detail in her book or on any popular blog posts around “life and productivity hacking”, However, I will add-on a couple of more tactical resources that will help you apply this concept.
Using Scott Dinsmore’s Live Your Legend Weekly Planning formula and Brendon Burchards’ 50 min productivity tool are a must have for high-performing sales person.
(ii) “Minimum Effective Dose” (MED) concept,
Popularized by Tim Ferris has been put to use in many fields by subjects experts to explain their rapid learning and subsequent application to success. Jill is a big fan on minimal information consumed on “need to know basis” that delivers maximum focussed sales execution. In my short experience of working with sales teams and specifically the managers, benefits of having a crisp sales playbook (using MED formula) has become crystal clear. I will be covering these topics in greater detail but in the meantime, I highly recommend developing personalised playbook (and in this case using Cheatsheets available on jillkonrath.com). I recommend –
Sales Playbooks Gamechanger Insight → Create a list of trigger events that are relevant in your industry or for your buyer persona. One of the best strategies to understand those triggers for change is interviewing your most recent customers, not the ones who have been with you for a while.
(iii) Role Playing
Many sales managers under-utilize this powerful tool in their box. Now that I look back at the start of my sales career, this one thing made the most difference in my ability to carry company message, value proposition and skills needed to close the deal. Successful sales organisations (and in my case, salesforce.com) have role-playing ingrained in their interview process, on-boarding and enablement process as well as manager-executive coaching program.
(iv) Learning & Using New Technology to salesperson advantage.
Last couple of years have been nothing short of revolutionary for sales rep and managers as far as ‘sales centric’ technologies are concerned. A sales person switches between multiple windows of inbox, CRM and other peripheral sales aids, very often getting lost in ‘trivial’ admin work than true sales activities that help him close. Traditional CRMs, including Salesforce.com until recently were viewed as manager-driven tools. Newage companies like Yesware, SalesLoft, Found.ly, Signals by Hubspot are changing that. Sales reps can actually use insights to act and deliver results.
I focus a lot of my time on helping customers choose the right sales technologies that make their reps super productive.
4. Put the intent in motion by hard-practice and habits.
This section of the book validated some of my habits that drive success on one side, and on the other, created desire to improve and excel on the areas that I lacked. So definitely the best part of the book for me!
First, Power packing the day to success is one of the strongest fundamentals of sales rep productivity. I’ve been Chunking and Prioritizing my day using the Live Your Legend – Weekly Planning worksheet and Brendon Burchard’s daily productivity cheatsheet for a while and it works much better than “top of the mind plan”.
Second strategy thats worked really well for me is avoiding information overload by Disconnecting and Eliminating Distractions. Using distraction free writing tools like Evernote, Saying more NOs to meetings and creating parking lots for my wishlists has helped. As a sales rep, my second most favorite communication tool – Email has been limited to infrequent checks (four times a day) and that helps deliver better results.
Optimizing your attitude: Leveraging Daniel Pink’s quote, Jill explains how Optimism can be learned or controlled, essentially if you’re feeling down. I’ve used Anthony Robbins “Hour of Power” formula to drive this attitude through visualization on best outcomes for my sales meetings. Quite interestingly, Jill’s Epic-fail visualization technique can be used to build onto another ‘trait’ commonly found in great quota-achievers i.e. the paranoia.
Prior to that critical sales meeting where you are hoping to close that ‘blue whale’ of a deal, on one side you would visualize the optimistic outcome, and on the other you could imagine everything that could possibly go wrong. The Epic-Fail would give you plethora of reasons why you would fail. And as these reasons glare in your face, use the Meeting Plan guide by Jill to create a foolproof tactical sales meeting plan.
Finally, there are two habits which I have under-utilized. So these are not really habits but ‘knowledge’ that needs to be internalized and used to my advantage in my sales game. Interestingly, the first one is Gamification – using its principles to drive incentives, “pain or pleasure” in re-enforcing appropriate behaviors for sales success. While gamification is becoming a popular concept for managing sales teams as well as customer behavior, it could still be applied on a personal level by each individual sales rep. And the second one is an empowering concept – to “Borrow a brain”. Imagine what would your favorite superhero hero do, when he/she was trapped. What would he think, how would he act, what resources would he summon? Similarly, what would your sales model who you look upto do in a ‘thrilling’ sales meeting? or daily, to manage is never ending lists of sales activities?
Perhaps “borrowing the brain” of your superstar sales colleague would help.
Challenging the Status Quo – I must say that i’ve experienced this concept way too many times but not ‘conciously’ enough to recognize and face it. Agile Selling puts a new perspective on one of the top reasons for losing a deal i.e. Customer chooses to maintain Status Quo over choosing to move with the proposed solution. The book’s chapter on “Embracing the Status Quo” and Jill’s insightful video gives lot of perspective on embracing the status quo, searching for its weakness, shortcomings and gaps and leverage those insights to assist your customer to make that leap of faith (notice how it is an assist and not a push 😉 )
I hope some of these concepts you would find useful in your sales development too. I’d be happy to hear your learnings from her book in comments below.