HBR: Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Are you setting learning goals? Is your company helping you identify your learning opportunities? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Susan J. Ashford, Peter Heslin, Lauren Keating:

Good Leaders Are Good Learners

Although organizations spend more than $24 billion annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned. It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience.

Still, simply being an experienced leader doesn’t elevate a person’s skills. Like most of us, leaders often go through their experiences somewhat mindlessly, accomplishing tasks but learning little about themselves and their impact.

Our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers.

Building on Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue’s mindful engagement experiential learning cycle, we found that leaders who exhibit a growth mindset diligently work through each of the following three phases of the experiential learning cycle.

First, leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of “I need to learn how to…” For some leaders, the goal might be to become more persuasive or to be more approachable. With a goal in mind, leaders can identify opportunities to make progress toward it. These could include a new project, an international assignment, a job rotation, or simply striving to approach routine encounters in a fundamentally different way.

Next, they find ways to deliberately experiment with alternative strategies. A leader interested in increasing their persuasiveness, for example, might experiment with sitting in a different place or speaking first or last in a critical meeting. Creating and capitalizing on learning opportunities can be bolstered by having a coach or peer provide feedback and act as a sounding board.

Finally, leaders who are in learning mode conduct fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation. Candidly reflecting on what went well, what did not go so well, and what might work better in future are essential though often neglected initiatives for learning from experience and discerning what to focus on learning next. Understanding these principles is important for organizations not just because it means that leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive, but also because it means that leadership skills can be systematically learned and practiced.

How can leaders enter learning mode? Leaders can construe setbacks as meaning they have not yet developed the required capabilities, rather than them being just not cut out for the task at hand. They can also avoid the trap of constantly seeking out places and tasks to highlight their strengths, as well as feedback that affirms their innate talents and self-esteem. Simply asking themselves, “Am I in learning mode right now?” can be a powerful cue to wholeheartedly focus, or refocus, on their leadership development, as well as their leadership performance, and thereby truly learn from their experiences.

How can organizations help leaders enter and remain in learning mode? Organizational leaders can help rising leaders focus more on being progressively better than they were in the past, rather than on constantly benchmarking themselves against others. They can model construing mistakes as potential learning opportunities rather than as indicators of leadership inadequacy. In hiring and promotion, organizational leaders might give priority to those most likely to grow and develop in a role. Finally, they might conduct an audit of fixed mindset cues in their organization — such as the use of psychometric testing to select the most “innately qualified” high-potential leaders; forced ranking performance appraisals; and winner-take-all reward systems — and tweak them to focus more on developing than diagnosing leadership capabilities.

The bottom line is that by supporting leaders being in learning mode, organizations can develop the capabilities that leaders need to anticipate, respond to, and continually learn from the stream of emerging challenges to organizational prosperity.

HBR: Are Sales Incentives Becoming Obsolete?

What sales incentives are you using in your lumberyard? Are your outside salespeople making an impact on their customers? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha:

Are Sales Incentives Becoming Obsolete?

To motivate, manage, and reward B2B salespeople, many companies use sales incentive plans that link large commissions or bonuses to individual results metrics, such as territory quota achievement. As digital channels continue to reduce and redefine salespeople’s role in customer buying, these traditional sales incentive plans are becoming less effective at driving sales outcomes.

The right sales incentive plan creates a double win. Salespeople win because they are rewarded for their hard work and good performance. The company wins through a better-motivated sales team that produces short-term results and is more likely to achieve company goals.

For a sales incentive plan to produce this double win, there are two necessary conditions:

  • Salespeople must have a large impact on sales results by focusing on activities that add value and directly influence customer buying decisions.
  • The company must have the ability to measure individual results by separating out each salesperson’s contribution and determining how much an individual’s actions affect the outcome.

Today’s multichannel world increasingly challenges both of these conditions.

Before the proliferation of digital information and buying channels, buyers usually relied on field salespeople’s help and expertise when purchasing. Salespeople “owned” relationships with customers, and had considerable impact on purchase decisions. This made it easy to measure individual sales results. In many cases, incentives linked to sales performance were an effective way to motivate and reward individual salespeople.

Today digital channels make buyers more informed, connected, and socially influenced. Buyers no longer view salespeople as their primary connection to companies they want to do business with. For simple product purchases such as office supplies, many buyers are self-sufficient. They get information online and purchase through websites supported by inside sales and service. Field salespeople no longer have impact on buying decisions. The first necessary condition is no longer true.

For complex solution purchases such as customized manufacturing equipment, buyers usually rely on a combination of digital channels and salespeople. The internet allows buyers to easily gather preliminary information about solution alternatives. But when solutions are complex and expensive, digital channels are usually not enough. Buyers want to collaborate with salespeople to reduce uncertainty. Often, they want input from multiple salespeople and technical specialists from the solution provider, in addition to help from digital channels. Salespeople have impact on purchase decisions. But because that impact is shared with multiple sales roles and digital channels, the company’s ability to measure impact and attribute it to a specific salesperson is limited. The second necessary condition is no longer true.

More and more selling situations today are failing to meet one or both necessary conditions for traditional sales incentives to work. Multiple influences on buying reduce individual salespeople’s impact and the ability to measure it. This blurs the connection between individual effort, results, and incentive pay in the minds of salespeople. Incentives become fuzzy and are no longer effective at rewarding and motivating individuals.

New Sales Management and Culture

Companies can no longer rely on large, individual, short-term sales incentives as a primary means of managing salespeople. Instead, they must change their sales compensation plans while emphasizing other ways to direct salespeople and shape sales culture.

Sales leaders must change compensation plans to look more like management bonus plans, designed to encourage people to work together to make the company and its customers more competitive and prosperous in the long run. Changes include:

  • Changing the metrics for determining incentive pay. Instead of short-term individual results (for example, quarterly territory sales), the metrics that determine pay should reflect annual company and team performance, along with individual effort contributing to team results (for example, going above and beyond to meet with key decision makers or to engage product specialists to help customers).
  • Shifting the pay mix more toward salary. Companies should also provide a smaller (but still reasonable) incentive opportunity for salespeople.

In addition to changing sales compensation, sales leaders and managers must take a more active role in managing salespeople. This involves changes such as:

  • Deploying new sales team structures. They must work alongside other channels (internet, inside sales) to meet customer needs.
  • Hiring salespeople with new capabilities. In addition to having solution sales skills, they should be comfortable using digital communication (email, video calls, social media) with customers, appreciate the value of analytics for enhancing the sales process, and be able to orchestrate customer buying across multiple channels.
  • Using performance management, coaching, training, and sales data and tools. Guide salespeople instead of relying on incentives as a primary means of controlling sales activity.
  • Establishing a new sales culture. It should be focused on teamwork and customer success.

Incentives are embedded in the culture of many sales forces, and changing that culture may be difficult. Yet change is necessary for companies to affect sales force behavior and drive results in today’s multichannel sales environment.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/08/are-sales-incentives-becoming-obsolete

 

HBR: Don’t Persuade Customers — Just Change Their Behavior 

“If you are a company, you might think it would be easy to sell this person a solution to their problem. However, it’s not as easy as that – there are deeply ingrained habits here that won’t just go away.” What are you doing to motivate the consumer to change their behavior?  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Art Markman:

Don’t Persuade Customers — Just Change Their Behavior 

Most businesses underestimate how hard it is to change people’s behavior.  There is an assumption built into most marketing and advertising campaigns that if a business can just get your attention, give you a crucial piece of information about their brand, tell you about new features, or associate their brand with warm and fuzzy emotions, that they will be able to convince you to buy.

On the basis of this assumption, most marketing departments focus too much on persuasion.  Each interaction with a potential customer is designed to change their beliefs and preferences.  Once the customer is convinced of the superiority of a product, they will naturally make a purchase. And once they’ve made a purchase, then that should lead to repeat purchases in the future.

This all seems quite intuitive until you stop thinking about customers as an abstract mass and start thinking about them as individuals.  In fact, start by thinking about your own behavior.  How easy is it for you to change?

Consider your own daily obsession with email and multitasking.  Chances are, you check your email several times an hour.  Every time you notice that the badge with the number of new emails has gotten larger, you click over to your browser, and suddenly you are checking your emails again.  This happens even when you would be better off focusing your efforts on an important report you are supposed to be reading or a document you should be writing.  You may recognize that multitasking is bad and that email is distracting, but that knowledge alone does not make it easy to change your behavior.

If you are a company, you might think it would be easy to sell this person a solution to their problem. However, it’s not as easy as that – there are deeply ingrained habits here that won’t just go away.

Let’s go through some of what is required to create different habits.  The point is to recognize how much work goes into changing behavior.

First, you have to optimize your goals. Many people err in behaviors like email by focusing on negative goals.  That is, they want to stop checking their email so often.  The problem with these negative goals is that you cannot develop a habit to avoid an action.  You can only learn a new habit when you actually do something.

For marketers, this means focusing on how to get consumers to interact with products rather than just thinking about them.  As an example, our local Sunday newspaper often comes in a bag with a sample product attached that encourages potential consumers to engage with products.

Second, you need a plan that includes specific days and times when you will perform a behavior.  For example, many people find that they work most effectively first thing in the morning, yet they come to work and immediately open up their email program and spend their first productive hour answering emails (many of which could have waited until later).  So, put together a plan to triage email first thing in the morning and answer the five most important emails and leave the rest until later in the day.

Now that many people have calendar apps that govern their lives, it gets easier to put things on people’s schedule to keep them engaged with a business.  For example, services from hair salons to dentists can schedule appointments and send an email that links to Outlook and Google calendars.

Third, you need to be prepared for temptation. Old behaviors lurk in the shadows waiting to return. If you have an important document to read, and you know that you will be tempted to check your email, find a conference room in the building and use that as a home base away from your computer to get your reading done.

To keep customers from falling back into the “bad habit” of stopping off at the drugstore for oops-we-ran-out-of-it products like laundry detergent or diapers, Amazon makes it easy to schedule regular shipments right to your home. You never need to stop at the drugstore again – or even to remember to check how much laundry detergent is left in the bottle.

Fourth, you need to manage your environment.  Make the desired behaviors easy and the undesired ones hard.  If you want to avoid multitasking, then remove as many of the invitations to multitask from your IT environment.  Close programs (like Skype) that have an IM window.  Only open your email program at times of the day when you are willing to check email.  Shut off push notifications on your phone when you have an important task to complete.

Marketers need to work with their designers to come up with packaging that encourages consumers to put the product into their environment. As I discuss in my book Smart Change, Procter & Gamble helped increase sales of the air refresher Febreze by redesigning a bottle that originally looked like a window cleaner bottle (and cried out to be stored in a cabinet beneath the sink) to one that was rounded and decorative (and could easily be left out on a counter in a visible spot).

Finally, you need to engage with people. Many people feel pressure to accomplish important goals alone, but there is no shame in getting help from others.  Find productive people within your organization and seek them out as mentors to help you develop new habits.

The “positive peer pressure” technique is frequently used in service companies and organizations like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous, but can be used by any business that’s trying to encourage repeat visits. For instance, a fitness center might offer a few free or discounted personal training sessions to new members to help them get in the habit of working out – and making them less likely to quit.

None of these factors works by itself.  You need to create a comprehensive plan to change your behavior.  Otherwise, the constant temptations to multitask will sap your productivity despite your best intentions.

This same set of principles applies for marketers.  No matter how motivated consumers may be to try your product or service, or how unhappy they may be with their current situation, if you do not focus on a comprehensive plan for changing their behavior, then you are unlikely to have a significant influence on them.

Your business will not succeed just by trying to change attitudes and preferences.  You will succeed by helping people to develop goals, create plans, overcome temptations, manage their environment and engage with others.  You will influence your customers only when you give them as much support as you would need to change your own behavior.

GT: 5 Things a Great Leader Would Never Do

The author talks about outsourced employees but I think you could use these for any employee. Are you doing any of these things? Below is a blog from the Growthink by Dave Lavinsky:

5 Things a Great Leader Would Never Do

Great leaders delegate. They get other people to do the work for them. They focus on vision and strategy, and getting their people to perform at their highest possible level. And when their people perform, the company executes on the strategy and achieves its vision.

While much about leadership has been written over the years, much of it has changed. Because many of the old rules and strategies, such as the “it’s my way or the highway,” strategy no longer apply. People are different today than they were even a decade ago. We have different needs and thinking, and nurturing your team to get them to perform is more complex.

In fact, when it comes to outsourced employees, leadership is even more complex. Because when you can’t look your employee in the eye, it’s hard to tell if they’re bought into your strategies and goals, and if they will perform to your standards.

What makes this so more important is that any good HR strategy nowadays includes outsourcing. Because outsourcing certain roles allows your company to achieve great progress at a significantly lower expense, and without increasing your fixed costs which decreases flexibility.

This being said, the following are five things a great leader would never do when managing their outsourced employees.

1. Rely exclusively on email. Email is generally the easiest way to communicate with outsourced employees, particularly if they live in different time zones. However, email is rarely the most effective communications method, particularly when you want to motivate people. Rather, make sure that occasionally you also use telephone calls and video calls using services such as Skype. By seeing your employee, and having them see you, you can gauge and influence their levels of engagement and excitement.

2. Give vague directions. If someone’s seen you do something several times, and then you ask them to do it, they might do a good job. But if someone’s never seen you do something, particularly when they don’t work in your office, they’ll generally fail wildly. Unless, that is, you give them precise directions. When you outsource a task, be sure to document precisely what you want done and why. This will guide the employee and set expectations for them to meet.

3. Wait to see finished work. When you outsource a project to someone, don’t wait until the end to judge their work. Rather, check in periodically. Ideally, break the work into pieces. For example, if an outsourced employee is responsible for creating a video, natural pieces or project stages might include: 1) writing the video script, 2) sketching or finding the images to be included in the video, 3) creating a video draft, 4) finalizing the video. If you wait to see the final video, you inevitably will be disappointed. Rather, check in after each stage and provide feedback. The end result will be infinitely better.

4. Fail to set deadlines. Employees, particularly outsourced employees who don’t see you, need deadlines. If not, they’ll generally take way too long to complete a task. When employees work in your office, they should have deadlines too; but, because you see these employees, if there is a deadline, you’ll simply remember to tell them. You don’t have this luxury with virtual employees, so make sure they know the deadline for each of their projects.

5. Fail to give time expectations. Even when you set a deadline, you still must set time expectations, particularly if you are paying your outsourced employee on an hourly basis. While two people can both complete a project in a week, for example, you’re clearly paying a ton more if one worked ten hours per day and the other two. So, at the beginning of each project, have the employee give you an estimate of the work hours, and have them check in periodically to let you know if their estimate is on track or not.

When you outsource properly, you can dramatically grow your company at a fraction of the cost as your competitors. But, make sure you avoid these leadership mistakes; when you do, you can effectively manage your outsourced workforce to get the most benefit from this key HR strategy.

 

BoF: The Business of Love and Passion 

Are you in the people business? Below is a blog from the Brains on Fire:

The Business of Love and Passion 

At Brains on Fire we believe with all our hearts and souls, it is possible to fall madly and passionately in love with the people you serve. And we believe that it’s possible for those folks to fall in love with you, too; and, yes, for you to become famous and grow your organization because of that love.

That’s exactly what we’ve done to grow our own business over the years. Not only have we fallen in love with our customers, we received the permission and indeed the honor to get to know and care for our customers’ customers. It’s our role as marketing matchmakers to help connect our customers with their employees and customers through shared passions.

Every business owner should be wildly romantic and passionate about your advocates; the employees and customers who help fuel your success.

What does it take to fall in love with your advocates, the customers and employees who are ready, willing and happy to fall in love with you? Start by following these Passion Principles.

  1. Love people. Never leverage people.
    We hate it when we hear companies talk about leveraging fans to tell their story. Think about it: Do you really use people you care about? Absolutely not. You listen to them. You get close to them. You see them frequently. You want to be a meaningful part of their life. You inspire them and in return, they inspire you.

If you want people to be in love with you and talk about you, you must fall in love with them first. Your clients, customers, donors, tribe, employees, advocates—what you call them doesn’t really matter—can and should become beloved heroes in your organizations.

  1. Love takes patience.
    For real and lasting relationships to take hold, you have to be in it for the long haul and not for a one-night stand (perhaps the marketing equivalent of a one-time purchase).

Loving your customers is not something you do for a limited amount of time. It’s something you do every single day. And the value of that effort grows exponentially stronger and deeper with time.

  1. Get people to talk about themselves.
    The passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

At Brains on Fire, we no longer consider ourselves to be in the marketing business. Instead, we’re in the people business. This makes sense for us because marketing nowadays is more about reframing the work you do in the world to inspire your employees and customers. The most successful word-of-mouth–driven businesses in the world have always been in the business of inspiring people.

Good stuff happens when you’re in the people business. We promise.

 

HBR: The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal

I started journaling this year. I used my own version of the Five Minutes Journal. Here are my reflection items:

  • I am grateful for…
  • What would make today great?
  • Daily affirmations. I am…
  • 3 amazing things that happened today…
  • How could I have made today better?
  • What today was most life-giving?
  • What today was most life-taking?
  • I measure my buckets (1 -10) on Connections, Vitality, and Contributions taken from the book How to Live a Good Life: A Practical Guide to a Life Well Lived.

Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dan Ciampa:

The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal

For leaders assuming the CEO title for the first time, taking time to learn and think translates into early successes. But the problem is there’s little time to do either. Information comes at them more quickly, more people than ever before demand their time, and they’re told that the myriad decisions piled in front of them are all important.

If hired from outside, there is a new culture to get used to and it’s not clear who to trust. Even when promoted from inside, the pace can be jarring compared to running a division in the same company. In both cases, any new leader must manage intense exposure (as it sinks in that top leaders have few places to escape to) and unrealistic expectations (of both self and others).

There is nothing new leaders can do to avoid these problems completely. All they can control is how they react to them. Because we tend to make mistakes when things speed up, especially when in unfamiliar territory, it can make all the difference to find ways to slow things down.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal pointed out that “All of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” He didn’t mean sitting quietly in front of a laptop responding to emails. The best thinking comes from structured reflection — and the best way to do that is keeping a personal journal.

I started keeping a journal when I took over a manufacturing research, software, and consulting firm. I was very young, we were in crisis facing a challenging market, and I wasn’t sure whom I could rely on. I kept a journal through my 12 years as chairman and CEO and have since recommended it to people moving into any senior position for the first time.

There’s strong evidence that replaying events in our brain is essential to learning. While the brain records and holds what takes place in the moment, the learning from what one has gone through — that is, determining what is important and what lessons should be learned — happens after the fact during periods of quiet reflection.

Also, when we slow things down and reflect, we can be more creative about solving seemingly inscrutable problems. Take, for example, a technique called the “second solution method” that I’ve used in the past. If a group was struggling to come up with options to solve a tough problem, we would brainstorm to identify a list of possible solutions. Before switching to prioritizing, making items specific, etc., we tried to identify all possible options. I found the best approach was to tell the group to take a break and when it reconvened to ask, “What else occurs to you?” Inevitably, this simple question resulted in about 50% more items, often of higher quality. By experimenting, I found that the break that took place between the first and second rounds was more important than the question. A journal is an effective, efficient, private way to take a similar break.

Journal entries should provide not only a record of what happened but how we reacted emotionally; writing it down brings a certain clarity that puts things in perspective. In other cases, it’s a form of mental rehearsal to prepare for particularly sensitive issues where there’s no one to talk with but yourself. Journals can also be the best way to think through big-bet decisions and test one’s logic.

While personality, style, and situation cause different approaches, some guidelines have proven useful for the best results. Notes should be made as soon as possible after an event from which one wants to learn—ideally the same day. Waiting more than 24 hours seems to sacrifice specificity about details that made the most difference and why they happened.

An entry should begin with the primary outcome — the headline that best captures the major result. Then, list the essential reason for that outcome; an always-subtle root cause made apparent by asking “why?” five times to peel back each layer, revealing what came before. (I remember reviewing my journal once and realized that several big-bet decisions turned on the right question asked at just the right point in the debates. Fortunately, my notes were in enough detail that they showed that the same subordinate asked the right question each time. I started listening to him much more closely). Third, recall the emotions that affected decision making and why they flared. Last, identify what you can learn from the whole experience and what you can do differently next time.

Many will opt to keep a journal on their computer or iPad. While that may be more efficient, the point of keeping a journal is not efficiency but to reflect and slow things down so that learning is maximized. For that purpose, handwriting may work better. The novelist Paul Theroux has said that he writes long-hand because, “The speed with which I write with a pen seems to be the speed with which my imagination finds the best… words.” He noted a 2011 Newsweek article that said, “Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing [and] it’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down on paper.”

With so many benefits of keeping a journal, why do so few leaders do it?

  • It takes time, a most precious asset. Because a journal requires reflection, it’s best done during quiet periods, which are rare for any leader.
  • Sometimes, keeping a journal requires reliving something one would just as soon forget. Even though a vital step in learning, it’s unpleasant.
  • Because many leaders prefer to rapidly move on to the next challenge, reflection is not high on their list of things they enjoy or have much experience with.
  • Like any tool, it takes time to perfect the best way to use it. The methodology offered here did not happen right way, but came after many trails and errors.

These are minor drawbacks compared to the benefits. Slowing things down leads to better-thought-through, more effective judgement and to learning what to do more of and what to change. One result, as important as anything, is an increase in the satisfaction that should come from being in charge. A personal journal should be part of any leader’s toolkit.

HBR: 6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale

What selling styles do you think home builders/contractors buyers prefer? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Steve W. Martin:

6 Reasons Salespeople Win or Lose a Sale

Why does a salesperson lose a sale?

It’s a question I’ve studied for years, as part of the win-loss analysis research I conduct.

There’s a tendency to assume that the salesperson lost because their product was inferior in some way. However, in the majority of interviews buyers rank all the feature sets of the competing products as being roughly equal. This suggests that other factors separate the winner from the losers.

In order to identify these hidden decision-making factors, more than 230 buyers completed a 76-part survey. The research project goals were to understand how customers perceive the salespeople they meet with, explore the circumstances that determine which vendor is selected, and learn how different company departments and vertical industries make buying decisions. We had six key research findings:

#1: Some Customers Want to be Challenged

What selling style do prospective buyers prefer? The survey shows 40% of study participants prefer a salesperson who listens, understands, and then matches their solution to solve a specific problem. Another 30% prefer a salesperson who earns their trust by making them feel comfortable, because they will take care of the customer’s long-term needs. Another 30% want a salesperson who challenges their thoughts and perceptions and then prescribes a solution that they may not have known about.

From a departmental perspective, under 20% of accounting and IT staffers want to be challenged, while 43% of the engineering department does. Over 50% of marketing and IT prefer a salesperson who will listen and match a solution to solve their specific needs. The sales department equally preferred having a salesperson listen and solve their needs and being challenged; HR was equally split across all three selling styles.

There’s an interesting explanation for selling styles preferences, which is based on whether the buyer is comfortable with conflict. Seventy-eight percent of participants who preferred a salesperson who would listen and solve their specific needs agreed with the statement: “I try to avoid conflict as much as I can.” Conversely, 64% of participants who preferred a salesperson who challenges their thoughts disagreed with the statement and are comfortable with conflict.

#2: It’s Really a Committee of One

Whenever a company makes a purchase decision that involves a team of people, factors including self-interests, politics, and group dynamics will influence the final decision. Tension, drama, and conflict are normal parts of group dynamics, because purchase decisions typically are not made unanimously.

One critical research finding is that 90% of study participants confirmed that there is always or usually one member of the evaluation committee who tries to influence and bully the decision their way. Moreover, this person is successful in getting the vendor they want selected 89% of the time. In practicality, it can be said that a salesperson doesn’t have to win over the entire selection committee, only the individual who dominates it.

#3: Market Leaders Have an Edge

In most industries a single company controls the market. Compared with their competitors, they have a much larger market share, top-of-the-line products, greater marketing budget and reach, and more company cachet. For salespeople who have to compete against these industry giants, life can be very intimidating indeed.

However, the study results provide some good news in this regard. Buyers aren’t necessarily fixated on the market leader and are more than willing to select second-tier competitors than one might expect. In fact, only 33% of participants indicated they prefer the most prestigious, best-known brand with the highest functionality and cost. Conversely, 63% said they would select a fairly well-known brand with 85% of the functionality at 80% of the cost. However, only 5% would select a relatively unknown brand with 75% of the functionality at 60% of the cost of the best-known brand.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this question differed by industry. The fashion and finance verticals had the highest propensity to select the best-known, top-of-the-line product, while manufacturing and health care had the lowest.

#4: Some Buyers Are “Price Immune”

Price plays an important role in every sales cycle. Since it is a frequent topic during buyer conversations, salespeople can become fixated on the price of their product and believe they have to be lowest. However, decision makers have different propensities to buy, and the importance of price falls into three categories. For “price conscious” buyers, product price is a top decision-making factor. For “price sensitive” buyers, product price is secondary to other decision-making factors such as functionality and vendor capability. For “price immune” buyers, price becomes an issue only when the solution they want is priced far more than the others being considered.

Study participants were asked to respond to different pricing scenarios, and their responses were analyzed to categorize their pricing tendency. From a departmental perspective, engineering would be classified as price immune; marketing and sales as price sensitive; and manufacturing, information technology, human resources, and accounting as price conscious. From an industry perspective, only the government sector would be classified as price immune. Banking, technology, and consulting would be price sensitive, while manufacturing, health care, real estate, and fashion are price conscious.

#5: It’s Possible to Cut Through Bureaucracy

The most feared enemy of salespeople today isn’t solely their archrivals; it’s buyers’ failure to make any decision. This is because every initiative and its associated expenditure is competing against all the other projects that are requesting funds. Do the departments have different abilities to push through their purchases and defeat their company’s bureaucratic tendency not to buy?

The answer is yes. Based on the research results, sales, IT, and engineering have more internal clout to push through their projects as opposed to accounting, human resources, and marketing. Therefore they’re better departments to sell into from the salesperson’s perspective.

#6: Charisma Sells in Certain Industries

Imagine three salespeople who’ve pitched products that are very similar in functionality and price. Which would you rather do business with:

  • A) A professional salesperson who knows their product inside and out but is not necessarily someone you would consider befriending
  • B) A friendly salesperson who is likable and proficient in explaining their product
  • C) A charismatic salesperson who you truly enjoyed being with but is not the most knowledgeable about their product

While top selection in every industry was the friendly salesperson, the media and fashion industries selected “charismatic salesperson” more than most, and the manufacturing and health care industries had the highest percentage of “professional salesperson” responses.

Many salespeople behave as if buyers are rational decision makers. In reality, human nature is complicated, and a mix of factors — some rational, some not — determine how buyers evaluate sales reps and who they select. Ultimately, it is the mastery of the intangible, intuitive human element of the sales process that separates the winner from losers.