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Can Sales Operations Mend “Broken” Salespeople?

By Paul Johnson

893 words. Abstract: All new sales hires are chosen for their talent and expected to succeed, yet the frustration as to why some fail to produce goes on and on. Before you have to cut more underperformers loose, consider the potential impact of sales operations.

Some salespeople do well in your organization, and some don’t. Why the difference? The more important question may be what can you do about the ones who are limping along? Could Sales Operations make a difference?

Not just sales managers, but all company executives want a smooth running sales operation. When revenue is unpredictable and fluctuates from month to month, management is hard for everybody. Frustration, poor decisions, finger-pointing, and waste are often the result. With steady sales, operations gains productivity and efficiency. The whole company gains stability, growth, and profits.

An Important Meating
In departments other than sales, operations are often process-driven and focused. The result is lean and efficient production. I was struck by the power of strong operations during a ride-along with a sales rep.

We arrived for our early afternoon appointment at a meat packing plant near Green Bay Wisconsin. As we pulled past the gate and approached the visitor parking area, we passed a long line of semi trucks hauling cattle up to the loading docks. A few semis passed us going in the other direction, pulling their empty trailers out through the gate.

Once inside, we met with the controller. As he began describing their operation, he casually mentioned “We process 2,800 head a day.” I didn’t hear what he said for the next several minutes because I was doing math. 2,800 a day… that’s about 115 cattle “processed” each hour. That seemed like a really big number to me. And tons of work — literally. They must have developed great processes for each employee in the back to use. And the director of operations would make sure each production employee used the SAME process. That’s where their productivity, efficiency and profits come from.

Divide and Conquer
I didn’t get to see what went on back there, but I’m pretty sure no one employee did everything. In other words, there was a team of people, each with different roles, who did specific parts of the process from the time the cattle arrived at the loading dock until the time the “finished goods” were loaded into refrigeration trucks at the other side of the building. A process is involved, but no one person handles every part of the process.

The concept of a process for selling is nothing new. However, it may be a mistake to expect the salesperson to handle every part of the sales process.

Many companies expect to hire the Swiss Army knife salesperson who can find the lead, respond to the RFP, create the presentation, do the demonstration, close the sale, and train the customer on use of the product. Sales Operations enables selling to be treated more like a multi-part production operation, where one person — the salesperson — is not expected to do three or more jobs. Instead, Sales Operations supports many functions of the selling process so that salespeople they can focus on what they do best: manage customer interactions.

Avoiding Sales Productivity Killers
It’s the distractions and job corruption that kill sales productivity. For example, new products are often released to the salespeople with the requisite brochures and spec sheets and some training from the product manager. From there, each salesperson is often left to figure out how to succeed in selling it. If you have 50 salespeople, there may be 50 different approaches taken in the field. Some of these approaches will succeed, and others will fail.

We were launching a powerful and complex ERP software system that would enable our customers to better run their businesses. Before turning the product over to the salespeople, we asked ourselves, “How can we make this product…

  • easy to present,
  • simple to understand,
  • memorable for customers
  • and compelling to buy?”

We developed a day-in-the-life scenario of how a business would use this software in their daily operation, and wrote a storyline that was brought to life through demonstration of the software. This would make it easy for buyers to understand how our software would help them solve their real-world problems. To make the presentation even more memorable, we grouped the software’s capabilities into seven primary functions and created a visual icon for each. After this approach was prototyped by the Sales Operations Group and proven to convert customers, it was rolled out to the Sales team.

As a result, this winning demo format was easy for the salespeople to learn and deliver in a powerful, memorable and compelling way. More importantly, it was easy for buyers to understand and remember why our software stood head and shoulders above our competition. Instead of each salesperson having to come up with their own presentation formula, the results of the work of a few in Sales Operations was multiplied across the entire sales department.

The Surgical Suggestion
If you have talented salespeople that fail to produce, they may not be broken. It’s more likely that you’re just asking them to do too many things. Consider how top talent in other arenas has support:

  • Musicians have roadies
  • Race car drivers have pit crews
  • Doctors have nurses

If you’re looking for more consistent and efficient production from your salespeople, cut away some of their duties and hand them over to a Sales Operations group. Even your top talent will be more productive if they don’t have to go it alone.

© 2010 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is an award-winning sales manager who explains the six competencies of the sales operations manager at He has gotten great results for some big players like Siebel Systems (Oracle), ADP and Akzo Nobel and works with medium to large corporate sales teams.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When did dividing a project or process into separate components cause everyone to be more productive?

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Comments (1) Feb 01 2010

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Sell Like the Celebrity Salesman

By Paul Johnson

1,085 words. Abstract: Billy Mays is dead, but his simple selling system lives on. Employ the single difference that made this pitchman a millionaire.

The late Billy Mays could teach us all a few things about selling. We saw him on TV infomercials selling OxiClean, Mighty Putty, the Awesome Auger, and more. Billy Mays made millions of dollars because he understood how to Bally the Tip, Nod Them In, the importance of The Turn, and the Chill-Down. Do you?

Billy Mays was proud to call himself a pitchman. He understood who bought his products, and why. Vince Offer is another well-known pitchman, and he’s cleaning up selling his ShamWow chamois cloths. These pitchmen are truly celebrity salesmen, known on sight and, often, by just the sounds of their voices. While we may consider them corny, pushy hucksters whose style we would never want to duplicate, most of us would be happy to duplicate their results, at least where dollar signs are involved.

Uncommonly Simple
Their simple selling system can help us all sell more products, more services, and even more of our ideas. Most salespeople are much less effective than these celebrity salesmen. These pitchmen sell more, and they sell faster. You’ll never reach celebrity salesman (or saleswoman) status unless you’re prepared to do one thing.

Sales people think preparation means learning all about the product. They think preparation means learning the sales process inside and out. They think it means doing research on their prospect, and choosing in advance what questions they want to ask. While celebrity salesmen do all these things, too, they do one more thing; they prepare to lead.

Billy Mays learned on the Atlantic City Boardwalk that buyers want to be lead. From the moment pitchmen like Billy Mays open their mouths, they make sure you understand he’s talking to YOU, that he understands the problems you have and, most importantly, he has the perfect solution. When you feel like you are understood, you place more confidence in the salesperson, and you are more willing to trust them to lead you to a successful conclusion, which we call the sale.

Whether it’s firing a flaming fastball or performing the perfect pirouette, professionals execute the seemingly simple with ease. Celebrity salesmen like Vince Offer use a simple system to sell, and they make it look easy. I encourage you to try their simple system, but don’t be surprised if you find it hard to do it well.

1. Bally the Tip
Bally means gather, and Tip refers to a crowd or audience, so Bally the Tip means gather the crowd. Why did Billy Mays seem like he was shouting at you? To get your attention and create a sense of urgency so that you would turn away from whatever it was you were doing. But volume is not enough. That first sentence has got to draw you in, much like the headline on the front page of a newspaper. It’s got to relate to you on a personal level so you want to hear what comes next.

To maintain the Tip, a pitchman has to create interest. He does this with ease because he understands who the customers for his product are so very well that he makes you feel like he’s speaking directly to you. “Have you ever tried to remove ugly mildew stains from your shower walls, only to give up in frustration many wasted hours later?” He understands your pain, and you pray that he brings relief.

2. Nod Them In
When the pitchman asks a question like the one above, he expects to see people nodding their heads. He asks still more questions that hit the crowd right where they live. The frequency and intensity of the nodding rises, and the crowd draws closer to him. Each question not only improves the pitchman’s credibility, but also intensifies desire for the solution.

Often two other techniques are used to heighten desire. Creating a sense of scarcity creates a sense of urgency. Wouldn’t it be terrible if your hesitancy to buy forced you to leave with your problem unsolved and your needs unfulfilled? You better buy NOW before they run out! There’s no time to “think it over.”

The second technique is to use testimonials. If other people are obviously having success with the product, it stands to reason you will, too. Then the herd mentality will take over and a feeding frenzy can begin.

3. The Turn
Now it’s time to ask the Tip for their money. Celebrity salesmen make it clear what they’re selling, but the Tip does not want the product. What they want is to be lead by the pitchman to the answer, and the pitchman reveals the minor investment for the perfect solution. But wait. . .  there’s more! Bonuses push the perceived value even higher, and people are now waiving $20 bills in the air and yelling, “Do ME, do ME!”

4. The Chill-Down
It’s time for action. The celebrity salesman has asked for the order, and it’s time to clean up. The Chill-Down is about completing transactions and fulfilling orders as fast and cleanly as possible so nobody leaves empty handed. Everybody goes away excited and happy, and the celebrity salesman is ready to do it again.

But wait… there’s more! If you’d like to take a deeper dive and learn more about the world of pitchmen like Billy Mays, you’ll enjoy listening to this podcast and related transcript titled, “Pitch Perfect”.

Get the Lead Out
Professional pitchmen make it look easy, but they’ve already worked hard to do the research on the market and craft their presentation into a light, tight, efficient package. Then they test it, tweak it, and deliver it over and over, reworking it to get the dead weight out until the results more than justify their investment in preparation. Celebrity salesmen can make more sales in 10 minutes than most salespeople make all week.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your customer wants to lead during the buy/sell interchange. In reality, most buyers want to be led to a solution with speed, ease and confidence. To join the ranks of celebrity salesmen, you’ll need to assume the customer wants to be led unless they clearly indicate otherwise.

While you may never be hawking products on TV or the Atlantic City Boardwalk, there’s no reason you can’t learn from professional pitchmen and become a celebrity salesman (or saleswoman) within your industry. When that happens, I’m sure you’ll be happy to clean up.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When have you witnessed an amazing performance by a professional pitchman or pitchwoman, and what made it amazing?

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The Power of Crowds on your Business

People are essentially pack animals, like dogs and coyotes. We like to feel part of the group. And we really like to be in on the joke, when there is one.

The state of Nebraska encouraged online voting to choose the design of its new license plate. The editors got wind of it and encouraged its readers to vote… for the most boring license plate. The power of that crowd pushed the plain plate entry to the top… until state officials figured out what was going on and disqualified those votes.  Details at

This is another example why testimonials are so important to your success. People will like you and your business more when others like you, too. Take care of each customer, generate goodwill, and then harvest testimonials so that you can spread the good word… about you.

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How to Sell NOW to the Procrastinator

By Paul Johnson

923 words. Abstract: When your customers want to think it over, it's only natural. Take away three approaches that enable you to leverage human nature and help them buy now instead of later.

Why do we always want the very thing we can't have?

Perhaps you've gone to the airport to discover your gate is the very last one at the far end of the terminal. After schlepping your bags to your gate and taking a seat, you realize you passed the last restroom two blocks back. Suddenly you have an insatiable urge to go to the bathroom.

Perhaps you've been scheduled for some medical tests that require you to eat nothing beforehand. From the moment you wake up that morning until those blasted tests are over, everything you see reminds you of a doughnut.

The Nature of Now
This basic human nature can help us sell more products and services if we put it to good use. We know that buyers procrastinate. For those of us who grew up in the United States, we have been conditioned to expect a world of abundance. We believe we can get whatever we need whenever we need it. Even when what we're selling is perfect for our customer, they will often delay the purchase to "think it over" or "sleep on it." The reality is that people who don't buy now often won't buy later, either. Buyers who delay purchases create longer sales cycles, reduced sales volume, and higher cost of sales. When we let customers assume that our product will always be available when needed, a sale is rarely the reward.

Gasoline is almost always in plentiful supply, yet even a rumor of a shortage creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. People run out and wait in long lines to top off their tanks and create the very shortage they fear. The fear of scarcity creates a buying frenzy.

You can develop your own marketing strategy to leverage this basic human nature and create a buying frenzy for your products or services. The key to intensifying desire is to take away something folks believe they already have.

Know Your Limits
The first approach is to limit availability of the offering. After your prospect has sold themselves emotionally, you need to help them understand that you may not be able to deliver if they don't buy now. Likewise, if you sell a service instead of a product, your customers can't expect to enjoy your service until your people are available to deliver them.

The Apple iPhone was heavily promoted before it was released. Because availability was limited, people were willing to get to stores early and stand in long lines to make sure they got theirs before the supply ran out. Likewise, retail stores routinely offer specials in limited supply on the Friday after Thanksgiving to get people lined up outside their doors at ridiculous hours of the early morning.

Whether you're selling a product or a service, it's important to first make sure the customer does indeed want to buy what you're offering. The next step is to "take away" the offer by explaining why you may not be able to deliver in a timely fashion if they delay their decision. Intense desire and commitment is often the result.

The End is Near
Another approach is to take away a special price or promotion. For example, perhaps you can include a special promotional item to the first 100 people who buy. Or, you could have a sale that ends at the end of the week. While sales and promotions do erode profit margins, they can successfully move some buyers to action as the popularity of this method attests.

A third approach may prove especially useful in this age of Internet shopping. If online shoppers discover that your product is in short supply, they can easily keep looking for a merchant who can deliver. Likewise, if your special promotion ended yesterday, they can keep looking for someone who's having a sale today. Procrastination continues. To capture these buyers, it's important that you not only sell them on your core product or service, but also on one other thing.

Create a special bonus that you can readily provide that they can't get anywhere else. Perhaps it's a free training video, or access to insider information, or a promotional item you had custom-made to go with the core offer. With a special hook like this, they can't afford to buy anywhere else unless they really don't want your special bonus.

One thing YOU can't afford to do is lie. Make sure your product supply or service availability is indeed limited; could you "sell out" if a big order came in tomorrow? Stick to the ending dates on your sales and promotions. Ensure that your special bonus is unique to you. While it's OK to leverage human nature, it wrong to make stuff up to manipulate your customers.

Tomorrow Never Comes
The "take-away" technique has been a selling standard for decades. You can increase the power of this technique and further leverage human nature by designing your take-aways into your product marketing plan. Make sure you're supporting your salespeople with everything they need to help buyers sell themselves. Then, before prospects have a chance to say, "Let me think it over," prepare to take away your product or service, your price or promotion, or your special bonus. Or, better yet, all three.

It's foolhardy to assume that just because you can solve a customer's problem today means they'll actually buy today. Remember that point the next time your cable goes out and you discover an unquenchable lust for that 24-hour Three Stooges marathon. You can't fight human nature. Fortunately, neither can your customers.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is Founder of Consultative Selling. He works with organizations like ADP, Nortel Networks and AutoNation. Discover the application and definition of Consultative Selling at Learn about public sales training courses at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When has one of your close advisers pushed you to make a decision you knew you should make?

Posted: under Gaining Commitment (Sales).

Comments (0) Dec 01 2008

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Death by Selling

By Paul Johnson

1,188 words. Abstract: Learn how to prevent prospects from "going dark" and becoming unresponsive to your calls and emails. Take a lesson from your favorite action-adventure movie and avoid selling failures.

It has almost become a movie cliché. The bad guys capture our hero, and they want information. Our hero (think "Indiana Jones") knows that if he gives them the information they demand, they'll kill him. Instead, he concocts a plan to lead his captors along a roundabout route to what they want. Along the way, Jones is executing another secret plan to ensure that he gets what he wants, which includes his own life and often much more. Each step of the way, Indiana convinces the bad guys that they're getting closer and closer to the payoff. But Indiana must be careful; if he gives up too much information, his captors will believe they don't need him anymore. And he dies.

Collateral Damage
I see salespeople routinely do this: they put together a folder with every piece of literature they have and give it to the prospect at the first meeting. Then they wonder why they never hear from the prospect again.

Perhaps you've experienced death by selling in much the same way. I suppose it's fortunate that only the deal, and not you, dies. When a hot lead captures our attention and demands our information, we don't want to chance antagonizing the buyer so we give them everything they ask for to keep them happy. Then when we contact the buyer to gauge their level of interest, they are unresponsive. Emails are ignored. Voicemails are unreturned. Our deal is dead, or is it? No, we'll probably spend time and energy trying to track down and follow up with these people, not knowing if they have delayed the decision, lost interest in our offer, or bought from a competitor. We'll continue to waste resources chasing this prospect. The prospect never actually kills us, but we die of starvation trying to chase their ghost.

Time to Sell
Information is the ONLY thing that makes you, the salesperson, of value to prospects. To avoid death by selling, don't give it away too easily. All sales require time to be cultivated, whether that's hours, weeks or months. The proper flow of information is necessary to nurture the business relationship and harvest the sale. Solving this information flow problem will help you avoid wasted efforts, lost revenues, and worthless forecasts.

Like Indiana Jones, selling (s)heroes need to create a plan to give buyers (not really "bad guys") what they want while sellers get what they deserve. The plan begins with taking inventory of all the information you have that your buyers may need or want to help them make a positive decision. This might include specifications, case studies, articles, white papers, pricing, brochures, demonstrations… you get the idea. Decide what you're willing to give away readily, which items you'll hold back for later, and which items you'll make your prospects beg for. Consider when in the buying cycle each inventory item best fits; some may be needed early, and some fit better at the end.

Access the Mystery
The best information to give away early is that which is enticing and creates intrigue. How would Indiana Jones do this? He would produce half a map written in some ancient language that only he understood. Now Indiana's captors have "proof" that the treasure exists, and Indiana is their best chance for finding it since, now more than ever, they don't believe they can get to it on their own. Entice your prospects into believing you have access to the answers while not telling them the answers too soon.

Every time you want to contact the prospect, you now have a reserve of information that will make your calls and inquiries valuable to the prospect. Instead of being the pest who keeps calling and asking, "Have you made a decision yet?" you can be the stand-out salesperson who continually offers helpful suggestions. For instance, you might offer, "If you're having trouble getting everybody on board with this decision, perhaps you'd like to show your folks the research document our company prepared in tandem with State University. Would that help you?" If you routinely have something new to share with every phone call or e-mail, your prospects will look forward to hearing from you, and you'll be the one they get back to first. You'll stay alive to sell another day.

Show and Sell
Your most valuable information is that which is better shown than sent. You want opportunities for one-on-one interactions with your prospect. The best interactions are face-to-face, followed by webinars, and then telephone. When you ship a document to a prospect or send a link to a video to them, you have no way of getting real-time feedback. You don't know if your contribution has helped you or not. When you have something of value, insist on showing it to your prospect; don't succumb to their insistence that you just send it. If you do, you're about to step into that pit full of snakes. You do have a choice; remember, most death by selling is self-inflicted.

When Marketing Hurts
While managing prospects can be challenging, your biggest fights may come from inside your organization. If the marketing department is killing you, you need to defend yourself.

The evolution of the Internet has fostered a self-service mentality. Many of us go online daily to find information and make purchases. E-commerce is a proven model that works well in many markets. However, your company has salespeople for a reason. Some aspect of the purchasing process requires human intervention. If that wasn't the case, believe me, your company would mirror and do away with the sales department and your job in a heartbeat. But apparently that's not the case where you work.

Often the marketing department creates issues for the sales organization by taking every piece of sales-related information and putting it on the company website. Everything is now conveniently accessible to your prospects. Right or wrong, prospects BELIEVE that if they have ALL the information, they can make a good decision on their own without the "interference" of a salesperson.

If your website has become marketing's Swiss Army knife, death by selling will come sooner for you.

Together on a Selling Path
This is a great opportunity for sales and marketing to come together for a common goal: to acquire and serve customers. We routinely see this happen when we work together with clients to map the selling paths that support their prospects' buying process and yet enable acceleration of the sales process.

At the core, escaping death by selling is about having a plan for how information will be disseminated to prospects, and when. We wouldn't have much of a movie if Indiana Jones said too much and was killed in the first scene. If it's not crystal clear to you what you should hold back and what you can give up early, you've got more planning to do. Sellers and prospects both have a better chance of getting what they want when control of information isn't handed over to the prospect prematurely. When prospects believe you always have more to give, you're assured of a long and healthy selling career.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is Founder of Consultative Selling. He works with organizations like ADP, Nortel Networks and AutoNation. Discover the application and definition of Consultative Selling at Learn about public sales training courses at http://PublicSalesTrainin

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What sales aids do you find are most powerful to SHOW your prospect?

Posted: under Gaining Commitment (Sales).

Comments (1) Oct 01 2008