It’s Q4 of This Calendar Year, Do You Know Where Your Sales Are? -or- 5 Ways to Close the Year Strong (even if you haven’t earned it yet)

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So here we are, looking at the final quarter of 2017. The unforgiving hours are looming, when the mundania of preparation, basics, planning and plodding come to fruition. Or not. That’s the thing about basics, they’re basics for a reason, and the reason becomes painfully present when we denied those basics our focus early on. For many of us, these final weeks of the year reveal to what extent we did, or did not, apply the basics. We reap what we sow, and our crop reflects the preparatory investment.

Is your Q4 everything you’d hoped? No?

Is it too late? Yes, and, most definitely, no.

There’s no way to overcome the whole of what was lost by our early lapses. We all know that, and, we gotta live with it. What we don’t have to endure, however, is the seemingly inevitable wages of our sins of omission, when we are able to muster the will to compress our time and score a come from behind upset. This dig-deep test of our will and ego can make an otherwise apparently broken annual quota whole, and perhaps then some! Let’s look at our 5 challenges for a successful 2017, and see how we can bring them to bear on our final stretch.

Challenge 1- Candid Self-Analysis. This New Year’s challenge is as timely now as it was then. Not navel gazing reflection, as much as a view of your genuine strengths and weaknesses being seen for what they are today. Don’t dwell, but, don’t go easy on yourself, either. As I said then, be brutal to yourself, and the brutality of others will seem quaint in comparison.

Challenge 2- Actionable Self-Analysis. There was a time for measured reflection. That luxury is passed. Now you must take your current state from the first Challenge, and relate those metrics to what you need to accomplish in this 11th hour. And then, where you have identified weaknesses, you need to address those weakness as they endure today with an eagle eye to the degree it effects achievement of your 4th Quarter objectives.

Now is not the time for big picture psycho-analysis; you’ll have time to interpret your dreams over the Holidays. Even if you know you’ll be able to do better next time, now is the time for using what you’ve got.

Challenge 3- Operational Self-Analysis. At the beginning of this year, the third challenge reminded us to keep our weapons sharp. Each of our tools benefit only to the degree they are fully functioning. While now is not the time to re-temper an imperfect blade, nor is it the time to research a new CMS, or migrate to the latest handset.

It’s never too late to make sure your devices are clean and don’t distract from their business purpose. Check your firmware updates, make sure you’re not pushing your storage capacity, confirm your licenses aren’t going to expire in the next 90 days. You don’t want a crashed laptop to knock you to the ground on the final push.

Challenge 4- Effective Self-Analysis. Nine months ago, we had the chance to uncover our ruts. Those well-worn automatic paths we often subconsciously pattern as we assemble our most effective measures over time. We knew then that these moves are inevitably born of yesterday’s perspective. We know today, that none of these tactics are above improvement, and there’s no more pressing a time than now to find the most telling way to improve them. But not all of them.

Look at your sales cycles, and the most frequent stages of those cycles, left in the year. If your sales cycles are long, you’ll want to focus on the closing stages, and how you address those routines. Look at the last year’s closing phases, and find what worked and what didn’t…especially what didn’t. Pay attention to what small assumptions and habits you bring to your closing. Start there, and find your winning changes. If you have a shorter cycle, you have more room to make the differences that can add up to higher sales in these final hours.

Challenge 5- Unnecessary Self-Analysis. Yep, End-Of-Year is not the time for existential analysis.  Closing out the year as strong as you are able pays forward many times over. Perform now, and take the Holidays to navel gaze. It’s time to deliver.

There you go. While you can’t get back lost time, you can tweak the clock and find that rabbit you’ve been saving in your hat. The New Year’s party is always more fun when you have a successful Q4 to toast!

Sell fearlessly, my friends.

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The First Rule of Swordsmanship Selling -or- When All Else Fails, THIS!

The Swordsman is a Champion for Others

The role of the sales superstar has often been given the title of ‘Champion’.  It makes sense, after all, that the one whose performance puts them a step above the competition should be so honored.  Freddy Mercury belts out “We are the champions!” as an anthem to such high performance.  Champions, he intones, has no time for losing.  And, to a great extent, we can’t disagree.

However…

The role of the Swordsmanship Seller is that of practicing their lethal skills employed towards victory in service to a noble good.  The title of ‘Swordsman’ is in many ways an ascendant over a mere champion.  Champions, you see, can attain such a status by an exclusive prosecution of their own desires.  These examples of excellence in a given pursuit can have an inward focus at the exclusion of much else.  This isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact, there are disciplines where such a focus is fine and good.  But, when it comes to business, and the business of selling, that kind of self-interest denies them the ability to experience the role of swordsman.  And here is why: they do not advance attendance to the needs of another in the course of their victory.

This is why the Swordsmanship Seller is the champion of her prospect or customer.  It’s stakeholders’ objectives being fulfilled that is the swordsman’s business.  The fight is for them.

You see, the swordsmanship seller doesn’t practice the timing, offensive and defensive phrasing, range, weapons choice and terms of engagement against her prospect or customer.  It’s the COMPETITION, in its many forms, that receives that fearsome treatment.  It’s the inferior solution to the prospects business challenges, the status quo that threatens to cost the customer an advantage, the market forces the portend doom for the unprepared client…these are the opponents, this is the enemy.

The swordsmanship seller champions the customer.  Those that seek to win at the expense of the client aren’t swordsmen.  They’re thugs.  They are the salesperson of the fast talk and slick closes.  Those looking to close the deal whatever the cost can in fleeting contexts be called a champion, but, they’ll never be swordsmen.

It’s the champion of the prospect or client that truly delivers value.  Simply by framing your role from this perspective provides highly efficient insight towards advancing the sale.  And, your customers recognize it, even if they don’t say it.  While some will make a point to acknowledge your value as a true advocate for their interests, others will be silently comparing you to your competition.  For those opponents focused on retiring quota, the difference will be telling.

Well, that brings us to the Second Rule of Swordsmanship Selling…and an entry for next time.

Sell Fearlessly my friends.

Spoiler Alert! -or- Start at Your Destination, and You’ll Never get Lost

In Feudal Japan, the sun rises on a man standing on the beach, waiting.

The man is Sasaki Kojiro, among the most revered swordsmen of his time, and, he’s waiting for the man who will kill him.

Sasaki Kojiro, known by many as Ganryu, has risen to the position of Weapons Master of the Hosokawa fiefdom, among the wealthiest and most powerful in Japan.  His mastery is all the more remarkable given his weapon of choice is the No Dachi, or, longsword.  The unarmored swordplay of the day does not lend itself to the advantages of a longer, heavier weapon, which makes the attainment of primacy with such a sword evidence of tremendous discipline and lifelong dedication.  Stories of his skill have reached all corners of the land.  Sasaki Kojiro’s victories are known to all, from his many successful duels, to his defeat of three simultaneous attackers while armed with nothing more than a tessen, or, iron-clad folding fan. Ganryu is the real, lethal, deal.

Ganryu is standing on this beach because he has been challenged to a duel.  For swordsmen, whose livelihoods depend on their reputation as masters of their art, such events were part of the job description.

He will await his challenger all morning.  While accounts of the duel are few, and between them the details differ, the challenger’s delayed arrival figures prominently in most.  Ganryu will wait for hours before his opponent arrives.  What actual effect this lack of attention to protocol has on the swordsman we can only guess.  What is clear, however, is the challenger’s willingness to act contrary to expectations.

This is not the first time this challenger has defied protocol.  In addition to having made his opponents wait before, he was the first to break from the iconoclastic primacy of the single, two handed sword.  In what was taken as a wildly unorthodox rejection of martial canon, he defeated master after master while wielding not one, but two, weapons.  With one in each hand, he confounded practiced expectation and rewrote the history of swordsmanship.  This challenger’s name is Miyamoto Musashi.

When Musashi arrives, however, he does not engage his opponent with his two swords.  Instead, he wields what is thought to be an oar from the small boat which conveyed him to the beach.  It is said he whittled it to suit during the transit.  So armed, Musashi met Sasaki’s long sword and, after a short exchange, crushed his opponent’s ribs.  With his lung punctured by shards of bone, Sasaki Kojiro dies.

While Musashi’s martial prowess is beyond question, what contributed to his victory that day, and many others, can be found less in his physical primacy and more in his mental maneuvers.  Much more.

It can be said that, despite Musashi initiating the challenge, he questioned his ability to emerge intact against his celebrated opponent.  To ensure his victory, he employed a tactic made famous by another historic warrior, the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu.  What both men recognized was the strength of confounding expectations.  By re-framing the terms of the engagement, the advantages otherwise enjoyed by the opposition can be undermined.  The resulting environment is then more fluid and less suited to the preparations made in anticipation of the moment.

The swordsmanship seller does well to consider this when prosecuting a sales motion.  If one is to genuinely serve the needs of the prospect, the swordsmanship seller’s patron, they must be prepared for attempts to confuse and muddy the process.  Such moves can be seen in an acceleration or delay the evaluation schedule.  It can be the introduction of a discounting event, personal relationship, or payment terms.  Any viable alternative introduced such that it causes the buyer to re-evaluate assumptions and criteria can suffice. To be effective, these kinds of disruptions must be unanticipated in both timing and substance.

The swordsmanship seller can protect against this tactic by being in control of the sales cycle’s timing, and, by having been proactive in the evaluation of alternative considerations.

The former, timing of the sales cycle, requires an early understanding of, and commitment to, an impending event.  It is imperative, as early as possible, to ascribe a benefit to the closing conditions.  If the prospect comprehends a value to keeping on schedule and, as importantly, knows the swordsmanship seller respects and recognizes that value, any efforts that threaten it are poorly received.

The latter, proactive evaluation of alternative considerations, requires anticipation of potential options…configurations, financing, decision criteria, buying influences and more, as a matter of course during the sales cycle.  The swordsmanship seller shares with the patron the alternative considerations over the course of the evaluation of needs and potential solutions.  They make the patron party to the relative merits of various approaches such that the eventual proposal already reflects a considered rejection of the alternatives.  So, when the opposition tries to appeal to new ground rules, they are merely exposing themselves as promoting an inferior substitution.

Of course, the swordsmanship seller can find themselves facing an opponent’s formidable position late in the sales cycle.  The same strength derived from this anticipation of a closing realignment can support such a move if required.  By being an active part of the patron’s assignment of value to both timing and alternatives, the swordsmanship seller can introduce a change whose terms are consistent with those values.

Remember, the sales motion denies us the means of engaging our opponents in real time.  Each move mush be in anticipation of their maneuvers.  Whenever we grow complacent, relying on our perceived strengths and advantages to carry the day, we inform and empower those who are eager to cut us down.

Sasaki was confident his physical gifts and a lifetime of dedication would ensure his victory.  Musashi looked beyond his opponent’s focus, and went on to live a full life to die of old age, forever enshrined as the most famous swordsman of Japan’s long history.

Here’s to swordsmen who die of old age!

Sell fearlessly, my friend.

The Walking Deaf -or- Dead Men Ask no Questions

Have you ever left the house, only to remember your mobile phone was on the kitchen table?  If you have (and who hasn’t), you probably measured your frustration against the distance traveled before realizing your mistake.  If the light bulb went off as you left the driveway, a quick palm-slap to the forehead is probably the extent of the damage to your day.  If, on the other hand, you were pulling into the office parking lot and faced a day of meetings when it hit you, your response is probably less suited to sharing with family audiences.

This benign example of risk-analysis is a part of our daily lives.  We all tend to measure a fault as it relates to the inconvenience it imposes us.  We all form routines to strike the balance between crippling risk-aversion and laissez faire abandon.  The costlier the fault, the less autonomic the routine…the pre-flight ritual of airline pilots are a tad more deliberate than our mental checklist before a jog to the corner market for a reason.

We’ve learned, sometimes at the temporary expense of our sanity, the value of time blithely wasted.  And, we’ve come to know that wasted time can also extend into wasted opportunity.  It’s one thing to make the morning commute twice in order to retrieve your iPad, it’s another thing altogether to consider rescheduling a couple of meetings to boot.

And yet, salespeople do this every day.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Consider the last sale you lost.  I know it’s not your favorite thing to do, but, do it anyway.  Now, with that sale in your mind, remember why you lost it.  Was it price?  Or was it politics, perhaps?  Maybe it was availability, or a missing feature, function, or, all the above?  Whatever the reason(s), sit back and try to reconstruct at what point in the sales cycle it broke the deal…because we know that whatever the stated reasons for a deal going south, it seldom happens in the last moments.  Sure, that’s when it becomes clear the deal is lost, but, that’s not when the process was perverted.  In actuality it entered the sale sometime back, and gone unchecked from that moment on, you were wasting your time.  What’s worse, you were acting as a foil to the ultimate victor, going through your wasted motions as they move in for the coup de gras.

Yep, dead man walking.

The Swordsmanship Seller knows there is seldom the opportunity to dispatch an opponent in one single strike. The fatal moment of most duels is preceded by any number of maneuvers and small wounds that ultimately lead to the final blow.  And this is just fine, because any fight worth the spoils will be tough, and requires preparation, patience, and perception.  It’s this perception that provides the ability to recognize and realign threats before they set into motion the exploitation of an unrecoverable vulnerability.

It’s no great insight to say that the unseen thrust is the deadliest.  Yet despite this, most combatants spend the great majority of their engagement focused only on the threats they can see.  And this is a good thing.  It’s good because the Swordsmanship Seller is not one of them, and wields that advantage with deadly effect.

These unseen threats are hidden by misdirection, or, stealth.  Each cut exploits either a manipulation or, lapse of, perception.  The Swordsmanship Seller employs perception as a matter of survival, knowing that to ignore the hidden is to concede defeat.  Fortunately, much of what is otherwise concealed can be found hiding in plain sight.

The lessons here are to acknowledge that if the sale is lost, it’s lost somewhere along the way, often well before the closing engagements.  And, by failing to recognize this, you not only deny yourself the ability to recoup your contention, but you donate your wasted time to supporting your opponent’s eventual victory.

Perception is a funny thing.  Our brains intermediate what our senses collect, and filter it according to evolutionary dictates of advantage.  The challenge arises when the advantage criteria we inherited needs to be tweaked to fit a specific situation, like a sales call, for example.  Our filters are working overtime in situations where the stakes are high.  Consequence is a powerful force on our subconscious, and it activates any number of autonomic sub-routines.  One of these routines could be the desire to avoid conflict with the person you are hoping to compel to collaboration and cooperation.  These motivations are powerful operators that function behind the scenes.  This desire to avoid conflict can compel us to interpret outwardly non-threatening exchanges at face value.  Here we can run afoul of our perception operating contrary to our prospect’s reality.

Let’s take the questions prospects ask over the course of the sale.  Chances are, you can jot down a dozen of these you know are coming your way regardless of the differences that distinguish one prospect to the next.  You hear them all the time, right?  Like talk about the weather and traffic, we handle these as a matter of course, eager to get to the real stuff.

The Swordsmanship Seller knows this IS the real stuff.

These routine questions are, effectively, tests of your defenses.  Many of these are salvos born of an effort to disqualify you.  Not out of any particular prejudice, mind you, but as a matter of course by the prospect; they don’t want to waste time with an unqualified seller.  Others are specific to the routine efforts of the usual suspects, the inside and outside forces working towards their own ends.  The better you address these questions, the more worthy of trust and confidence you prove.  And what better opportunity to reinforce your worth than by having your responses reflect the fact you’ve already been there and done that, with your preparation and experience center stage and on-target.

Now, consider the further advantage of establishing your habit of qualifying the prospect’s questions early, and to do so in the context of otherwise routine conversation.  You won’t be faced with the hurdle of switching dialogue style when the tough talk gets going and nothing can be left to be assumed.

So there’s a lot to be gained by taking a look at how we handle routine questions early in the sale.

Okay, how is the Swordsmanship Seller’s perception enhanced?  By knowing what questions are likely to be asked, and having an intimate command of your practiced and refined response, you free up your conscious recognition of the nuances behind what used to be hidden by routine.  We free our cognitive horsepower to dedicate to the task of seeing past the obvious, to see the unspoken dialogue where the truth of the matter resides.

Think about it.  When your prospect asks about, for example, your references, something any buyer is likely to ask, how do you answer?  If you’re well versed in qualifying the prospect’s questions, you might reply, “Of course, customer satisfaction is an important consideration for a project like this…tell me, what aspect of the customer experience rates as most important to you?”.  From here, you’ve invited your prospect to elaborate, and you in turn can frame your reply to best address the needs behind the question.  Textbook, right?

Well, consider this.  You have an idea what competitors are most likely to be in the mix, don’t you?  Even if you don’t, you do know which competitors have the best win/loss against you.  Whichever the case, you have an opportunity to address your prospect’s question, while at the same time parry what might be a hidden thrust, and, riposte with a thrust of your own.

Let’s look at this question again.  You’ve been asked about references.  First of all, most of your competitors will default to, “Oh, of course, not a problem.  We have a gazillion happy customers.  In fact, our customer satisfaction scores are some of the best in the industry.  I’ll send them to you.”  They’re just going through the motions, and probably won’t pose a real threat.  The more dangerous opponent’s will qualify the question as we’ve already noted.  In either case, the Swordsmanship Seller has already seen the opportunity coming, and is prepared.

You know which competitors are most likely to have a story to tell about references, especially a story that can be spun to appear as an advantage over your company.  You can bet that at some point in the sales cycle, that competitor is going to roll out the big guns and hit you with their purported advantages.  You want to weaken them while providing value to your prospect.  So you’ve asked yourself what aspect of their references story will they spin as an advantage?  Pure numbers?  Quality of customers?  Industry relevant?  Whatever it is, your reply will both parry their thrust, and, return with your own cut.

For this example, we’ll say your strongest opponent boasts of the biggest installed base in the industry, or some equivalent value…so, when the question of references comes up:

“Of course, customer satisfaction is an important consideration for a project like this…tell me, what aspect of the customer experience rates as most important to you?  For example, how important is a large installed base?”

This brings into the light the importance your prospect assigns to such a feature. With one simple question, you’ve gained an insight to how this aspect of your competitor’s appeal aligns with your prospect’s regard.  Regardless of where prospect rates the importance of a large installed base, you’re prepared to ask a question that positions your strength against theirs, because you already know how your client list relates to this prospect.

“Right, so with a large installed base near the top (or the bottom), where would you place the importance of reference customers that are in your industry?”

So, with a routine question you know will nearly always come up in any given sale, you’ve gained an important incremental insight to the lines of attack and defense.  Because you’ve practiced this enough times the exchange becomes second nature, and you could listen between the lines.  Your perception was alert to how the question was asked, and answered, and with that perception you’ve moved one step closer to understanding your prospect.  It’s with that understanding, that step closer translates to value for both your customer, and your competitive advantage.

That simple step closer, is also one step you won’t be taking down the path to defeat, unaware you’ve been mortally wounded, and walking like the dead man you are.  That’ll be your opponent’s job.

Sell fearlessly, my friends.

The Swordsman’s Salute -or- What’s in Your Handshake?

There may be nothing more ubiquitous in business than the handshake.  We introduce ourselves, greet one another, and, part company with a handshake.  After some talk an agreement is reached, we shake on it.  When we agree to disagree, we shake on it.  We shake as a matter of professional course.  When considering the importance of the handshake in business, we need but imagine if one were to withhold it.  Yes, that would raise an eyebrow or two.

So, yeah, the simple handshake is kind of a big deal.

While certainly a modern staple, the handshake has been a practice in human interaction for quite some time…centuries in fact.  Homer describes the handshake many times in his Iliad and Odyssey.  Assyrian and Babylonian kings are immortalized in stone, their handshake sealing an alliance.

The particular origins of the handshake are lost to time.  A prevailing consideration of its roots has those in greeting proffering a mutual demonstration of an empty weapon hand, while each are within easy reach of one another…trust but verify indeed.

Now, we’ve all been versed in the fundamentals of a good handshake.  A firm grasp, not too tight.  Eye contact, not too long.  And an up down motion, not too vigorous.  The objective is a mutual motion that serves in some small way as an instinctive accord, a practiced ritual between those extending, and expecting, respect.

For the swordsman throughout history, to today’s modern sports and sword arts, the salute conveys much the same intent.  Absent the declaration of mutual disarmament of course, the salute sets the stage of the impending engagement.  It confers an acknowledgment of collective intent, with the respect given a fellow combatant.  The ritual is as ubiquitous as the handshake, and no less expected both before, and after, a bout.

With all this in mind, the handshake in today’s business culture is the Swordsmanship Seller’s salute.  Now, it’s important to note, we aren’t framing each handshake as a salute between combatants.  After all, we salute, er, shake hands with our friends and colleagues.  Our prospects and customers certainly aren’t our opponents, yet we the Swordsmanship Seller still salute them, right?  So, how is it we relate these friendly conversations to a salute between opponents?

In sales, we seldom address our competition directly.  More often than not, we engage with our competition through our prospect.  Our duels with the competition evolve, in part, as we interact with our customer.

But more to our point, it’s critical we understand it is our prospect’s enemies that are our opponents.

We are fighting for our client.  We are the champion they can count on to do our best to see their priorities and objectives are best realized.  So, while our competition is our traditional opponent, it’s only insofar their proposed solution is inferior to the alternatives that they threaten our prospect.  It is these, the full array of inferior alternatives we confront on our customer’s behalf that we battle.

What are these “inferior alternatives”?  Well, they are more than just the competition’s product or service (if indeed those prove inferior).  It’s the wide array of obtuse forces that stand between constructive decisions and the status quo, the dreaded Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt foremost among them.  Those contrary forces within an account, the often hidden influences that scuttle growth, are our enemies.  There’s the not-invented-here’s, the competition for budget allowances, the office politicians and other insidious barriers to your client’s goals and objectives.  These are the forces the Swordsmanship Seller engages.  It is they who are being saluted, to be put on notice the sword is drawn with lethal intent.

So, in the sense we are saluting remotely, when we grasp our prospect’s hand, what is our frame of mind?  What do you think about at the moment you shake hands?

Chances are, most of us would answer that we are thinking about the objective of the meeting.  We go through the thoroughly practiced ritual, striking all the right notes.  We’re looking them in the eye, certainly.  We’re sometimes committing names to memory.  We’re likely hoping our palms aren’t sweaty, too.

But, left at that, we abandon a crucial advantage.

The Swordsmanship Seller knows their handshake is their salute.  They are drawing their blade, and declaring their intent to hazard their reputations, their security, their livelihood in pursuit of victory.  They are swearing an oath to their prospect, an oath they dedicate their efforts on their prospect’s behalf.  This sets the stage for the contest at hand(!).  When the simple handshake is elevated to a salute, a declaration of lethal intent, a pledge to do your utmost towards the prospect’s achievement of their goals and objectives, the stark challenge marks a subtle shift.  This shift is certainly felt, if not consciously acknowledged.  We know that all we manifest forms first in our intent.  There is no better time to announce your champions’ intent than with the handshake.

So next time you shake your prospect’s hand, as your eyes meet theirs, declare your dedication to the role of deadly expert, committed to their defense against the many threats to the achievement of their personal advancement.  The successful conclusion to this acquisition of product or service will reflect on them, too.  And your salute means you will do all in your power to assure that when the dust clears, they were right to trust you.  You are their champion, and woe to those who stand in their way.

Sell fearlessly, my friend.

Champions Don’t Just set Goals, They Challenge Themselves -or- 5 Challenges of the Swordsmanship Seller for 2017

A yearly plan is significant for just about everyone, but, none more so than the salesperson.  Sales is one of the few professions expressly measured by periods of time.  Annual performance is the product of quarterly sales is the product of monthly engagements is the product of weekly One-On-Ones.  For the sales pro, it’s all about the calendar.

So, here comes 2017.

While the rest of the world is making resolutions, the sales pro is planning for President’s Club.  The sales pro is mapping out the steps necessary to reach the finish line in winning fashion.  Some of the sales professionals are doing even more.  They are the sales champions.  The champions are those who have put it all on the line and challenged themselves for all to see.

The challenge makes the champion.

Champions fight for more than just themselves.  The champion takes a stand in service to a higher purpose.  Not content with the club tie and the firm handshake, going for the king’s gold ring at the top of the mountain, the champion is thinking about her prospects and how she will have their backs.  It’s the champion’s role to defend their prospects, those patrons who do business with them, by representing their best interests in the face of inferior solutions to the problems facing them in the coming year.

Here are 5 challenges worthy of champions:

Champion’s Challenge 1-  Time for a bloodless analysis of how you are different today than you were at the end of 2015.  How have you grown, succeeded, failed and possibly regressed?  This is not for sharing, but, this is not for the faint of heart, either.  Nothing is beyond the pale…be brutal to yourself, and the brutality of others will seem quaint in comparison. 

Champion’s Challenge 2-  Frame your differences in terms of next year’s objectives.  You should already know the “what” of your desired 2017 accomplishments, now is the time to understand the “how” your growth can be focused to take advantage of your personal momentum.  Of course, you can’t ignore the painful bits.  Hold your failures up to the light of your integrity and incorporate your redemption in concrete, actionable terms as they relate to your goals for next year.

Champion’s Challenge 3-  Take stock of your tools.  The sharp blade is seldom rusty.  Now is the time to make sure your firmware and software is up to date, your anti-virus security is current, and your clients and suites are all interoperable and efficient.  Look at your smartphone’s app management…are mail, calendar, and contacts clear and uncluttered?  Is your laptop’s desktop logical and clean?  Imagine sharing your laptop with your prospect…would they see crumbs and smudges of lunches past, your fantasy football app taking pride of place, and a screensaver of your last celebratory selfie among the old gang?  If you want to appear to mean business, your appearance must prove worthy of the business.  Knights are shiny for a reason.7\4

Champion’s Challenge 4-  Do you know your openings?  Have you committed to nearly automatic performance the most frequent actions that define your daily tactics?  When asked about what you do, is your reply something that an unseen prospect would regard as clear and well expressed?  This is more than the classic elevator pitch.  What questions are you asked most frequently?  What explanations and descriptions most often come up?  Do you have the very best answers, ones flexible enough to be contextual, yet firm enough to tout your competitive advantages?  If you are going to survive past the first few obligatory cuts and thrusts, you’d better have practiced your own advances and counters until they are second nature.

Champion’s Challenge 5- Are you worthy?  Yes, that’s the big question the champion does not flinch from answering.  Are you the professional you want others to believe you are?  While Challenges 1 and 2 touch on this, it’s not enough to hone your strengths and overcome your weaknesses if what you are doing doesn’t fill you with pride.  Have you committed to pursuing excellence without compromise…compromise to your values, to your reputation, to your integrity?  A champion is only as valuable as the trust placed in them by others.  Are you worthy of that trust?

Though only 5, these challenges are beyond most.  Those content with business as usual goals and fortnight resolutions won’t meet these challenges.  And that’s okay, because chances are you’ll be dueling with some of them in 2017, and, even champions don’t mind an easy opponent now and then.

Sell fearlessly, my friends.

So you lost the sale? Good, now you’re winning! -OR- Second Rule of Swordsmanship Selling: Scars are Mandatory

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For salespeople, failure is a dangerous thing.  For those of us who earn our living by winning client engagements the stakes cannot seem higher.  The cost of failure is measured in our income, our security, our reputation.  Stakes like these are nothing to take lightly.  In the end, failure means the wolf is one lethal stride closer to the door.  One failure too many means nothing less than the lights being turned off, because the party’s over.

Failure is serious business.

Our relationship with failure is an on-again, off-again affair.  We’ve all experienced it, but we seldom take it home to meet the folks.  We have all failed, we all know that everyone we know has failed, and yet, none of us are eager to admit we’ve shared its company.  I mean hey, if failure is not an option, what’s to be gained by thinking or talking about it?

Salespeople are winners.  And winning, as we know, is everything.

Okay, it’s one thing to focus on the goal, to devote ourselves to thoughts and actions best suited to the success we envision.  With thanks to the storied Zig Ziglar, we all get how our attitude determines our altitude.  With this said, focus isn’t the opposite of perception.  We certainly know that nobody bats .1000.  We’re all aware even the best competitors will lose on their way to a winning record.  Show me a champion, and I’ll count her scars.  It’s a fact failure is, after all, more of an option than we’d like to admit.  So, let’s try this again:

Salespeople are winners.  And winning, as we know, requires failure.

That’s right, without failure we are denied victory.  As much as we crave winning, none of us are willing to do away with competition.  Being king of the hill is hardly worth the crown if you’re the only one playing the game.  In fact, the more likely failure looms as a potential outcome, the greater the satisfaction will come from winning.  Satisfaction, and inevitably, the greater reward.

In sales, we have the luxury of choosing our battles.  The Swordsmanship Seller, for example, considers who is best positioned to benefit by their resources and expertise.  They seek out a Patron, one who gains an advantage by the role of a Champion dedicated to their interests.  The prospect is the Patron, the salesperson is the Champion, and the sales cycle is the Engagement.  While we’ll speak to these rolls in detail later on, what we know now is we have every opportunity to stack the deck in our favor.  We choose the engagement we will dedicate ourselves to winning.  But back to the issue of failure, it will come to pass some of these engagements, however qualified, will end in our opponent’s victory.  We will have lost.  And that wound today, when attended to with honesty and humility, will provide us the means to emerge victorious tomorrow.

Lose like a Champion.

Yep, that’s right, Champions lose differently than most.  They subject themselves to an honest review, checking their ego at the door.

Here’s how Champions lose:

  1. List the stated reasons for the loss. Price, availability, features, politics, etc?  Now, with the stated reasons out of the way, what do you think the real reasons are?  Deconstruct the engagement and determine the most likely reasons contributing to the loss.  Nothing is beyond consideration…take a good look, and spare no inquiry, however close to home you may be.  Include in the list all things you would consider a mistake on your part.  Even if you’re tempted to believe that time you were 10 minutes late, or failed to get a follow-up eMail sent for a couple of days, had nothing to do with the loss.  List it.  List all of it.
  2. Now, identify the timing in the engagement that relates to these reasons. While the sale is won or lost when the decision is announced, the reasons that contributed to that decision came to pass long before the contract is signed.
  3. Once you’ve nailed down the reasons for the loss, it’s time to take a deep breath and deal with how you missed it, and what’s worse, come to grips with how much time you wasted trying to close a deal you’d already lost! Dead man walking!
  4. Here’s the time to playback the engagement, having eliminated the causes that contributed to the loss. How would you have played out the process knowing what you know?
  5. Finally, populate a list citing the reasons for the loss, and, the when, where, why, and how it played out. Remember, your opponents are those forces behind an inferior solution to your patron’s best interests.  They seldom make their moves known to you, and less often make them face to face.  When, for example, did the winning salesperson introduce the decision maker to his VP who, you’ve discovered, attended the same university and have mutual friends?  Chances are, you’ll sell against that company in the future, and you’ll be darn certain to be aware of how they leverage contacts when the time comes.

Over time, the Swordsmanship Seller will build a book, populated by competitive measures specific to both familiar competitors and likely scenarios.  It’s from this body of practical knowledge the Champion hones her lethal craft.

The Second Rule of Swordsmanship Selling- Scars are Mandatory

Sell fearlessly, my friends.