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One Really Important But Under-Appreciated Selling Capability

Over the years I’ve facilitated or observed countless opportunity or account planning sessions ranging from $25k one-time to $50 million a year in recurring revenue.  I’ll leave specifics about the planning process to the sales performance improvement providers.  But I would like to bring to your attention one critical capability required for sales success: objectivity.

Objectivity gives us the ability to determine the truth, which then becomes the basis of determining an approach to manage any situation.

Achieving sales mastery requires both outward-focused objectivity—a realistic picture of our true position in a sales campaign—and inward-focused objectivity, a clear-eyed assessment of our own skills and capabilities.

I do understand that in the real world, objectivity is relative, not absolute. No person, however wide-awake and self-aware, can ever be totally objective about everything and everyone — especially himself.

Anaïs Nin wrote,

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Think about that for a moment.

Traps

To those with an open mind and a healthy ego, experience is the best teacher of objectivity. Novice salespeople are often optimists; they have to be, to face all that rejection and keep coming back for more. They look for any nuance, any signal upon which they can build the belief that somewhere, somehow, there is business for them to win. Not only can’t they assess a situation objectively (we call that qualification), they generally don’t see their own weaknesses. They are “unconscious incompetents,” unaware of their own deficiencies.

Even as they mature and gain experience, some salespeople continue to be wishful thinkers employing happy ears for one of their five senses. They cannot—or will not—face the facts as they are; instead, they put a positive spin on anything they tell their bosses, their customers, and ultimately (or perhaps primarily) themselves. In other instances, salespeople deliberately avoid learning the truth. Like ostriches with their heads in the sand, they feel that if they don’t ask the question, they can’t get the bad news. These are defense mechanisms salespeople use, often unconsciously, out of fear of some real or perceived threat. If you’re a sales manager, does your hiring process include testing for this deficiency?

Inward-Focused Objectivity

Top performers have the ability to accurately assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and the will to acknowledge them. To them, everything is open to examination: the skills they have or have not developed over their years of selling, the personal traits they were born with, the behaviors they exhibit every day.

These sales professionals are constantly reassessing themselves—determining where they stand versus the current business environment and their competition, where they need to be to sustain their success, and how they are going to get there. They work constantly on areas needing improvement and, in the meantime, seek help from others to compensate for weaknesses in these skills, traits, and behaviors. They understand that, especially in our world of constant change, what may have contributed to their success then doesn’t necessarily get the job done now.

Outward-Focused Objectivity

Winners seek the truth. They understand that it is a vital element of their success. Top sales professionals are consistently objective about the world around them, especially the true state of their sales campaigns and the motivations, intentions, and capabilities of the people they’re selling to.

Deception on the part of the buyer has become more commonplace. Whether to spare your feelings or to get a better negotiating position with another supplier, customers will string you along, making you think you may be selected when, in fact, you’ve already lost. You may well find that your customer is including you—letting you think you’re at least in contention—merely to satisfy a three-bid requirement, having decided long before to do business with another bidder. Other customer will hide from you the fact that they’ve lost funding for the project or that it has been postponed. If you’ve learned to assess the sales opportunity with staunch objectivity, you will see through a prospect’s friendly façade, seek the truth about the competition, and ascertain whether a deal is possible.

To The Point

As a sales leader, expect your salespeople to be objective. If they are, praise them for it. If objectivity isn’t something they are capable of, take a serious look at the impact on their sales performance and development potential, and determine just how much of a limiting factor it will be going forward.

(c) 2004 – 2012 Dave Stein (Adapted from How Winners Sell) – All Rights Reserved

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