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The Importance of Softening Sales Questions

January 15, 2017

So, I was with one of my coaching clients, and he feared asking certain questions because he is to direct.  I had to laugh a little.  I have always been accused of being direct.  I guess it is my east coast background of getting to the point.  As one of my bosses said “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers” Overall asking questions has been a key to my success, but I must admit in a couple of situations I was overly aggressive in my sales probing and may have lost a couple of sales because of it.

I think most sales people have difficulty in asking critical questions and closing sales because they feel it maybe to bold or the relationship may be affected.  Ever heard the statement from management “My sales people do not know how to close.”  The truth is they don’t know how to ask key difficult questions in a diplomatic way.

In some ways, this is understood.  Our whole lives we are taught not to ask to many questions by our parents and our teachers.  Get over it.  If you want to be effective you have to learn to put the “Skunk on the Table” If you are NOT one to be direct you must develop ways to ask the questions with some softening techniques, which will allow you and your prospect to be more comfortable.   I had to learn some of these, but at the same time it is still a struggle not to get to the point quickly.  However, I respect that not everyone is the same, and everyone sells a little differently.  However, there is nothing more important throughout the sales process than asking purposeful questions and listening very intently to the answers.

What’s your background and how did you get started in the business? If you don’t mind, what is ….
What is it that you like and do not like about your current service provider? If you don’t mind me asking, what is it….
If you don’t solve this problem, how will it affect your company and you personally? If I may be so bold, if you ….
What is stopping you from deciding now and buying my solution? From what we discussed, what is …….
Is there anyone else involved in the decision? Knowing the importance of this decision for the company will there be any others involved in the decision making?
Do you see a benefit in what we offer? From the various benefits, we discussed, which would best serve you and your organization?
You said that ……. Correct me if I am wrong, what I heard is ……….


I am sure there are other phrases that you can think of that may be as good or better than some that I just listed.  Here are some others which may be helpful.

  • The only reason I am asking is ….
  • Don’t take this the wrong way, I need to better understand ….
  • May I offer my help in presenting this program to influencers of the decision?

If you have other thoughts on this subject, I am greatly appreciative for your input.  Please share your comments below:



How Micromanaging is affecting Sales?

October 31, 2016

If you have started a business, or you were the first salesperson and its growing one of the most difficult things is to let go, and NOT Micromanage.  The strengths that got your business running may be your weaknesses in making it go to the next level.    If you ever desire to make the company go beyond where it is at, then you must stop micromanaging. This may be the most difficult aspect of your business career to change.   If you are not sure if you are a micro-manager check off on the following:

  1. You have more work than you can handle because you do not feel comfortable delegating to anyone else.
  2. Despite hiring people, you are still the only one that can sell in the company.
  3. You go crazy when people do not follow the processes developed to the letter.
  4. You need to know what everyone is doing, all the time
  5. Despite asking people for feedback on things and requesting for ideas you do not get answers.

If this sounds familiar, then what can you do about it.    It’s affecting your company growth and more importantly affecting your sanity.


What to do about it?

  1. Take a very long look in the mirror.  Perhaps you truly like being involved in everything and know this is a fault.  What will you do if you are not working in the business 24/7.  Please get a life.  My best answer is to get a business coach like myself.  Or, join a peer advisory group like my SBC group to get honest open feedback.  Sorry for the self-promotion.   I will even suggest someone else if you do not feel it is a good fit.
  2. Another very simple answer is to hire the right people and trust them. In this case, it is better to micromanage the hiring process, then wind up micromanaging once hired.  Benchmark your ideal employee, use the right assessments tools from VPT Enterprises or HPI Solutions, get other valued employees opinions, take your time, but hire right and 50% of the micromanagement problem is gone.
  3. Start managing the process and not the people. Remember processes are road maps not railroad tracks.  Make sure your processes have some flexibility, and that you accept that everyone is going to handle things a little differently.
  4. Don’t mistaken accountability with micromanagement. They are very different. If you are unsure read the following Accountability vs. Micromanagement.  The people that are complaining about your Micromanagement maybe complaining about being held accountable.
  5. Invite dissent and difficult communication. There are two important results you will see.  Your team will embrace you more as a leader.  The people have a vested interest and responsibility in making something work that they so aggressively advocated for.  For further reading on this see Confident Leaders Invite Dissent  or read 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

I hope this has been of some help.  I am happy to entertain and discuss any points that have been made and look forward to your comments.

You Did not win that RFP, what’s next?

August 30, 2016


Has this happened to you?


Some large potential calls you up and asks for your company to make a company presentation.  You spend hours putting together a company presentation, and fly to the prospect taking some top executives with you.

Then you are asked to participate in an RFP (Request for Proposal), which would bring in $2,000,000 in revenue.

Because this was an unusually large request from a reputable company your whole team spends the better part of two weeks trying to put together the proposal.

On Boarding


The result.  Thank you very much for your time, but we decided to go with the competitor.


Part of our jobs as Sales Managers and Sales Coaches is to make sure that the company does not waste time and resources on long shot opportunities.  In some cases, even with large potentials it is not worth the time and efforts of our people if there is no true basis for doing business.

The first mistake was just giving a presentation without being very specific as far as what attracted your prospect’s interest.  Never give a presentation, if you do not know what is important to the prospect, and focus your whole presentation around it.  The prospect is only mildly interested in all the other things your company does.

The second mistake was in doing the RFP without first asking some of the following questions:

  1. Other than price what criteria is important to the prospect?
  2. Has there been an issue with the previous supplier?
  3. What additional information do you need from the prospect to make sure that they are comparing apples to apples?
  4. Is your timeline the same as theirs?
  5. Are they willing to take suggestions to their RFP, which may reduce costs, or improve the project overall?
  6. Will you be allowed to present the RFP face to face, and ask some of these questions?

If you feel that you must bid, and that this is a door opener, do it intelligently.  If a prospect is not willing to let you ask these questions, do you really want to do business with them?  You must agree on a basis for doing business.  The buyers’ job is to make you a commodity.  Yours is to show them your competitive edge.  Sell the value of doing business with the company and yourself beyond just the product.

In many cases they are only sending out these RFP’s to compare to their present vendor.  With such a large bid, trust and competence is more important than price to the buyers.  They may say price is most important, but without the trust and competence would you put your job on the line for a better price?

Give me your situation and thoughts and let’s see if I can help you do a better job of winning the bid.





Part II:  The Fearless Salesperson

July 6, 2016

So last month I talked about the fearless salesperson, and got some very interesting comments.  One comment from my old boss and close friend for 30 years ago. “ Allan you were not only fearless you were ever persistent.”

There are many ways to improve sales.  Better questions, being more fearless, being customer focused, targeting better, closing more, filling the pipeline, better body language, and more and more.

However, if you cannot persevere and follow up consistently none of these improvements will dramatically help.  I do not know what it is today, but people just don’t follow up.  The average salesperson follows up 1.5 times when the average sale is made over 8 contacts.

Please someone tell me what is the problem.  I know you don’t want to be a pest.  Are you being honest with yourself?  Are you really saying, you don’t think your product or service is of real benefit to the prospect?  Or, you don’t want to belittle yourself by contacting them multiple times.  If you truly believe you are not being a pest if you truly believe this will help the customer.

Let’s set the scenario.  You thought you had a good meeting with a prospect, and then you call him/her back and there is no response.  Sometimes you e-mail them back and no response.  DON’T GIVE UP.

GIVE UP, if you feel that there truly is no basis for business.

GIVE UP, if you feel that your product or service has no value or benefit to the customer.

GIVE UP, if you really do not understand the problem and implications of that problem to their business or you are unable to quanitify the pain.

E-mail them, text them, furnish third party testimonials and references, but DON’T GIVE UP.

Be bold, be fearless, and be persistent.


The Fearless Salesperson

May 25, 2016

Recently someone asked about my history, and why I was so successful in sales.  It took some thought, because I do not consider myself to be the smartest, friendliest, or best salesperson in every situation.  However, the one attribute that helps me the most is being fearless.  In my coaching, I have seen literally 1000’s of techniques one can teach to help in sales, but nothing will replace being fearless and confident.

As an example, have you ever seen some new young sales person get a sale that seasoned sales people were not able to get?  Was it because of knowledge or technique?  Doubtful.  Probably because the young one did not have it ingrained in their head all the reasons someone would not buy?

Have you ever seen some salesperson that was so totally obnoxious that you did not understand how they could be so successful?  Despite them being obnoxious they were fearless in their approach and asked or stated the problem in such a confident manner that it was too hard to dispute.

Don’t confuse fearless with intimidation.  The young salesperson was fearless, the obnoxious salesperson was intimidating and fearless.  Neither intimidating nor fearless is not in many of our basic natures. Learning and adopting a fearless attitude is difficult.  One really has to commit and accept the concept as truth.   If you ever read Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer, you can see how this works.  I am sure Donald Trump either read the book or helped write it.

These salespeople and negotiators are NOT smarter, NOT more creative, and NOT better than you.  However, what they have in common and what most people do not have is the chutzpah to ask the difficult question.  They are not so emotionally tied to the outcome of the sale that they are afraid of losing it.  They will put a buyer on the spot, if they feel there is reasonable cause.

Throughout my career, I have been noted as being fearless, and in some cases even intimidating, but hopefully not obnoxious.  Because of this, there have been many instances where I knew very little about a product or service and came out with some big orders.  Think about it, and see if it makes sense to you.  Here are some of the fearless statements and question I have asked which have gotten sales.

  1. Why haven’t you bought from the company in 20 years?
  2. Please help me understand why you haven’t bought from us?
  3. If I was on your side of the table I might not buy from our company, because of the lousy service. What do we need to improve on both sides of the table?
  4. Let’s get to the point. Yes, is the best answer, no is the second best answer, and if you give me a maybe then you really don’t want to buy?  Why?  (Sandler Sales preaches this).


  1. What is the situation with your present supplier?  What are you looking to change? What do we need to be a better supplier than presently?
  1. What are the consequences if you do not make this decision?  If you don’t make a decision, have you quantified how much this will cost you?  (Three decisions:  Move forward with present supplier, move forward with new supplier, do nothing).

I welcome any comments either positive or negative.  Tell me a story about your successful “Fearless Sale”.

Use Radical Candor to Drive Sales

March 29, 2016

Recently I showed this Video to the Strategic Business Council that I facilitate called: Radical Candor – The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss.   Basically she is saying as Sales Management it is your moral obligation to PISS people off.  If you can’t be this then your second much worse choice that no one should aspire to be is an a…hole.  Do you agree?  There is much more to this Video, and I suggest you listen carefully before commenting.  


I agree with almost everything Kim Scott is saying. I find utilizing this concept more difficult when managing sales people. Employees will talk to other employees about your Radical Candor.  That’s okay and it is expected.  Being a Manager is not a popularity contest.  If they are not complaining about you as a manager, then you are not pushing them to do better.  However, they are usually discussing these points with other co-workers.  Or if not discussing they are brooding in their offices or cubicles.  The problem with sales people is that they are frequently more in contact with their clients.  Brooding and discussing your company in a negative way in front of customers is not acceptable.  And as a Sales Manager or Business Owner you have no clue whether this is happening.  How many times have you heard sales people say this is my customer and when I go the customer goes.  If you have heard this you are in real trouble.  

The question is “How do you keep the spirits up while at the same time be critical and manage effectively”.  

I will never forget my first boss at Kraft Foods that once said to me.  “Allan, for one of the smartest people I know that was really a dumb thing that you did.”  How was I supposed to answer this.  This is a Manager that showed a true interest in me personally, and I liked Was I now willing to blindly accept his critisism.  Of course not, I was mad as hell.  However, I had trouble coming back at him when he said I was one of the smartest people he knew.  

I have had those a…hole managers that were nothing but criticism and I must say I could not wait to show them that they were wrong.  I have had those managers that only complimented me to the point that it was insincere.  I liked them but was not motivated by them, because I was not learning anything from them.  If you are in sales you want to always do better.  How can you do better if all you hear are compliments and no input on strategy, or improvement on presentation, or recognizing situations better.  

So now what type of Manager are you, and what are you going to do to help Drive your Sales. Your comments, positive and negative are welcomed and accepted.  I love the discussion.    

Best Practices for Sales Management

February 29, 2016

Having an effective Sales Team starts with having an effective Sales Manager.  There is no greater position in the company to influence the direction and success of the company than Sales Manager.  Yet many of these folks are untrained for the position, and are so distracted by the latest fire drill, that they neglect their main job – Making their teams successful.

1. To many Sales Managers focus too much on metrics and not enough on coaching to drive performance. Which of these areas are most effecting your sales people and how can you help them other than metrics?

  1. Managing Priorities / Time Management
  2. Having a Positive Attitude about the company and co-workers
  3. Improving their selling skills.
  4. Improving their communication skills with internal staff.
  5. Finishing what they have started. This means following up with the customers and with internal requests.
1. Make Sure that the Compensation Package Reflects the Culture and Goals of the company – This one thing can make the Sales Manager’s job a lot easier. Most small business sales compensation packages are strictly focused on revenue generation and NOT on culture and goals. A mixture is all three are important.  However, it must be kept simple enough so that it can be reviewed.  Here are just a few areas, which can be incorporated into the compensation package.  In some cases, you may want to deal with a point system, ratio, or a percentage. I am sure there are more that can be added.
  1. Gross Profit
  2. Forecasting
  3. Achieving goal and above goal
  4. Followed Up Leads from Marketing
  5. Lead Response Time
  6. Prospecting Leads
  7. Referral leads
  8. Documented Follow Ups of Contacts
  9. Demonstrations
  10. Customer Retention
  11. Quantified team involvement in Sales Process
  12. Current Account Receivables.
3. Managing, and improving the Sales Process – The Sales process is a road map not a railroad track.  Use the tool to teach and track performance in real time.  As the company grows processes become more and more important.  Most sales people think there is no process, and the Manager’s do not hold them accountable.  It must be emphasized that this process is to help them be better.  Avoid the CRM becoming a data dump, and make it into a Sales Process tool.
4. Coaching daily at the moment of the situation – To re-emphasize, the Sales Manager’s number 1 job is coaching and training.  Do not take over a sales situation because it is easier and quicker.  You are a coach not a player.  When there are situations which require displaying or correction do not hesitate.  Do not allow more than 24 hours to go by without addressing difficult situations with sales people and customers.  And do not lose the opportunity to coach.
5.Dealing with Top Performers – Effective Sales Managers know how to deal with these highly competitive, performance and conflict producers. The Michael Jordon’s and the Tiger Woods of Sales forces still need someone to keep them in line and to maximize their performance.  This can be difficult at times.  However, I have seen many a company being held hostage by Top Performers that do not adhere to the culture and direction of the company.  It is the Sales Manager’s job to diplomatically keep those folks in check.
Please feel free to contact me via phone 480-220-4296, or e-mail
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