In this three-part series Dr. Roy Whitten and Scott Roy, founders and directors of international sales consultancy Whitten & Roy Partnership Ltd who provide sales training and programs in over 15 countries in both commercial and non-profit sectors, share expert advice on transforming sales performance and managing sales teams. Following the first two articles on sales competence and managing attitude, this final article discusses transforming performance by mastering the art of sales execution.
The Execution Cycle
In sales, execution comes down to a very simple formula: doing the right thing with the right people at the right time to help customers make an intelligent, informed decision. It's the depth and quality of this conversation that builds a customer's trust and leads to sales.
There's no pat formula for how to do this. It requires agility, creativity, boldness, toughness, and a disciplined ability to focus on the problem first and the solution second. To do this consistently and well you need to find ways to keep yourself in a virtuous loop of three activities: aiming your mental resources and resisting distractions, leading your customer sensitively but boldly along a buying path that genuinely serves their interests, and learning quickly and deeply from successes and failures along the way.
In this article we will focus on the first of these activities. To do so, we need to take a look at how the brain works, both for and against you. Decades ago, we were both introduced to the work of Dr. Maxwell Maltz who wrote that, when it comes to human performance – and we would add especially sales performance – the brain is a great servant but a lousy master.
Our research into the management of the mind has led us to several important conclusions and a sales technology for utilizing the natural and powerful resource of the human brain. Feel free to contact us for specific references – here we can share some of what we’ve found that is critically important to all of us who sell for a living.
Your brain is a great servant…
Much has been written about the functioning of the brain (e.g., see Schwartz & Begley's book on neuroplasticity), but Maltz was the first person we encountered who compared the brain to a servo-motor mechanism that, at lightening speed, focuses its resources at the target toward which it has been directed.
Here's a quick experiment that proves the point. Think about a purple elephant with white polka dots. Notice how quickly the image comes to mind? Give the brain a command, and it delivers.
If you look back on your career in sales, you will undoubtedly find some examples of times you have focused on a target that mattered to you and then found your mental resources – your ideas, insights, behaviours, confidence, boldness – pointing the way to the fulfillment of this ‘aim’ you set for yourself.
…but a lousy master
Meet what we call your PSI – your performance self-image. This is something that develops in all of us around the age of five. Think about the way all of us lived our first few years. Arguably, they form a period of our greatest achievement: we learn, grow, change, and perform at a rate and intensity that is unmatched for the rest of our lives. We learn to walk and talk, we try everything with interest and natural curiosity – art, athletics, language, music – and we succeed and fail with equal grace while continuing to strive for what we genuinely want.
Somewhere between ages four and six, our brains develop a self-referential capacity. We start ‘deciding’ – more accurately, our brain decides for us – who we are and who we aren’t, what we can do and what we can’t, what's important to us and what isn’t.
The result is the formation of a self-image that automatically aims our mental resources. It has everything to do with how we sell and how we don’t.
If you fail to aim yourself, your PSI will do it for you
The PSI is the reason that ineffective selling habits return under pressure and persist over time. It's not a failure of character; it's a failure of developing the execution skill of aiming ourselves, consistently and well, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month.
There is good news here, however, from the field known as ‘transformative learning and change’: once you learn how to consciously and consistently aim your own mental resources – you can unlock in yourself a capacity for change that is genuinely astounding. You can regain the ability you had when you were very young: to learn quickly, to trust what you genuinely want, to discern what needs to be done, and to generate the confidence to do it in a way that is natural and authentic.
Here's a way to put this insight to the test in your own life.
How to aim your brain
There are two fundamental abilities that all children appear to possess naturally but which start fading in strength from around the age of five: present moment awareness and deep desire. Both of us have focused our professional experience (in transformation and in sales) on the recovery of these abilities.
For the moment, we suggest two practices that every sales person can experiment with and so discover the transformative power of aiming their mental faculties.
Two key practices
Practice one: Every week – an Aim Plan
A standard practice in our own organization is what we call the weekly Aim Plan. Each of us takes some time at the end of the week to aim ourselves toward the following week. Here are the steps we take:
1. Get into the present moment. This is a state of relaxed focus, free of distraction. You can achieve this state of mind quickly while you keep working by applying a technique which was the subject of Roy's doctoral work: split attention.
This is a key skill in all human performance, especially in sales. It involves keeping most of your attention on what you are currently doing and simultaneously placing some of your attention on something you can physically feel: like your breathing, touching your fingers together, etc. Here's a video of Roy teaching the split attention technique.
2. Write down your targets – these are your sales targets: annual, quarterly, whatever you are ultimately aiming at, plus other important goals you have identified.
3. Decide the three to five key objectives for the following week that will move you as quickly as possible toward your targets.
4. Develop a deep desire for these objectives. Complete the sentence: I want to achieve these objectives because… Then continue with another sentence, “…and I want that because I want… Continue repeating this pattern several times, deepening your desire to make these things happen in the following week.
5. Decide your very next step for each objective, and write it into your calendar or diary for the following week.
6. Put your Aim Plan away and go enjoy your weekend.
Practice Two: Every day – some Aim Time
Many people begin their working day by checking email. This is a highly distracting practice that will deflect you from going for the important objectives you have for the day and week. Instead, start each day with Aim Time, which will connect you with your targets. To do so, do these steps:
1. Get into the present moment by splitting your attention, where your clarity of thought, objectivity, and bold creativity can come forth.
2. Look at your Aim Plan (from the previous week). Review your objectives, reasons for wanting them, and your very next steps. Adjust them according to whatever has emerged since you wrote them.
3. Notice what your brain – your creativity, your inclinations, your desires – have come up with since you wrote this plan. Adjust your next steps, and put them in your calendar or diary for the week.
4. Ruthlessly remove from your week all the activities that don’t matter as much, and prioritize your very next steps.
Give it three weeks
We have found – for ourselves and for people we train around the world – that when people follow these simple practices for three straight weeks, they find a significant shift in their effectiveness and confidence as sales professionals.
We wish you all the best as you experiment with them.
Dr Roy Whitten is an expert in attitude and its role in human performance. In over 40 years as a trainer, consultant and coach, he has personally coached and trained over 100,000 people. Scott Roy, an expert in the art of selling and sales management, built and ran large sales teams as well as founding a nationwide insurance company. In 2009 they both founded Whitten & Roy Partnership, which takes a radically different approach to sales training. Today operating in 34 countries around the world, Whitten & Roy Partnership is an international sales consultancy that helps leading global businesses and organisations in the developing world transform their sales results. For more information visit their website.