Sales Leadership's Third Law of SalesAug 14, 2022
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
You probably remember this concept from your high school physics class, as it has been studied and analyzed since Sir Isaac Newton published his Three Laws of Motion almost 350 years ago. You may not know that this theory can also be applied to understand better how we can efficiently drive sales in our day-to-day management decisions.
It starts with a basic idea: every decision you make is an action that elicits an expected reaction from your team.
You make your management decisions based on the results you want. Maybe your sales are below target, so you take a look at your KPIs and decide to encourage your team to work harder to improve their numbers. You expect this decision to result in improved numbers.
But what happens when you implement that decision, and you DON'T get those improved sales numbers you were looking for?
More effort, your action isn't producing more sales, the expected reaction. Why is this? The problem is focusing on the reaction instead of your action. This is the science of successful selling.
You may want to sit down for this part:
Sales is actually NOT all about the numbers.
Yeah, I know; I'll give you a second to recover from that. Shouldn't the whole point of sales be making actual sales? Well, yes, of course, if you didn't make the sales, then you wouldn't have the job you have. But it's more complicated than just that.
What is just as important, if not more important, than the sales themselves?
The Behaviors that take place during the creation of those activities that create the numbers. What behaviors maximize the results of those numbers? If you focus on a sustainable way to make sales, then you'll find yourself with those improved numbers you were looking for.
Let's consider an example.
Your sales are down, and your boss is breathing down your neck, telling you you've gotta get those numbers up. Your boss is particularly concerned with this guy Tom on your team, who couldn't sell a life jacket on the Titanic. In a typical scenario, you, as the sales manager, would go have a chat with ole Tom. You'd tell him he needs to get his act together and make more calls, make 50 a day instead of 25. So then Tom would go and make those 50 calls, no problem.
But upon review, the increase in calls isn't resulting in a noticeable increase in sales. He gets a few little bumps here and there, but overall, his results are still leaving a lot to be desired. Eventually, you'll tire of being on Tom's ass 24/7, babysitting him, and his call numbers will drop again.
With Tom back to his old Tom ways, you'd have to go back and put the pressure back on, tell him to make more calls again, or else his ass is on the line. Of course, Tom would dutifully nod and assure you that he will and will take it seriously this time. Of course, once again, nothing actually gets better. He's just making more calls that generate diddly squats for you or Tom. You get tired of babysitting again. Tom goes back to playing Candy Crush when you're not looking.
But why does this happen?
Well, let's look back at it from the beginning. We know now that more calls don't equal more sales. You have to consider a few things to figure out why that is.
Why isn't Tom making enough calls in the first place? Could it be because his sales numbers are embarrassing regardless of how many calls he is placing? I mean, think about it, why would you do more of what you know isn't working? Even Tom can see how useless that is. If the calls he was making were generating the expected success (from which he likely earns a commission), he would almost certainly be motivated to make more of those calls on his own. Forcing him to stay on the phone isn't going to make him more sales, so now you've got to pick a different action.
As I discuss in my book, One thing All Sales Managers Must Know, there is a helpful metaphor you can use to visualize a salesperson's motivation. Motivation is like an inflated balloon, and it is YOUR job to keep it inflated. If the air goes out of a balloon, it deflates, much like motivation leaving a salesperson who feels hopeless about their own work.
If you're running a sales team, which motivational balloon do you want to be producing? The biggest damn balloon you can get, right? Have you seen the movie "Up"? You need to be inflating balloons so big that it lifts your team right off the ground and out into the wide blue yonder.
So when you were going up to Tom and chewing his ass out over not making enough calls, as far as Tom is concerned, you're way off base. He knows his calls suck, and he knows making more of them isn't going to make him more sales. So, what's his motivation balloon looking like now? Probably full of holes, and you are, in fact, wasting your breath.
So what could a successful approach, or action in our physics of sales equation, look like?
The interaction could go something more like this: Tom, are you happy with your sales results? No? Well, what do you think is holding you back?
This approach allows Tom to get all his ass-covering and deflecting out of the way, as is typically the natural reaction of a salesperson when their back is against the wall. Allow him to vent, place blame, and share his thoughts, even if you know they are misplaced or simply dead wrong. DO NOT ARGUE; just let the guy talk. Then you can continue with a productive conversation:
Tom, let me see if I can help. I want to listen to some of the phone calls you're making and see if there's anything that stands out that we could work on to improve your results.
The key in this next step is to make sure you're not jumping to conclusions too soon, even if you think you already know the answer. You can't listen to one call and think you've solved the problem right off the bat. You've got to listen to several calls, keep notes and try to find a pattern. You'll likely find some obvious flaws in the calls, or maybe some not-so-obvious ones that you wouldn't have noticed had you not spent the dedicated time analyzing what he's got going on. Perhaps he's not qualifying, or he's not breaking the ice.
Or maybe he clearly hasn't done his research prior to the call or is using some shockingly inappropriate humor, blowing any chance at a possible connection with the client. You know best of all that these arenâ€™t issues Tom is capable of self-diagnosing. Once you've figured out the pattern and narrowed down what key motivation Tom needs to push his sales physics, you can help him be aware of where he falls short. That conversation may look something like this:
Tom, ole boy, remember our sales training on qualifying? Do you remember some of the critical behaviors and tactics we discussed?
This way, you're opening the conversation to see what Tom remembers and whether he had just forgotten some key points or had actually never understood how to apply his training in the first place. You may need to remind him of a primary tactic or approach he seems to be forgetting. This may seem like some frustratingly elementary stuff, but you can't treat Tom like an idiot, even if you think he is one. The reality is that he's your salesperson, and you're tasked with helping him reach his full potential.
Perhaps he remembers every detail of his training and is well aware of the tools, tactics, and behaviors he should implement but doesn't realize what an abysmal job he's doing applying them to his actual calls. You could move forward with him like this:
Well, you know, Tom, I've listened to 8-10 of your calls, and I think we may be off base with your understanding of how you should be using this particular approach. Let's go back and brush off that training together and revisit some of the best practices. We can see if you can pick up on where your results are being affected.
Practice Makes Perfection!
With these types of conversations, you will allow Tom to engage in his own improvement while also feeling supported by you as his guide.
Together, you can get him back on the road to gaining success in his calls and building up his own confidence and motivation. You can make him part of his growth as a salesperson, rather than feeling like a dog at the end of your leash. Most importantly, his sales WILL improve because he will be using the best practices while making those phone calls, rendering them more effective.
When his calls start working, he'll be motivated to make more calls on his own. His balloon will stay nice and full.
Let's take a look at what we've discussed from a broader perspective: What are you doing regularly to help improve performance within your team, using this concept of the Third Law of Sales?
How much time are you devoted to observation? We're talking ride-along, joining in on meetings without feeling the need to take over, just observing as a fly on the wall.
Are you reviewing sales emails, conducting role plays, and encouraging group discussions on wins, emphasizing the behaviors that drive them?
These are all great and appropriate actions to drive those results you're looking for.
To find long-term, sustained success, you need to engage with your team and have open discussions with them about their performance and what works. Be sure to highlight key successes from their recent sales and help them analyze them.
What did they say?
How did they say it, and when?
Then, what did the client say?
What happened next?
How does this relate back to our sales training?
These are all questions you can ask to encourage your team to take a deeper look at their work and what works for them. Then, you can invite them to role-play that proven approach so that they can fine-tune it and go into all their calls with a clearer picture of their personal approach.
At the end of the day, a salesperson doesn't know what they don't know, and as their sales manager, you are the one tasked with filling in those knowledge gaps. You must spend a significant portion of your time helping them learn more about what they do not realize about themselves and what they do not know about sales tactics. It is rare that they will ever figure it out by themselves if they haven't already. That's on you. You've got to be dedicated to building productive relationships, being their biggest fan, and even picking them up when they fall.
No magic amount of time needs to be dedicated to these efforts. You've got to spend as much time as is necessary during the week to improve performance, as that IS your primary responsibility as a sales manager. If you feel like you don't have enough time for it, trim the fat. Get everything out of the way that is not dedicated to improving behaviors and results. Look at this as your Platinum Tier activity. It holds importance over everything else.
Also, remember that not one of your under-performers gets up in the morning and goes to work with the mindset of doing as poorly as possible. They DO want to do a good job and be successful. They're all seeking that admiration and validation. If they aren't performing, it is your job to figure out why they aren't. It may seem like a them problem, but it actually all starts with you.
Remember, your actions drive the reactions you receive. Put in positive, productive effort, and you will receive positive, productive efforts from your team in return. If you aren't getting the reactions you desire, it is your job to reevaluate, observe, diagnose, retrain, encourage, support, and guide them towards success. With sales, you reap what you sow.
If you spend the bulk of your time developing, observing, and encouraging your team, you will be putting the proper action into place, and THAT will give you that expected reaction; THAT will drive your team towards success. When you see these proper behaviors, you've got to be sure to give them some positive recognition. It's no secret that, as humans, we are fueled by positive reinforcement, and that's no different in a sales environment. Every person wants to feel appreciated. Your relationship with your team is person to person.
Emotionally, they work for you, not the company, and it has little to do with what you say and more to do with how you make them feel. If you have their back and keep their best interest in mind, they will become willing participants in their own growth. Those full balloons and desired results will be self-sustaining with enough support and encouragement.
About the author:
Vaughn is the co-founder of Results-Driven Leadership. He is a leadership development expert, podcaster, and author. His methods are brought from his real-world experience working on the front lines and living the role of being a high-impact leader and manager. His coaching and training programs offer no theory, just common-sense advice, and direction. He is a former executive with CarMax, the world's largest and most respected company in the auto industry, and is a Fortune 100 Best Places to Work.
Vaughn's mission is to improve the impact of executives and other managers by increasing their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
His motto is "No matter what business you're in, you're in the people business."
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