Coach The Sale EP10 - Overcoming The Need For Approval In Sales

EP10 - Overcoming The Need For Approval In Sales

Need for approval in sales can be so detrimental - getting in the way of asking tough questions, limiting where a sales conversation goes, and undermining the progress of a sale. Understanding this, and other aspects of 'Sales DNA', is the focus of the episode.

I'm speaking with Chris Mott President of Corporate Training at Kurlan & Associates - sharing what the analysis of over 2 million assessments and evaluations of sales professionals has revealed about the nature and structure of skills needed to excel in sales and sales management.

In this episode we cover:

  • What the analysis of over 2 million assessments and evaluations of sales professionals has revealed, characteristics that Chris and his colleagues refer to as 'Sales DNA.'
  • Why a need for approval can be so detrimental in Sales
  • How the need for approval can manifest itself among coaches or leaders promoted into role
  • The practical steps a person can take to begin to work on their need for approval
  • How critical a sales process can measure and elevate sales performance
  • The influence that has on the sales process
  • Why sales leaders don't always seem to improve over time
  • Which strand of Sales DNA would Chris choose to genetically engineer in all Sales professionals

And lot's more besides.

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Matt: Chris Mott, welcome to the podcast.

Chris: Thank you, grateful to be here today.

Matt: Great to hear you. And it's really good to connect. I've been looking forward to this episode for a long time. Give everybody who's listening who hasn't heard of Kurlan & Associates, a little bit of background about the organization and in particular your work within Kurlan.

Chris: Okay, appreciate that. So Kurlan & Associates, is a sales development firm based in the Boston Massachusetts area. We've been in business for about 30 years. Somehow I've managed to be here 25 of those years. I actually met Dave Kurlan when I hired him to be my trainer back in the '90s. And then after a series of events, I ended up coming on the other side of the table. So our businesses in the area of improving sales organizations, optimizing sales, culture and transforming performance. So that relates to people, systems, processes, making sure we have the right people in the right seats. Helping people to be effective on the coaching development side around sales leadership. Implementing a lot of infrastructure, sales process, coaching platform, scorecards, and then developing and training salespeople to be much better at the actual conversation that they have with prospects and customers.

Chris: A lot of focus on people's... what you might call head and stomach, which could be bravery, non supportive thinking, and the stuff that causes us not to execute to our optimal ability. So we primarily work with small to mid-sized companies, maybe 3 million on the small side, 500 million on the large side. Normal business for us might be a company that has somewhere between five and 50 salespeople, and we work with them over, usually a couple years. Because we're trying to help people in a variety of areas and if you're really trying to optimize the performance of a particular part of a company, it takes some time. So it's very rewarding work, a lot of fun, great people focus. But we also bring a ton of science to the process of developing salespeople.

Matt: And that's exactly where I want to go to first in this conversation because as a data driven marketer, I'm absolutely obsessive about data and the scientific method. And when I first came to Refract over a year ago, I was made aware of Kurlan & Associates, and a lot of the work that you do in terms of putting that data out there. How do you go about collecting some of the data that you share internally with clients but also on social media? Where does that data come from? How do you guys gather it? And more importantly, what are some of the things it tells you?

Chris: Okay. The data side of the business is a company called Objective Management Group. I actually met OMG back when I originally met with Dave Kurlan about him hiring or me hiring him to be my sales trainer. And the first thing he did was he me through a sales specific assessment that looked at skills, what we call sales DNA motivational factors and a series of other things. But just to put that in a bit of context, when I met Dave, he was about three years into the process of developing this separate company called OMG. And maybe he tested four or 5000. salespeople. The origins of that really come from a question on the sales improvement side, which was, why is it when you put 10 people into a training program, same rep, same content, same instructor, same process, different managers, that you can get such widely different outcomes? And so he used Predictive Index and Myers-Briggs and DISC and a whole bunch of personality behavioral styles tools. To see what he could learn about the people and see if he could get some correlation between what the data said and what the result were.

Chris: And the answer was no correlation, lot of good information, very helpful about the people and how they behave and how do you communicate with them, and those sorts of things. And all the personality behavioral tests are very accurate, but they have one major flaw in them as it relates to helping people on the sales side of the house. And that is that none of them were built specifically for any one role. They gather all their data in a social context. So the data well, very useful, doesn't take into account how somebody's role in a particular job affects what those things are that underlie their ability to be successful. So in mid '80s, Dave basically created his own tool, and as far as I know, it's the only test on the planet that was built from the ground up specifically and only for sales. So there's a salesperson version, there's a sales manager version, there's a VP of sales version.

Chris: And it uses two different applications. One is candidate assessment, people who are applying for sales or sales leadership positions. And two, evaluating existing salespeople. And as I said, when I met Dave, he tested maybe three or 4000 people. So roll that clock forward to 2019, and at about 1.9 million salespeople across 25,000 companies across the globe. Been translated into 10 plus languages, and there's a ton of data. That's kind of the history background origin of it.

Chris: What's important to recognize is that sales as a profession, is very different than a lot of the other roles that people have to execute in business, whether that's on operations or science or finance or whatever the other component of the business might be. And it's different because the atmospherics are completely... have a very, very different tinge to them. And let me explain that. If I take 100 salespeople or 100 sales managers, and I say, "How many of you really have high regard and respect for salespeople or sales managers in general?" Best case, you're going to get 50% of the room to say yes. If you ask that same question of 100 random people off the street, you're going to get a much smaller percentage. So in general, people don't like salespeople. People don't like sales. People don't respect salespeople. People don't trust salespeople. People don't want to talk to salespeople. And most of us as consumers are more than willing to lie a little bit, mislead a little bit, hold a bit back, because we don't really feel safe.

Chris: So if you think about that from the perspective of the role, a salesperson is trying to sell to somebody who doesn't like them, doesn't respect them, doesn't believe in them. And those same characteristics that a prospect has, salespeople have too. So when you ask all your questions in a specific sales or sales management context, you get much, much better information. And that's what makes the Objective Management Group sales force evaluation, or sales candidate, or sales leadership candidate assessments, so completely different from all the other tools that are out there.

Matt: What does the data say specifically about some of the key characteristics of high performing salespeople? In all of the analysis that you guys have done, what are some of the things that stand out is absolutely fundamental to a high performing salesperson?

Chris: Okay. Let me answer that by taking a bit of a step back and defining a few things. Through the lens of a sales development firm, one of the things that's incredibly important to us is that the people in a sales force are highly motivated to be better than they are today. And in general, people, not all of them are highly motivated to be better than they are today. But if you're trying to grow a company, you're trying to increase your ability to drive high quality margins. If you're trying to take market share, if you're trying to be able to sell something that's brand new that people don't understand or know about, you're going to have to be working with a team of people who are willing to go out take some risk, do some different things, and approach things in ways that aren't what the norm is. I mean, you've heard the phrase that says that if you're not growing, you're going backwards. If you're not improving, you're actually getting worse. And change is such a big part of our world today that you've got to have people who are highly motivated to get better. We call that will to sell or will to manage. So one of the key things is, what's their will look like to be great sales leaders or great salespeople.

Chris: Another part of that has to do with what we call sales DNA. And sales DNA is most easily explained by thinking about athletic traits. So a person who has good hand-eye coordination, is quick off the line, accelerates rapidly, whatever those pieces might be, as compared to someone who doesn't have that, is more likely to be able to be successful across a range of athletic endeavors. And in sales, there are athletic traits for salespeople. We call those sales DNA, and they have to do in many ways with how do they think about their job, interacting with prospects, what a buying process should look like, how they should approach prospects, what's acceptable, what's not acceptable. And a couple key ones would be need for approval, getting emotionally involved, and something called money comfort.

Chris: So if you can figure out in a salesperson or a candidate, and this could be for folks that are currently in sales roles and thinking about getting into a sales leadership role. They have some clay sales DNA, that is whatever it is. And they have some amount of those limitations, meaning they have lower sales DNA scores that are going to make it harder for them to execute. And the easiest way to think about this would be coaching. So if you take any given salesperson, and you coach them on what they should do in a particular situation, and they go out in the field, it's very common for them to come back and something different. And you kind of scratch your head and say, "Well, why is that the case?" And it's not that they didn't understand what they were supposed to do. It's that something happened on that sales call that triggered something in their thinking, connected to their sales DNA, that caused them not to do it.

Chris: So let's say they were supposed to ask some more forthright questions, and they were talking to a prospect, and the prospect appeared to be getting a little uncomfortable. The salesperson who has need for approval, who sees or perceives that discomfort, goes to themselves, "Hmm, maybe I'm getting upset, or them upset, maybe I should back down." And so their need for approval neutralizes or undermines their capacity to execute the strategy, which was created in advance of the call. So sales DNA has everything to do with the capacity to execute.

Chris: And then the third key thing is, what are their skills look like? And some salespeople have the right skills for being account managers. Some salespeople have the right skills for being, as a small percentage, good proactive hunters. A lot of salespeople are good at qualifying for transactional selling, but they're not as effective at selling in a consultative way, where they have to create a business case. And if you roll all the way back from that, this gets to your question about what makes really high performing sales people.

Chris: The market is totally different. And it was totally different in 2009. And it was totally different in 2000. For anybody who's been around for 25 years, we all know that in the '90s it was a whole lot easier than it is today. One of the reasons for that is the internet. And the internet makes everybody an expert. And even though they don't know as much as they think they know, they have data. And a lot of people in buying roles, that could be a buyer, or it could be somebody else who is in a position where they have to go out solve a problem and some kind of software, whatever it might be is going to help them. They don't necessarily see the interaction with a salesperson as being really important for them to figure out what they need. So with that as a backdrop, salespeople today are devalued in the context of how they're seen by their prospects. And in order to close that gap, they have to be able to go out and meet with somebody and have a conversation that is completely different than the conversations that that prospect has had with anybody else.

Chris: In other words, they have to ask questions nobody else asks. They have to dig deeper than anybody else digs. They have to be able to challenge people's thinking in ways that gets them to think about stuff. And all of that creates value. And in today's world, the salesperson has to be the value, versus the company and the products and service they sell being the value. It's on them. And that's why great sales DNA, strong motivation to be better, super good skills, great strategy is so critical to high performing salespeople.

Matt: So let's take sales DNA, take a slice and put it under the microscope, the need for approval. I know Dave has written about this fairly recently. I know it's a hot topic in sales. Can we just isolate the need for approval a little bit and just better understand what is it? Where does it come from? And how detrimental can it be for a salesperson to have that really bad need for approval?

Chris: Okay. In its simplest form, need for approval says, "I'm concerned that you like me in our interaction," or, "I perceive that you like me in our interaction, so I can feel good about the interaction that we're having." In other words, "I need you to validate me in order for me to feel okay, I have a harder time validating myself." And that's a not uncommon human problem. Tons of people have it. Sometimes people have it in one setting and not another setting. Now in the business world, it is interesting that it's not universally globally true that need for approval exists. So for instance, if you've ever negotiated with people from the Middle East, or people from Asia, you don't see a lot of need for approval. There's a lot of ritual and structure, but the need for approval isn't something that's important to them. They don't really care if you like them, they want to get the deal done on the terms that are important for them.

Chris: So if you think about a salesperson who has this problem, few manifestations, they don't ask the tough questions, because they're concerned about the response. They will not easily go for no. Meaning they might not say sounds like, "You're at a place where you've decided that you don't want our help. That's perfectly fine. Why don't you just tell me." They won't say that, because they don't want to end the relationship. And therefore, they'll chase stuff that's probably dead, hoping that it might come back to life. When they hear contradictions, contradiction might be, "We really, really like what you've had to say, see how you could help us." And then on the other side, "We're pretty happy with what we're doing. We're not sure we need to change." And instead of being able to say, "Hey, you said these two things, I'm confused. What should we do?" They leave it where it is.

Chris: Prospects contradict themselves all over the place. And one of the things that salespeople need to do is to bring that out. And through that process, where they're pushing back on, gently challenging, forcing prospects to talk about stuff they're not necessarily wanting to talk about. That's where you create a stronger relationship and more value. So the person who has need for approval could have trouble prospecting, because prospecting is by default, something that you're going to get a lot of, "I don't want to talk to you." So if you think about strong prospecting roles, or maybe strong consultative or selling roles, as compared to strong account management roles, need for approval could be helpful in an account management role. Because it keeps people doing whatever they need to do to love someone to death, but it's not going to help them in those other roles. So it has to do with roles. It has to do with how difficult a particular product or service is to sell. If you're selling a higher value... Let's just use the word service, in this case, or high value product where you have to have a real really strong relationship, they have to see you as an advisor, need for approval and get the way of actually achieving that status.

Matt: What about the person who's coaching or leading a team? How does the need for approval manifest itself amongst a coach, or a leader who's been promoted into that role?

Chris: That's such a great question. And in fact, in the sales management tool, or this VP of sales tool, we measure need for approval in two ways. One, do they have need for approval from prospects or customers. And two, do they have need for approval from their salespeople, or the managers they're managing. And it's not uncommon, particularly when you take a newer sales manager who's coming out of a role where they've been part of the team, that they have some trepidation about managing a group of people they know the relationships can get in the way, and that's where a need for approval can be a big issue. So if you're a new manager, or maybe someone who's been doing this for a while, and you recognize that you're not as forthright with your team as you need to be, or you're not as effective holding people accountable, or you're not effective enough being able to call people out when they haven't done the right kinds of things. Need for approval could be a huge part of that. So it's big in salespeople, but it's also big and sales managers.

Chris: And one of the things we see in sales managers is that many of them, partly because they came out of sales, are really good at being able to go out and get deals closed in a co-selling environment with their salespeople. They're really good at being able to quickly diagnose a situation and say, "Here's the right strategy for that." But where they struggle, is having the patience and softer skills with their existing salespeople to gradually nurture them through a learning process. You got to remember that when you ask someone to do something that's different for them, there's fear in that, there's discomfort in that. And you can't just will that away. So a lot of sales managers are impatient as it relates to, "Why don't my people get it quick enough?" And the reason they don't get it quick enough, it's pretty simple. They're not you. If they were you, they'd be in your job. And CEOs have the same problems, "Why don't my people get it?"

Chris: And so, one of the huge things that needs to be looked at is, how do we get sales managers to spend more time in a gradual, ongoing, regular nurturing step-by-step developmental process? And a funny analogy there, is sales managers are maybe great at doing that with their prospects, but oftentimes, they're not so good doing it with their salespeople. And you point that out, they scratch their heads and say, "Maybe I should pay attention to that."

Matt: What about some of the practical steps people can take it, whether or not they're directly client facing in a sales role or they're coaching their team? Can you give people some pointers, in addition to what you've all ready shared. How people can start to work through that need for approval? Try and template slightly.

Chris: Okay. Need for approval is not something that somebody acquired yesterday. It's part of them, it's been there for a long time. Many people who have need for approval, see it in different parts of their life. The only way to get from having need for approval to getting or not having need for approval is kind of on two levels. One, you have to do the things that make you uncomfortable, and you have to discover that the thing that you are afraid of happening didn't happen. And you actually had a positive outcome. I'll give you a real world example. I was talking with a woman yesterday, and we were talking about asking for introductions from existing customers to new customers. And the last time we spoke in coaching, we gave her a couple specific things to do, we gave her some strategies on that. And she went out and she asked a few people, and she got some introductions, and she got some business out of it. And so she was all proud of herself for being able to execute that.

Chris: And then we kind of talked more about replicating that. What she pretty much said was, "You what if I'm wrong, when I think that they would be willing to give me an introduction, but they're really not as happy as I think they are. And they take my request as being a little inappropriate." And I said, "Well, how much of that's your need for approval speaking?" And she said, "Most of it." Part of it is you have to do this stuff that's uncomfortable, which means you need good strategies to go ask questions that are different, you have to step outside your comfort zone, etc. But there's another tool, which is a recently released product from Objective Management Group. And it's kind of a rerelease of a product I knew many years ago. It's called Sales DNA Modifier.

Chris: So if you're trying to rewrite your head, and I know that sounds a little strange, and let's just describe that as I'm trying to affirm to myself the things that I don't believe today that I might believe later, which will help me to be more successful. So if I believe that people won't get mad at me, then I'm less likely to worry about people getting mad at me. So there's some tools that we can use. One of these is the DNA Modifier that uses hypnosis and affirmation statements, that's designed to reprogram how your subconscious works, so that you can be more effective in a quicker period of time. But you're not going to fix a need for approval problem in a couple months, it's going to take concerted effort over a long period of time.

Matt: And I guess ultimately, as well, avoidance is going to be the worst way to try and correct that. And exposure to them with some degree of control is I guess, one way to try and address that.

Chris: Let me just offer another idea. As a sales manager, clearly, one of the things you need to do, or a great job obvious, meeting with people on a really regular basis. And by the way, we think that sales leaders should spend at least 50% of their total time on coaching and developing people. That's not ad hoc, in the moment coaching, that's not, "Hey, where are you going? Who are you going to see? Well, go do this." That's scheduled, formal, dedicated on developing your time. And that's really important that people see the difference. So in those particular places where they're doing that kind of thing, part of what they're trying to do is to help people to have better strategies for the calls that they're going to go on. Do they have a good starting point? Are they clear on what they have been able to accomplish? And this case, in the sales process that I'm sure we'll talk about next. But do they have a good strategy for where they're trying to go? Do they have a good starting point? What are the problems that can occur, etc.

Chris: But after the fact, when the sales manager talks to the salesperson, and they described the call, you're trying to debrief where you went left instead of right. That's where the need for approval, and the emotional involvement, and the money discomfort, and by-cycle, and all the DNA stuff becomes important. Because what managers need to do is be able to not just show people what they could have done differently, but they've got to get them to connect what they didn't do to that underlying DNA problem. And a lot of times sales managers run past that one. So with the question I asked this woman yesterday, "How much of the impact here do you think was your need for approval?" That's fundamentally critical for them to be able to connect the behavior with the DNA weakness, and see that they were able to do a little better in some case, or maybe do a little worse in another case, but be able to recognize that correlation.

Matt: Excellent. Yes, let's let's get into sales process then because I think that's something that is another sort of contentious point, in a sense. Some people absolutely obsessed about process. They can't live without it. Being whatever context. Other people feel like it stifles creativity, and it gets in the way of the freedom of the person to perform and to do what they do in their own magical way. Where do you guys sit? And I kind of know where you're going to go with this. But where do you guys sit in terms of sales process? And how do you speak to the person who says, "We don't need process. It's too restrictive."

Chris: Let's be practical about this. If I ask 10, CEO, president, general managers, and they're really honest, in what department do they tolerate the most mediocrity inside their companies or divisions? Probably 80% of them are going to say sales. And when you ask them why? They don't typically have great answers. Now, one of the problems is that the vast majority of executives don't come out of sales. They come out of tech, operations, finance, manufacturing, you fill in the gaps, and sales is a little kind of a mystery to them. A lot of them don't like sales, they wouldn't want to be salespeople. It's really important, but they don't feel as comfortable working on it as they would in another department.

Chris: For example, it's pretty simple. Let's pretend that this CFO came to the president and said, "I can account for 13% of the money last month." And the parallel there would be, "I only made what would be 87% of my quota last month." What would happen to the CFO? They get fired.

Chris: Let's pretend that a salesperson... And the data is pretty bad. There was a recent CSO Insights survey did, that basically said that it was about 47% of salespeople consistently achieve their quotas. Now, the companies are making their numbers, but they're not making them on the backs of the sales force. They're making them on the backs of a few salespeople. So those are two important sort of backdrops.

Chris: Salespeople, by and large, are not very process oriented. They tend to be part of least resistance, I'll figure it out when I get there. I'm really good at stepping into any situation and doing what's necessary. And they're not people that are sitting around saying, "How do I build a process? How do I build a process." Yet, ironically, if you look in something as simple as shipping or receiving, they got really deep processes. Companies don't have the processes well defined inside their sales organizations, and we all know that a process is going to make us more efficient.

Chris: Now, a process is not designed to script everything that somebody should do. But it should lay out in a very clear criteria, milestone based way, what should happen for a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. And generally you shouldn't be doing step six, until you've done steps one, two, and three. We use something called baseline selling, which effectively uses baseball, as a metaphor and says that when I'm going from home plate to first base, I'm prospecting. When I'm going from first base to second base, I'm trying to figure out whether I have a real prospect. When I'm going from second base to third base, I'm trying to figure out can we do any business together. And when I'm going from third to home, I'm trying to close them.

Chris: And most salespeople, as much as everybody says, "I don't go out and show up and throw up." Most sales people skip all this stuff between first base and third base, or at minimum, they don't do it as thoroughly as they should do. And that's where the pre-call stuff is so important, because salespeople are always going to think they're ahead of where they are. And we've got to pull them back in and get them to see that what they thought they were supposed to do wasn't exactly the right thing to do.

Chris: For example, let's say you ask a salesperson, "What are you going to do at ABC company today?" And they say, "Well, the goal is to be able to get to a place where we get a verbal approval that we can move forward." Say, "Okay, cool. So tell me what their problems are. Tell me how those problems are affecting them. Tell me what the cost of those problems is. Tell me who the people are, who are impacted by those problems. Tell me how long those problems have existed. Tell me what happens if they don't fix those problems." They're not going to have a lot of those answers. And so you can't get to getting a verbal until you have actually consultatively asked the right questions to find the problems, build the problems, develop the problems. And that's where a sales process helps us to coach, it gives us common language, it gives us common terminology, and ultimately, it gives us a frame of reference for what are we supposed to do for a second and third.

Chris: The other half of that is that if you actually follow the process, if you manage to the process, and your pipeline is well aligned with the process, you'll have much higher forecasting accuracy percentages, and probably the single biggest thing we hear from CEOs and presidents is inaccurate forecast, delayed closes, and not enough people making quota on a regular basis.

Matt: How do milestones fit into that? If you have a process clearly laid out, how important are milestones both in terms of performance, but also coaching in the framework that you guys operate through?

Chris: Let me try to make this real world. If I'm prospecting and there are three things that I need to do to prospect properly. One is I've got to talk to somebody, however, that happens. Two, I need to get them to identify and talk about some issues or some concerns that they have. And thirdly, I've got a scheduled time to talk further. Those would be the milestones. What's more important is, what are the criteria that sit underneath those? So when I talk about finding issues, the criteria would be I've gotten you to tell me that two, three, four things, and companies can work through that as they want. But one is generally not enough. That I'm not happy about... And you could define not happy, however you wanted to define not happy.

Chris: One of the things that oftentimes happens in the first interactions between a salesperson and a prospect is the salesperson finds a way to get the person to agreed to meet with them. Primarily based on these are the things that we do, and these are the companies that we've helped, and we'd love to get together and talk to you about that and see if there's a fit. And when they get to that meeting, the prospect says, "Tell me what you do and how you do it, and let's see if we you might have a fit." And the salesperson is all ready into some form of presentation mode. But if the criteria say you have to have three different specific issues that they've at least said, those are our concern, those are important. Those are things that we think about, that stuff we should pay attention to. Then it's much easier for the salesperson to ... After they do their rapport and bonding... And by the way, most salespeople have trouble bridging from, "Hello, how are you, nice to meet you." Into the sales call itself. And they oftentimes get too far into a meeting, doing more of just a social stuff, and then they get tight on time, and they end up not getting to the outcomes that they need to get to in that meeting. That's a whole separate topic.

Chris: But if they know that they're supposed to have three of those things, and when you ask them what's going to happen at the meeting that you go to, and they can't articulate what those things are, then you know that that meetings not going to go very well. If they do have those things they can go in and say, "So when we spoke on the phone, you said that you were concerned about this or aware about or bothered about this and I've put that in my world. So you indicated that your forecasting hasn't been as accurate as you'd like it to be. You said that it gets frustrating that not enough people seem to make quota annually. And that when you look at the group, it's a little inconsistent in terms of how people go about the sales process. Which of those Would you like to talk about?" That's a much better starting point for a meeting. That's where that criteria and the milestones are so critical.

Matt: There's so much value in what you're sharing, Chris. I really appreciate it. I've got a question that sort of links to that around emotional involvement in the process. So let's say sales rep, sales professional, they have a process, they have some milestones, but perhaps maybe through inexperience, nerves or some other reason, they're very much in their own heads. They're thinking all ready, what the next question is going to be as they try and progress through that process. How do you coach somebody to become better at that? Is there a way that you can encourage them to get out of their heads a little bit, embrace it, but still follow a process of sorts?

Chris: Sure. Let's just describe emotional involvement a little bit because I think it can be useful. When somebody breaks down and cries or somebody gets angry and yells at somebody, that whole thing started when they had a thought. And the thought was triggered by something that occurred. So somebody said something, did something, asked something, they heard about something. And then they had a thought, and then behind that came the emotion. So when we talk about emotional involvement, what we're really describing is, how good is any given person at being able to be in a situation where they're communicating with other people, and have things happen that were out of their control, and not react to them in a way that causes them to start thinking about where to go, what to do, etc.

Chris: What are the kinds of things a salesperson might think? They might hear a question from a prospect and say, "I hate it when they ask that question." Or they might get a sense that a prospect is frustrated and they might say to themselves, "Seems like this isn't going that well. I wonder what I should do?"

Chris: The most common example that most of us can relate to is salespeople ask a question, and they immediately start thinking about the follow up question that's going to be, once the person that's answering the question finishes answering the question. And as a result of that, they don't hear most of what it is the person actually said. But one of the easiest ways to see what this really looks like, is to record some of your phone calls, some of your meeting, so you can listen to them afterwards. And that's something that Refract is so incredibly helpful at, because it gives us a way to be able to hear what did we not hear? So that's really what emotional involvement is. Said very simply, "How good am I at just sitting in a conversation, not thinking about what's being talked about, just being listening really well to what people are saying, and asking a question or expanding or saying something that carries that conversation along?" It's the difference between something being highly conversational, back porch, sunny day with your best friend, or more of... Interrogations, too strong a word. But a forced conversation where you're trying to carry the conversation along, but you're having a hard time doing that.

Chris: As an example, putting in the sports world. Being in Boston, some people may remember a guy whose name was Kevin McHale, who was an incredible forward for the Celtics, when they were playing with Larry Bird. And Kevin McHale once said, "The minute you start thinking on the basketball court, you're screwed. And that's why you practice so much, because it's got to be muscle memory." So to your point on what do you do, role play, role play, role play, role play, practice. Unfortunately, I would say that it's a very small percentage of sales organizations that have any kind of regular routine, dedicated practice stuff built into what they do every day. And so everybody keeps winging or trying to redo something they had trouble with before with no practice between, and it's no surprise that people have the same problems. So you got to figure out what are the things people have the most problems with, and then you have to practice with them, and you have to roleplay with them, and you have to get them to recognize that they got to get their head out of their way.

Matt: One of the last things just before we wrap up, and you've been very generous with your time and I really appreciate it.

Chris: It's been a lot of fun.

Matt: One of the last things that I wanted to cover with you was, it seems from the data that there isn't necessarily a direct correlation between the length of service of a sales leader and how they are perceived by those around them. Could you speak a little bit to that. Maybe fill in some of the blanks in terms of the data but also what that's telling us about what it means to be a sales leader for a short period of time and a longer period of time.

Chris: I think one of the byproducts of many CEOs, not putting the same kind of attention into sales, and expecting other people to do it for them. One of the byproducts of a lot of people... And by the way, having tested 2 million salespeople, half of those 2 million salespeople are weak. 6% are elite, 11% are strong, and that leaves you with 33% of good, solid, potential performers. And if you look in an organization, most of the people that are making quota are in probably the 40% range of the group as a whole. So you got a lot of people in sales, who have a lot of challenges, not their fault, that's kind of how they were born. But none of them... Actually, let me put it in context. I ask oftentimes, how many great sales managers have you had in your life? And let's say this is a group of people that have five to 15 years worth of selling experience. Best case, you're going to get maybe 10% of the people to say three, and you're probably going to get everybody else to say maybe one. So nobody's had any great mentors, which is terrible.

Chris: So you got mentor problems, you have lack of focus problems, you have people who probably shouldn't be in sales or sales management, you have limited training. And when training has been done, it's been done in a, "Let's send them to a program, get them excited and have them come back." And a month later, everybody's doing the same thing. And programs in general aren't focused at all on the internals, the head and stomach, the belief systems, those kinds of problems. So with that as a backdrop, most sales leaders are probably less trained and developed than salespeople are. And sales leaders are typically not well mentored by their leadership. So if they're working for the CFO, or if they're working for the CEO, if they're working for the general manager, they are at the EVP. A lot of those people aren't holding their feet to the fire and role playing with them, and the metrics are all bad.

Chris: So there's a lot of reasons why the data basically says, and this is real data, that in terms of people's ability to coach effective coaching, five years and under, average score, 46%. 25 years and older, average score, 50%. In the area of motivating, five years and under, 52%. 25 years and older, 49%. They got worse. Maybe they got bored along the way. So you see very, very modest improvements in the area of being effective at managing a pipeline, it goes from 42% to 46%. But we're talking scores that are in the 40s and 50s. And at the end of the day, it's kind of not people's fault. It's like sales is this great undiscovered country that's never really been optimized. And the irony of that is companies have done lean manufacturing, and they've done ISO certification, and they've done all this stuff to squeeze every nickel they can, out of all these other parts of their businesses, but sales is like this orphan step-child. And I think it's partly because it's people oriented.

Chris: It's not like, all I need to do is teach the person to push the button so they can get the peanut. It doesn't work that way. I've got to deal with people's emotions, people's fears, people's discomfort. I got to have hard conversations, I have to bring process to something that people don't want process in, I probably going to have to make some changes in the staff. I got to confront some relationships I don't want to confront and all that stuff. I think at the end of the day, causes there to be unbalance, a lot of status quo. What we did yesterday, we do today, and the only reason people change is when the fire start burning on the walls, and then the changes they make are usually more incremental than they are large. Again, because it's people industry.

Matt: Let's follow along with the DNA analogy. If you Chris had the ability to genetically engineer the sales DNA of all sales reps, what one strand, would you genetically engineer? And why?

Chris: That's a good question. I think I would probably answer that a bit dependent upon the role that somebody needs to be in. But let's go with the premise that... And I hear this all the time. If you look at many salespeople from a historical functional perspective, they were basically value adding or value presenting account managers. Meaning they could go in and give a great presentation about the value proposition of the company. And they could keep people happy, build relationships, and be able to solve problems. And a large percentage of salespeople, that's their dominant strength.

Chris: Today, we need proactive consultative hunters who can be the value. And that's a totally different role than the former. I would advocate to you that in order for someone to be effective at that, they've got to be very motivated to improve, they've got to be really committed to doing things that are outside their comfort zone, they have to be totally focused on, "It's always my fault." By the way, 50% of salespeople make excuses on a consistent basis. No surprise, nobody's ever said, "Oh, my gosh, I can't believe that that's true." The bigger thing that's really annoying about that is people don't do a whole lot about it. They just assume that that's the way that it is. So they got to be very, very transparent, open, motivated, committed, one help, etc.

Chris: On the DNA side, I would say if you could ask for three, that would be super stronger. One would be they don't have need for approval. Another one would be that they're comfortable talking about money. And by the way, most people don't like talking about money. And thirdly, that they're able to control their emotions and be present.

Chris: Now, there are six different DNA elements. And in any one situation, you're going to see strength and weakness in there. The end of the day, what I really want to see is DNA scores that are at the 72 to 74% range, which means as a whole, it's more of a strength than it is a limiter.

Matt: Would you advocate one or two questions that would very quickly identify somebody with that growth type mindset? Is there something... I'm thinking of a quick takeaway, there's someone listening to this that absolutely bought into what you're saying, but now they're just about to hire a new member of staff. Do you have one or two questions whose answers would give you a very strong indicator that they have a growth orientated mindset?

Chris: I do a lot of interview. I've done a lot of interviewing. One of the things that I see all the time is salespeople have a really hard time being transparent. Two things you can do on that. Ask a salesperson simple context, "Let's pretend that there's the go find business part, hunting. There's the qualify the business part, selling. And there's the closing part, get it done. In which of those three areas are you the strongest?" And let them pick one and say which one you're the weakest. And then ask them why. Depending upon how they're able to get their head around that, that'll give you a sense of how willing are they to admit that they could be part of the problem.

Chris: One of the other questions which can be super revealing, is ask them, "Give me an example of a situation that you faced in your personal life, where you had to face a ton of adversity that was very difficult, but you were able to get through." It's got to be a personal example because the work ones will just be too lame. You can also say to them, "In your personal life, what's something about yourself that you made a decision to change, because you knew it was getting in your way, and you had to fix it, but it was hard to change?" And you ask those questions and what you learned from it. So that at least moves you down the path of trying to force people to see how open they can be, because that's a big part of the coachable finding.

Chris: Having said that, OMG's tools give you all the stuff. We give you a report that shows you in great detail will to sell, DNA issues, selling competencies, and a host of other things. So if you're not using real good, sales specific assessments, then you're probably losing out. And I'll just give you one sort of example of that. I'll private the data, or I know I'll get the numbers a little bit wrong. But in recent studies, if you look at what percentage of quota achievement do you see for companies that don't use assessments, companies that use some kind of assessment, and companies that use the OMG assessment? The quota attainment goes something from like 40% in no assessments, to around 50% using an assessment, to over 60% using OMG's assessment. So if you're actually looking for things, and you're using those as criteria in the interview and selection process, that goes along the ways towards helping you to hire the right people. And they're all totally EEOC compliant, and they fit all the rules, you just have to use them properly.

Matt: I think that's a great place to end the interview. Chris, so, so grateful for your time and your insights. It's been fantastic. You've mentioned the tools, let's give people a place where they can go. Where can people go to find out more about the work of Kurlan, OMG and some of the assessments you've talked about?

Chris: The easiest place to go to is our website, which is just simply www, kurlan, spelled K-U-R-L-A-N, the word associates, plural, all spelled out, dot com. So, You can also reach out to me directly if you want to. My office number is 508-556-6797. And my email address is a little long, but it's So love to talk if I can help. If you're looking for a sounding board, please call.

Matt: Chris, super grateful. Thank you for everything. I'll speak to you soon.

Chris: Thanks very much. Have a wonderful day. 

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