Alen Mayer is President and CEO of North American Sales Training Corp., a global sales training and consulting company which created the Iceberg Sales Model.
Alen is one of the most influential people in sales today; for his contribution to the sales industry, he was voted #2 on the list of Top 50 Most Influential People in Sales Lead Management; he was also voted as one of the Top 25 Sales Influencers.
We recently spoke with Alen about introverts vs. extroverts in sales, trigger events and where to look for them, and best practices for managing sales teams.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to start a sales training company?
I started my sales career twenty years ago in Europe selling bulldozers and excavators, and once I sold the complete asphalt plant! I began as a sales representative and climbed the ladder to become a sales manager, Director of Sales, and VP of Sales. I was once where many salespeople are now, and I know salespeople’s issues, problems, and frustrations. But also I was frustrated with the level of sales training I received.
Selling is about more than just a set of repetitious behaviours like phone prospecting and objection handling. Successfully closing a deal is strongly affected by the underlying beliefs, values, identity, and mission of the person conducting the sales process. Understanding yourself and what motivates you to engage in the process of selling is a complicated endeavour.
Imagine an iceberg. Above the water line, you can see all the behaviours that lead to a sale; prospecting, cold calling, following through and documenting. In fact, all of the activities that make up the sales reps’ process toward quota attainment are above the water line. But you need to go below the surface of your activities to evaluate and hone the internal motivations that drive behaviour. When you tackle the underlying reasons for your behaviour while you are selling – your beliefs, values, mission, and identity (who you are when you are selling) – the external manifestations of these strongly-held belief systems will improve. This will lead to more effective activities and an increase in closed deals. Everything that is not visible makes all the difference in selling. Dive underneath the surface to understand your values and beliefs, and then make small incremental changes that will have big, positive outcomes above the water line.
Based on your experiences in selling both in North America and Europe, are there any general differences in sales processes, practices, or approaches between the two continents? Or does it depend more on the industry or other factors?
The business culture in North America is geared toward the go-getter, the team player, the networker, the entrepreneur, and the leader. It’s about power, getting ahead, cutthroat competition, deals, and leverage. Since the early part of the 20th century with the rise of corporations, extroversion has been favoured over introversion as a way of doing business. Introverted people have been perceived in a very negative light in the business culture in North America mostly because of a false association of introversion with shyness. It’s high time these biases are debunked!
The old-school approach of valuing extroverts and dismissing introverts is faulty at best. To make the most of your business, or to thrive in your career, you will want to understand and employ the attributes of both styles of relating to the world. This applies both to yourself and to people you work with.
Introverts are the quiet ones, often mistrusted by extroverts for their lack of Labrador Retriever-like enthusiasm and gregariousness. They exhibit none of these “desirable” traits.
- Introverts are seen as having poor interpersonal skills because of their tendency to be quiet. They are often perceived as being antisocial and overly reserved or aloof.
- Introverts are seen as unable to excel under pressure.
- Introverts are seen as suffering from “analysis paralysis” and unable to take action.
- Introverts are seen as poor communicators because they tend not to share ideas unless prompted in group situations.
- Introverts are seen as lacking initiative because they prefer not to talk about their work or problems they are solving.
- Introverts are not seen as team players.
Not in Europe. It does not depend on the industry; it is all about the business culture in general. (I can write a book about that. Maybe I should.)
What exactly is a “trigger event,” and what are a few of the most common ones that salespeople are likely to see?
Your mission as a salesperson should be to find companies that have immediate wants and needs. This means that something happened or is happening to them – a move, a merger, new investors, etc. You have to look for any event that might create the opportunity for you; in other words, you are looking for an event that can trigger the sales for you.
It could be something internal or inside the company, such as a new direction from management, a merger or acquisition, rapid growth, or maybe a new product introduction. Or it could mean the company is turning “green” and needs new and different supplies and services. It could be external or outside the company, like the new strategies of their competition or new legislation (like the Sarbanes- Oxley Act). It might even be a natural disaster, which is a well-known external trigger for many customers.
Generally speaking, trigger events have effects inside the whole company. Suddenly, new needs are recognised; previous decisions need to be revisited. Very often, management becomes aware of new priorities and changes the direction of the company. Trigger events are crucial when we are in the search mode looking for our next customer, and when we need to identify our sales opportunities at a particular company from our target list.
Since one of your books is called, “Selling for Introverts,” could you explain exactly what you mean by a “sales introvert” and tell us what advantages these types of individuals might possess when it comes to sales?
To understand the strength of introverts, we need to figure out why positive thinking is such a necessity for extroverts. While managers see positive thinking as a pragmatic means of improving your focus and bolstering the ability to find solutions rather than dwell on problems, among colleagues it also has high currency as a means of social cohesion. In other words, “being positive” is a signal we send to the group that tells others we are OK, and so are they. It’s an extrovert thing; it’s how we keep each other on-point. Introverts don’t need this. They’re usually introverts not because they don’t know how to interact with others, but because they don’t need those little signals that things are OK.
One of the strengths of introverts is that they hold their own counsel and are immeasurably comfortable with uncertainty. They know they can solve problems, since it’s what they spend most of their waking time doing, and the clarity of focus they develop through contemplation means they don’t need someone to keep them on the ball.
The first major strength involves composure. Often mistaken for being too reserved or shy, many introverts instead sit back to give themselves a better vantage point. They can then avoid getting emotionally entangled in the discussion and see all the players engaged as well as their various interests and directions. The more knowledge a person has, the more he or she can strategize and manage the sale at an advantage. Composure also has other side effects that work to the benefit of the introvert salesperson. Being calm and collected has the general effect of putting clients at ease rather than being tense or defensive. Too often,
aggressive salespeople are either not trusted or annoying. Potential clients clam up and walk away early when they feel they are being led down a path, often switching to another provider who comes across a bit more honest and less “salesy.” The Introvert, however, gets around this problem. There is no emotional push, no aggression, no hard sell.
On a typical sales team, how do you go about getting them to work together instead of battling each other for clients?
I teach managers how to balance the team. Yes, it is every person for himself, but there are corporate goals that need to be accomplished, and we are all in it together. If someone does not accept that, it is the manager’s duty to align the team – extroverts and introverts alike – behind corporate goals. As a manager, you want to get the most out of your team: performance, happiness, motivation, and team spirit.
- Manage how and when you interact with your team: be approachable, but set boundaries as to when they can interrupt you or ask for your input or participation.
- Ask your introverted employees for their opinions and ideas (preferably in private so they don’t clam up). Introverts will often not offer ideas without being asked.
- Give your team autonomy.
- Help your team understand that everyone brings something valuable to the table.
- Keep the lines of communication open!
- Recognise differences in motivation. Extroverts are shameless self-promoters and may sometimes lose sight of the team’s goal in favour of their own agenda. Keep them focused and on-task with frequent meetings and feedback. You can let the introverts fly, as they are self-motivated and stay on-task until completion.
If a sales manager were to say to you, “If one of my salespeople doesn’t close on a hot lead, I consider it a failure,” how might you respond?
I would challenge this manager: what is the definition of the hot lead? What do you know about the prospect? What do you know about the action that salesperson took? What kind of approach would you take? How do you currently train your salespeople on uncovering the buying habits and decision criteria of their prospects? I believe in facts, not gut feelings.
Give us an example of a sales technique or approach that worked a few decades ago but isn’t that effective today.
FFF – Feel, Felt, Found. What if you have a visual or auditory client in front of you and you use this kinesthetic approach? It is like speaking French to a Spanish person. And it is overused.
What will today’s sales teams have to do better if they want to succeed in the business environment of the future?
It is time to stop using features and benefits. The issue is whether today’s sales teams know what questions to ask to elicit clients’ cooperation and how to discover what is truly important to them. Do they know how to attach prospects’ buying criteria to their product or service? Do they know how to create questions to uncover the types of information they need to gather to be able to influence their clients? Do they know how to develop insights into where to go next for the client? Do they know how to engage their clients in a dialogue, and not simply pitch their solution? It is all about creating goodwill and connections that will last for a long time between your company and a potential prospect.