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Ken Keller: A formula for successful sales

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: August 17, 2010 4:56 p.m.
Updated: August 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.

If there is one area every business owner wants to see an improvement in, it is sales. Every owner is looking for more quotes, orders, deposits, shipments, collections and revenue.

A recent survey published in Business Week stated that the No. 1 challenge of small and midsize business owners is the “lack of sales.”

There is a formula for sales success, and it applies to every organization. The great thing about using this formula is that it invigorates the tenured salesperson and kick-starts the newbie.

The success formula is (E+P) + (C+E) = R. Those initials stand for education and practice plus confidence and enthusiasm equals results.

Many in sales and sales management discount education beyond the essentials. Old-school salespeople may believe nothing but “baptism by fire” really works. 

Today’s buyer is smart and savvy; anyone who sells needs to be smart and savvy to close deals. Learning how to address this kind of buyer begins with education.

Education can take many different styles: reading, watching and listening. Individual learning styles matter. But sales education cannot be a one time thing or a sometime thing; it has to be an ongoing thing. In too many companies, it is a “on your own thing.”

Take a car to the dealership and count the salespeople standing around hoping a prospect drives onto the lot. Answer the phone, and listen while an unprepared salesperson stumbles through a script. Talk to a floundering salesperson who cannot get traction or has lost their mojo. These salespeople have not been educated enough to know how to do better. 

The role of the sales manager is to eliminate all excuses for why salespeople aren’t selling. That responsibility includes setting the stage for learning by setting an example to others to follow.

Sales managers should add to a created list of required reading. There is no reason that the sales manager should not create and manage a lending library of books, magazines, CDs and DVDs on sales. Having a library eliminates the excuse as to why sales people aren’t learning. 

Invest a couple hundred dollars, and start a library. Any book by sales experts Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy or Harvey Mackay is suitable. Other books of note worth having include: “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield; “The Referral Engine” by John Jantsch; “Find Lost Revenue” by Patrick McClure; “The Referral of a Lifetime” by Tim Templeton; and “Managing Sales Leads” by James Obermayer.

It isn’t enough to have salespeople read a book or watch a DVD, the true test of knowledge is whether it can be taught.

One way to make education interesting is to have each salesperson present what they learned by teaching it to others. This will make salespeople more accountable to their own learning and will improve presentation and teaching skills. The adage “if you can teach it, you’ve learned it” applies.

But it more than just buying learning materials; time also has to be invested. Learning time has to be scheduled.  

Practice is something rare in sales. Role-playing is a very effective tool, yet seldom used. Videotaping of sales calls is a tool that will help any salesperson. Joint calls, with salesperson and trainer, followed by a debrief work well.

Education and practice build different types of confidence. The first is that salespeople know the products and services they are selling so they can answer any question the prospect might have. The second is personal confidence; the ability to meet a prospect from a position of strength — not weakness. The third is learned through education and practice, to ask for the order. Half of all sales calls end without the salesperson asking the prospect for an order (or anything to move the sales process forward).

Armed with confidence, the salesperson acquires enthusiasm for selling. The best salespeople understand that to be successful, relationships with the buyer are needed. A successful sale has been said to be the transfer of enthusiasm from the seller to the buyer. That’s how a company will get the results needed.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom-line results. He can be reached at

His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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