Why Are Sales Reps Not Hitting Their Quotas? It Comes Down to Successful Prospecting.
Another year, another failed sales quota. This year marks the fifth year in a row that the percentage of reps hitting their quota have declined — and they don’t look to be changing for the better anytime soon. So, what do reps need to know to meet the new demands in successful prospecting and see positive change?
In the third episode of sALES with ASLAN®, Scott Cassidy talks with Tom Stanfill, Tab Norris, and Marc Lamson about how successful prospecting is about a few, key details, and what sales reps can do now to start improving.
sALES with ASLAN® Episode 3: Why Sales Reps Are Not Hitting Quota Pt. 2
Today, we’re going to deep dive further into the idea that reps are missing quota at an alarming rate. Why is that? We’re going to continue looking at ways to potentially solve this issue for you out there that sell for a living. Today, I’m going to bring back Marc Lamson, our president, our CEO Tom Stanfill, and Tab Norris, one of our co-founders to continue the dialogue. Enjoy the podcast everyone.
Scott Cassidy: Welcome back to another episode of sALES with ASLAN. You like that little S in the front?
Marc Lamson: I really did.
Scott Cassidy: See what I did there?
Tom Stanfill: I feel like you had a little different introduction this time. I think you forced it. It was forced.
Scott Cassidy: I’m just trying to fit in with you guys. You’re a tough crowd, tough crowd.
Tom Stanfill: That is true. Wicked smart radio.
Scott Cassidy: Wicked smart radio. Wicked smart radio, we’re making sales reps wicked smart here. Here’s what we’re going to do. First of all, we’re going to start with the beer again. We’re going to keep our priorities in order.
Tom Stanfill: That’s why I keep coming back.
Scott Cassidy: Why don’t we start in a different order this time. Does that make sense?
Tom Stanfill: I get to go first this time?
Scott Cassidy: I was going to say since I always go last, I’ll go first.
Tom Stanfill: The last shall go first.
Scott Cassidy: I just want to get a plug in for a fine New England institution, my Patriots. I’m going to have a Sam Winter today. I like the spicy, it sort of warms the cockles of my heart.
Tom Stanfill: Cockles?
Scott Cassidy: Yeah, it does.
Tom Stanfill: That a Sam Adams?
Scott Cassidy: It’s a Sam Adams winter lager, very, very tasty, very happy with it.
Tom Stanfill: There’s a good podcast on him, how he built it, the story of Sam Adams.
Scott Cassidy: Of course, he’s one of the original patriots. How about you, Tom? What are you having today?
Tom Stanfill: I am going with a Smithwick’s and really for one reason only because I think I sound cool when I say it that way.
Scott Cassidy: And you say it the right way. You don’t say Smith wicks’s.
Tom Stanfill: I know how to say it, Smithwick’s. I don’t say Smith wick’s. Smithwick’s, that’s the first beer I ever had in Ireland when I finally got to go to Europe, I guess, I don’t know, 10, 15 years ago. I wasn’t ready for Guinness. This is Guinness’ version of a lager, maybe.
Scott Cassidy: Red ale.
Tom Stanfill: It kind of reminds me of being in Ireland.
Scott Cassidy: Excellent. That’s very good. Mark, what do you have?
Marc Lamson: Your influence on me from last week. No offense to a Bud Light, but I can’t drink Bud Light, but I can however drink a Budweiser or two or more. It’s a starter beer for me from way back. My dad drank it. It is the King of Beers and I’m just going with something simple.
Scott Cassidy: Excellent. I notice you have a long neck there.
Marc Lamson: This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no other brand produced, which costs much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood aging processes produces a taste and drinkability found by no other beer at any other price.
Scott Cassidy: What just happened? Was that a rap song?
Scott Cassidy: That’s come in handy in real life. Here we are doing a podcast. Thanks, LB.
Marc Lamson: You’re a beer man. Thanks, LB.
Tab Norris: I’m going with a Scofflaw, which is an Atlanta brew. I think I’m kind of pinning myself down. It’s another strong IPA. It’s called Basement IPA.
Marc Lamson: That’s my favorite.
Tab Norris: It’s fabulous. Great artwork on this can, too.
Scott Cassidy: Let’s get started. If you guys remember a week ago, we really started to get into some deep topics around why reps are missing quota and how there are solutions that exist out there and reframing the way they think about selling. Changing their role a little bit was really important, but there are so much more to talk about, Tom. I want to bring you in to talk about maybe a couple more things we should have in mind when it comes to this topic.
Tom Stanfill: I do think, like you said, we covered some meaty topics last week. As we think about answering the question: Why are more reps than ever missing their quota? This is the fifth year in the row that the percentage of reps hitting their quota are declining. Last week we talked about why is that? For those of you who didn’t join, which I can’t believe you weren’t with us last week, but if you didn’t hear our podcast last week, we talked about information-
Scott Cassidy: You know what, Tom? They can go back and listen to them. It’s like permanently saved on the web.
Tom Stanfill: You can go back and listen to it, love for you to do that, but we talked about information. There’s an overwhelming amount of information which is causing the receptivity of the decision maker to drop. There’s so much information. The availability of information means I don’t need a sales rep. There’s so much information, which makes it more difficult for my message to get through. We talked about how do we do that?
Tom Stanfill: One of the solutions that we mentioned last week was the role of the rep. We talked about the rep needs to shift from being a representative of their product or service or solution to being a trusted guide. How do we help the customer solve their problems? That’s where we start. The key to that is knowledge. If you want to learn more about what we talked about there, please listen to the podcast from last week.
Tom Stanfill: The other thing that I think reps are missing, as we look at what needs to change, is the mindset, is changing their mindset, because there is lot, as Mark said last week that the market’s changed, but not necessarily a lot of reps have changed. We need to develop a new mindset to deal with the new reality. Mark was going to talk about that. So why don’t you dive into that Mark?
Marc Lamson: Mindset. We use this term receptivity regularly. It’s about whether people are emotionally open or emotionally closed, and they’re just unreceptive to your message. Given some of the things that we’re seeing in the market, most people are closed. Either the door is closed or the subject is closed. In the mindset, in that conversation is if we try to go sell them, they’re going to stay closed. They’re not going to listen to what we had to say. That shift involves really inspecting two key questions. There’s really two things going on in any kind of conversation. If you’re trying to have an influential conversation, whether it be with a potential customer, whether it be with a colleague, whether it be with your 15-year-old son, for example, there’s two questions. Does the person feel pressure and does the other person feel like they’re the priority?
Marc Lamson: When a customer is talking to a salesperson, it usually becomes pretty clear that the rep is focused on or has “commission breath.” Ever smelled “commission breath” before?
Tom Stanfill: Yeah, I have mints for that.
Scott Cassidy: ASLAN mints for that.
Marc Lamson: When the customer feels like the sales rep doesn’t have their best interests at heart, they know that they’re not going to give the right answer. They’re going to be unreceptive to answering the questions about what’s your budget and what are you considering? They’re just going to be closed. If the customer feels like they’re not the priority and it’s the rep, then then that’s a problem. It hurts the ability to influence or get them receptive.
Marc Lamson: The other thing is pressure. No one likes pressure. No one likes to be told what to do. Lee is my 15-year-old son, love him to death. “Put those in the dishwasher.” “Sure, dad. I appreciate you reminding me. I’d be happy to. It’s no problem at all.” No, he’s like, “I’m going to. I had to go over and get water first!”
Marc Lamson: We don’t tell customers what to do, but we do introduce pressure into the conversation just by telling them things. We don’t do the little things that remove pressure from the conversation. Mindset, Tom, to answer your question, is about pressure and priority, make sure the customer knows they’re the priority. Make sure they don’t feel pressure. Tab, you do this really well. We talk about making them the priority by being Other-Centered. We talk about removing the pressure by this idea of Drop the Rope. I’ve seen you do that a thousand times.
Tab Norris: It’s so powerful. I know we’ve talked about this before that this is one of the most powerful things in our program and what we talk about. It’s the ability to release this pressure and be focused on them. A great example of this takes us back to the old ASLAN days. Remember, in in the basement days, 23, I guess it was 22 years ago. One of our first big clients was FedEx and we were trying to move this forward and you know, tried-
Tom Stanfill: Fought for a meeting.
Tab Norris: Fought for a meeting. Just get a meeting and we got a meeting, and then fought for let us come in. Found out the guy was going to need to deliver some training, said, “Hey, how about we do it free for you? We’ll do a little pilot. We’ll take that off your plate.” Great. Get in there. We do it, it goes really well. Paul, he ends up saying, “This was great, this was great, but we have a free program that FedEx offers us to train these people. Why should I buy your program?” I remember we said, “Hey, I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t. I mean seriously, if that program that’s offered by FedEx really addresses all of the unique challenges that your inside sales team has, I would go with the free program.” I’m really believing that. Do you think that had impact? That’s counterintuitive. That is different. That is a different mindset.
Tab Norris: You could see his body language change. He expected us to sell, to put pressure.
Tom Stanfill: The thing is when you Drop the Rope, we’re talking about the meeting with Paul, the head of the inside sales back in the day with FedEx. When you talk about dropping the rope with them and saying, “If you can get a free program, that will meet the needs of your team, you should do that.” We’re already giving him permission to do what he’s going to do anyway, but when there’s tension, the focus is on the tension, not the truth. We release the tension by saying, “Look, we don’t know if our program is best for you. We really don’t, because we’ve just now got a meeting with you. We’ve done a little bit of pilot program. We haven’t had a chance to meet with you. Our goal is to understand, can we help you?” By saying we’re not sure, guess what happened? He goes, “Well, let’s talk.” He’s receptive.
Tab Norris: I think sales people can relate to this. We were a hundred percent commission. We needed this deal. This wasn’t like, we got 12 or 15 big FedEx’s around and we’re in the basement and we’re kind of figuring out what we’re doing. You talk about pressure, it’s hard to Drop the Rope, so you want to pull the rope. You want to go, “Yes, you need to buy a program. Here’s the seven reasons.”
Tom Stanfill: When me talk about fighting to get the media. We had to work hard to get in touch with the people and make a lot of phone calls and to get the meeting. When we get the meeting though, you’re right, you want to go, “I have to sell you.” We can’t blow this.
Tom Stanfill: We can’t blow that. That’s where our intuition sabotages our ability to be successful because really the more we relax, the more we create. Like we talked about last week, Marc, the principal is when they’re emotionally closed, the more you try to sell, the more closed they become. By dropping the rope and releasing the tension, they become open and now you can communicate some of the truth. If they’re not open, it doesn’t matter what you say. The more you pull the rope, the more closed they become.
Marc Lamson: I did a bad job. I just dropped Drop the Rope in there. I should connect it back to where it comes from. The principle of tug of war. That’s really what is happening. What’s a tug of war is if I give you a rope and I pull, Tab, what do you do?
Tab Norris: I pull back.
Marc Lamson: And we’re in a tug of war. That’s what we do with customers. We don’t even realize it. We sort of create that tension. You’re never going to win at tug of war. Even if you argue with someone and you win the argument, you’re never going to win a tug of war with a customer. You just needed to drop the rope.
Marc Lamson: With Paul, and I wasn’t there, it was before my time, but you use the word impact. The principle is that predictability determines impact. When Paul says, “Well, we’re just going to use the free program.” What does he predict? What does he expect is going to happen? He expects a big sales pitch, and here’s the 18 reasons why you should do this, that’s bad and this and that.
Marc Lamson: Here’s the point, “drop the rope” is not the sales magic to get them to buy from you, it’s to get them to listen to you. That’s why people are missing quota because the customers aren’t listening. They don’t want to listen, they’re fighting. We just say, “I just want you to listen to me. If you want to use the free program, you should. Maybe ours isn’t even relevant.” He stops and he says, “I want to hear more.” And now you’re having a conversation.
Tab Norris: That’s mindset.
Tom Stanfill: My mother-in-law gave me a book called Compelling People. I highly recommend it, if you want to pick it up. The point of the book is that people that are influential or compelling are warm and strong. If you’re interested in that topic, it was a very helpful book, but one of the things it highlighted was some research and they studied the brain of people when they enter into a debate. They pick the hottest debate topic, which was politics. I don’t know how they did this, but they wired up people’s brain and they could see the parts of the brain that light up. They would start to debate, like a Republican was talking to a Democrat, or they would bring up their person and then they would show something negative about them.
Tom Stanfill: They would recreate a debate or an argument. When they would watch somebody enter into an argument or a debate or they brought information they were emotionally close to, the logical side of the brain shutdown and the emotional side of the brain lit up. Basically, it says “When people are emotional, the logical part shuts down.” The more we try to get our message through, the more the emotional side of the brain just lights up and defends their position. That’s the whole purpose of “drop the rope” is not like you said, Mark, not to sell anything, but it’s to create receptivity to eventually tell Paul at FedEx, “Here’s why we think your program may be…”
Tom Stanfill: Going back to the point you made before, there’s another side of this priority. I have to also be willing to step in and say, “You know what, they do offer a great program for inside sales and it’s as effective as our program, and it’s free and ours is more expensive than free. You should do that.”
Scott Cassidy: You have to be okay with that.
Tom Stanfill: You got to be okay with that because a customer doesn’t think that you’re going to honestly represent them, which is why-
Scott Cassidy: I think when you do that, the receptivity is obviously open, but you’re creating this curiosity like what are these guys up to? What is there? They’re curious and they probably want to have a conversation based on that. This is a really good topic for these guys to listen to for sure.
Tom Stanfill: I do think that we should at least nod to what Drop the Rope is not, because I think sometimes people misunderstand what we mean by “drop the rope.” It doesn’t mean throw the rope. It doesn’t mean don’t have the conversation. It doesn’t mean this is, “Hey, you don’t need this, do you?” It does mean that we create comfort and receptivity to the conversation, but we want to have the conversation. It’s not about pushing. It’s about staying, but creating an environment where the customer’s comfortable and not just saying, “Okay, whatever, we tried. I don’t need this, do you? Bye.”
Tab Norris: I always say tool to move forward. People that are aggressive, love Drop the Rope because it’s a way to stay aggressive and move forward, but do it in an other centered way that’s more effective.
Marc Lamson: It’s simple things that, you mentioned this a minute ago, Tom. We’re just respecting, and more importantly, we’re communicating that they have choice. We’re not changing-
Scott Cassidy: They do have choice.
Marc Lamson: We’re just communicating that. We respect that. It’s a phrase I say a lot of times, and I mean this when I say this, I’ve listened to what you’ve said and I have something I want to share, would you be open? I ask the customer, “Would you be open to me sharing some ideas?” 98% of the time they said, “Of course I’d be open, and it puts them open and if the 2% says, “No, I’m not open.” I’m getting ready to waste my breath anyway. If they’re going to be willing to admit, I’m not even marginally open to what you’re getting ready to say. It just takes all the tension. It takes all the tension and it’s about serving them.
Scott Cassidy: It really is.
Marc Lamson: Tom somehow we hijacked your priority thought, but it is about the customer. The person has to feel like they’re the priority. Back to the mindset piece, that’s a focus on when I’m entering into a conversation, I’ll go back to my 15-year-old son and when I’m coaching harder than I should on the basketball court, I have to decide is that for me because I want to see him do certain things on the court when I’m in the grandstands and yelling and screaming and having fun, or am I trying to help him get what he wants to do and get his role. That’s hard. Our compass, we all have a compass, magnetic compass points north, our compass points to self.
Marc Lamson: When I rush in at the heat of battle and start coaching, he’s not the priority, I am because my compass is still pointing. When I moved my compass and say, “No, this is about my son and what he wants to do and helping support him if and when and how he’s ready.” It completely changes his willingness to talk to me and be open on his terms.
Tom Stanfill: Because he intuitively knows, and this is something that if we all believe this, I think it would change the way we communicate. Your motive is ultimately transparent. I always think of it like those call out above people’s head, those videos where they used to say what people are thinking. Have you ever seen those situations where you know there’s a call out above her head and says this is what they’re thinking?
Tom Stanfill: If I’m sitting across from a customer and they can see what I’m thinking, I would think differently maybe. That’s the way I look at it. Our motive is ultimately transparent. If my motive is to serve, they know that so they tell me things they wouldn’t tell other people. They open up more. They’re willing to meet. They’re willing to hear more of what I have to say versus if they go, “You’re just trying to sell me.” We all feel this, we know it.
Tom Stanfill: When we’re in a customer situation, we can see this. We can feel when people are trying to sell us. I think that’s the benefit. I think there’s another benefit too, is that when we make the customer the priority and we think like the customer, we sometimes go, “We can’t help them.” And we don’t spend days, hours and weeks chasing a deal we would never win and hoping we’re going to win. We look at it from their perspective and we ask questions like, “Why would you do this?” If we’re going to talk to Paul at FedEx and we look at him and go, “Let’s look at the program you already have. Well that’s a really good program.” Well then we’re out. We can go pursue. Every time I’m working on a deal, I’m losing a deal. I’m free now because I’m making the customer the priority. I’m free to figure out who I’m going to serve and spend my time more effectively or efficiently.
Scott Cassidy: We just covered mindset and obviously great examples about pressure and priority. Is there anything else that the folks can sort of gather from this overall topic?
Tom Stanfill: Why are reps declining in making their quota?
Scott Cassidy: Yeah.
Tom Stanfill: I think they’ve got to embrace a role of being the trusted guide and have the knowledge and expertise to do that. We talked about the mindset, which is actually pretty easy. It’s like before every meeting, I need to focus on how do I reduce pressure and how do I communicate the customer’s priority.
Tom Stanfill: The last one takes a little bit more work, which is about messaging. We’ve been studying effective communicators for 20 something years, not only people that are selling. We had the opportunity that every client we work with is like, “We were the top. We were the best.” American Airlines recently said, “We got to meet the number one sales rep for American Airlines.” That’s pretty cool, 7,000 people.
Tom Stanfill: We’ve done that with all of our clients. We listen to top reps. We study the top communicators. There’s a framework for how they communicate, which I find interesting. Not only does it influence, but it creates instant receptivity.
Tom Stanfill: The way I look at this model or how we need to communicate messaging is think of it this way. What if everything you said people were listening to you, you captured their attention and they wanted to hear. There’s a model that we’ve developed that will deliver on that. The first step, it’s got three elements. The first element is the listener or customer or decision maker, whatever you want to call it, their point of view. That’s the first element, their point of view. Second element is disruptive truth, and the third element is your proprietary benefit or solution.
Tom Stanfill: What’s their point of view? What’s the disruptive truth that you have to offer and what do you offer that no one else can offer? When you look at where all three of those intersect, that’s when you’re delivering a message that people can’t ignore. It just captures their attention.
Marc Lamson: It’s how influential people communicate to the point of just listening to top people and seeing what they’re doing, it gets their attention, it gets them to be receptive. It’s persuasive. It’s a persuasive message that gets people to do things.
Tom Stanfill: Yes. If you look at the first one, the point of view. If you start everything you say, whether it’s just a point on a PowerPoint slide or it’s how you introduce yourself or it’s how you recommend your entire solution.
Tom Stanfill: If you start every sentence with because you or you describe something that’s on their whiteboard and you communicate their problem, you will always get their interest because they care about it. If you look at great speakers, the first thing they do is they describe their audience to their audience, and their audience always leans in. They start with the person they’re talking to. Anytime you show me a picture that I’m in it, I look at it. Great communicators, the first step is to say, “What are the problems on the decision makers whiteboard? What do they care about? What are they struggling with? How can I first articulate their point of view? Then what’s some disruptive truth? What can I then communicate that they don’t know about how to solve their problem.”
Tab Norris: I think of it like I’m a thought leader. I need to bring something to them that they haven’t thought about before, something disruptive that grabs their attention. It can be research based, best practices, things we’ve learned. I mean like for us, we’re constantly in our world, we’re talking to organizations that are trying to get their reps to change.
Tom Stanfill: They’re calling us about training reps.
Tab Norris: They need to prospect more. They need to grow accounts. They need you to whatever. They need to change their reps. A disruptive truth that I will use is, if you want to train your reps, you need to focus on your managers.
Tom Stanfill: You want to change the way your reps sells. Yeah.
Tab Norris: Focus on your managers because change happens one to one. That’s a disruptive truth. They think, “Oh, I’ll just stick them in a workshop and we’ll get them all changed up. Go fix my reps.” No, no, no. I’ve got a little disruptive truth for you.
Tom Stanfill: They start off with saying, “Hey, we’re trying to hire reps, we’ve got a turnover ratio, high turnover percentage with our team and we’ve got to change the way that they’re finding new opportunities.” You describe their problem, you say, “If you really want to solve that problem, don’t just focus on training your reps.”
Tom Stanfill: What’s cool about what you started is it’s all about them. It’s their point of view and it’s a disruptive truth. You’re not selling anything. You’re communicating truth for them that will help them solve their problems. That creates more receptivity because it’s not about, “Hey, here’s what we do and here’s how it can help you.”
Tom Stanfill: The last thing you want to share is now what do you do uniquely better than the competition or if they wanted to do it internally than anyone else? If you can find what you do that’s proprietary and follow that process and stay where all of those circles are connected, then your message will definitely resonate.
Marc Lamson: The proprietary things seem obvious, but I’m amazed to how many times reps I work with don’t get that. They don’t think about the person you’re talking to is probably considering your competition. You’re a software company, you’re a pharmaceutical company, whatever, and you do those three things and everybody else does those three things. That’s really not going to help the customer make a decision. We talk about what comes to mind.
Marc Lamson: In working with clients, and we’re sharing this with you as sales reps to stop and say, “What’s different about you?” I think what our C reps do is they try to say, “Well, what’s the most important, biggest thing?” It doesn’t have to be the biggest, best everything. There’s another book I’d recommend, if we’re recommending books, called 212 Degrees. I’m not sure if you’ve read that. I forget the author, but it just talks about what happens, what happens to water, at 211 degrees? Nothing. At 212, one degree-
Tom Stanfill: It does you hurt, if you stick your finger in it.
Marc Lamson: It’s really freaking hot, man. I mean it is. Spill your coffee at 211 on you, stuff happens. You can even sit there. It’s good. At 212, it makes steam and steam allows you to create lots of things. Here’s where we are in the decision process with customers, we’re talking about one degree sometimes, we’re talking about the small differences between your solution and someone else’s solution. That’s sometimes all it takes. As reps, we try to help them say, “What’s different? What’s the unique program that you have or the unique approach.” And blend that and that needs to connect to the disruptive truth.
Marc Lamson: I’ll pick up on our game we’re playing here about we work with organizations and their point of view is they’ve got turnover problems, they’ve got quota problems, they’re trying to fix their sales organizations and Tab, you’re over here talking about if you want to change reps, you really need to change your managers because change happens one to one. That makes people stop and say, “Well what do you mean? I haven’t heard that? That’s interesting.” By the way, I’ve thought ahead of time that says, “Well we do something different around, we help your sales leaders measure in four D.” They say, “Well what does that mean?” It’s proprietary. We talk about results equals competency and desire and productivity and how we drive that. From a messaging perspective, that’s the last sort of missing piece. Role, mindset and messaging that ultimately kind of go to help deal with the fact that we’re missing quota and we need to be better.
Scott Cassidy: I think we have covered a boatload. I’m sitting here thinking these reps, everybody that’s listening to us and they’re going, “Why is ASLAN telling us all this and we’re not paying for this.” One thing that occurred to me, and I’ve heard all of you talk about this, is it’s about getting the truth into the market. This is what’s happening and this is going to help everyone improve. It’s also about fulfillment because we all feel much better when we’re helping others and where Other-Centered. I think it’s critical that we’re not selling this podcast, but we know that it’s helping people get better and people are going to find us and we’ll help the folks that choose to work with us and that we choose to work with.
Scott Cassidy: This has been great. We’ve basically been covering ways to sort of circumvent this issue of reps missing quote over the last five years. Hopefully, it’s been helpful for reps looking to practice more successful prospecting. Certainly, listen to the previous podcasts, if you haven’t heard those yet. If you’re a beer manufacturer out there and you want to become part of the show, we’re more than willing to listen. We are receptive to your call. Boys, I want to thank you for another great week. We’ll talk to you on the flip side.
The best way to get to know us is to know what we value. If we teach it we live it, because what we do speaks far more eloquently than what we say. We’ll always choose people over profits, and we’re most fulfilled and effective when we serve. It drives our culture, frames our training programs and transforms the lives of the clients we partner with.