Archive for Leadership

A business lesson from American Sniper

Sniper in desertI don’t see a ton of movies in the movie theaters. However, a while back, I saw the movie American Sniper. Now, I certainly don’t want to get into a political conversation, but there is a huge business lesson in that movie about focus.

Snipers aim at very little targets. In the movie, when U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is in sniper training, his instructor spoke a line in there that I absolutely love.

The instructor said, “Aim small, miss small. Aim big, miss big.”

Now I’d heard that before, but for some reason it didn’t really resonate with me until I heard that in the movie.

In the movie, the point is that as a sniper, the smaller a target you aim at, the more leeway you have if you goof up a little bit. But when I heard the line in the movie, the business application is what came to mind.

It’s all about focus! Think about it in your world, as it applies to your ideal prospect. Too many people start the definition of their ideal prospect something like this:

“We help anybody that...”

If your definition of your ideal prospect starts out anything like that, you’re aiming too big. Which, of course, means you’ll miss big.

Think instead about something more laser focused:

“We work with business owners who...” followed by more specifics. Of course, even the beginning part may be different in your world, but the point is that it will be specific.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about sales or marketing. If you try to put out an ad like a postcard, one that captures everyone, you’re going to miss out on tons of potential business because it’s too broad. But if you put out an ad that’s specific, you may exclude some people, but the right people will be way more likely to respond.

Again, think about your own world. Are there areas you need to get more specific in? For you, that may be your ideal prospect profile. It may be the cookbook of sales activities you do each week. Or perhaps it’s the clear next step for a specific opportunity.

Where in your business could you use more focus?

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Stop blaming the weather and the economy

Blaming othersIf you’re really honest with yourself, you probably don’t always take ownership like you should. You probably have an opportunity to improve there. We all occasionally get caught up in the things we can’t control, and don’t spend the time and energy looking at the things we can control.

The blame game

When I sit down with business people, owners, and sales professionals, it’s amazing how often that happens. I frequently hear excuses from others related to things they can’t control. Depending on the industry, that can include:

“If only there had been a hailstorm.”

“If only it had been hotter.”

“If only it hadn’t rained for months.”

“If only the economy wasn’t so bad.”

“If only prospects were spending more.”

“If only donors were donating more.”

You’re only human! You can’t control Mother Nature. You can’t control the price of oil. You can’t control the economy. You can’t control the exchange rate of the dollar. And you definitely can’t control others!

Stop focusing on the things you can’t control! We’re all guilty of it at one time or another, myself included.

Ultimately, there are only three things you can control:

1. Your behavior

All too often, we focus on the outcomes. While the outcomes are important, your behavior is what directly impacts those outcomes. Your goals and tracking should focus your behaviors-things that you can directly control.

2. Your attitude

A common misconception is that attitude drives behavior. In fact, it’s the other way around. A more accurate concept is faking it until you make it. Change your behavior, and your attitude will follow.

3. Your technique

Once you’ve changed your attitude by changing your behavior, you can start to focus on honing your technique. This will vary based on your role, but ongoing reinforcement training will help techniques to be applied, become skills, and eventually become habits.

Focus on improving those three things, and everything you can’t control won’t matter nearly as much.

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Learning to fail

Failing her way to successSandler Rule #1 doesn’t beat around the bush: You have to learn to fail, to win. As straight-forward as that sounds, there are a few different aspects of it.

Separate the role

The child state of your ego causes you to get emotionally attached to outcomes. Instead, you have to separate the role - what you do - from your identity - who you are.

Of course, that’s easier said than done! But if you don’t do it, you can really goof yourself up. You need to get out of your own way!

Failure is part of the process

There’s a famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison regarding the invention of the light bulb: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

In fact, what many call failure is actually an important part of the process.

Even on occasions when you think you were successful, you may reflect later and think of ways you could have done much better.

Learn a lesson

In every sales interaction, you should get a yes, get a no, or get a clear next step. But regardless of which of those happen, you need to learn a lesson.

Can you think of a time where you made the same mistake over and over again before you learned your lesson? Or maybe you still haven’t learned that lesson yet.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The only true failure is failing to learn from your experience.

The key to learning a lesson is to debrief afterwards. Whether it’s with someone else or by yourself, look at the situation from the viewpoint of a remote, removed third party. How can you logically look at what happened and dissect it so you can get better at it?

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Aim small, miss small

ScopeRecently I saw the movie American Sniper. While watching it, I heard a quote I have used for some time. However, in the movie they put a different spin on it.

In the movie, the sniper instructor told Chris Kyle, the main character, "Aim small, miss small. Aim big, miss big."

As you can imagine I was shocked and surprised in a very good way. They took an analogy I had used for some time and made it famous!

So how does this quote about shooting at a target pertain to business?

One of the greatest things that gets wasted in business is time. Much of that wasted time is spent with people that time should not be spent on, often prospective clients or existing clients.

In most businesses, the owners, leaders, and salespeople either have no ideal prospect profile, or it is way too vague to be of good use.

Without this key business resource it is very likely you and your people will jump at the chance to spend time with the wrong people!

When the phone rings or someone walks in, if you don't know how to figure this out quickly, you can easily end up wasting your time and theirs.

I was recently visiting with a successful financial advisor who has been in business nearly 20 years. He shared one of his greatest frustrations was not having enough time.

As we talked and I asked him questions about where all of his time went, we quickly uncovered that 40%-50% of his time each week was spent with people who were not a good fit for him or his services.

He shared that his mentor and his coach told him to take appointments with basically anyone, especially if they were referred by an existing client! He also shared that his marketing consultant had created an advertising campaign that was drawing great response, but with the wrong people!

He was taking any appointment he could get, and spending money to market to a broad, integrated audience.

Unfortunately, that's a common problem.

When we aim too big, at too broad or generic of a prospect and group, we will miss big. Just like when we aim at too big of a target in shooting.

The way to fix this issue is to have a super detailed ideal prospect / client profile that allows you to aim at a much smaller target. Once you have that, only two things can happen:

  1. You hit it.
  2. You miss by a little instead of a lot.

How often do you and your team spend time, energy, or money with people who are not a good fit for your business? Get a detailed ideal prospect profile to stop wasting resources.

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The Hammer / Nail Issue

Hammer and nailsImagine a sales person that sells only one product. On a sales call, they discover that what they sell doesn't help the prospect in any way. They now have a choice: To honestly say, "I'm sorry, what we sell would not be a good fit for you." Or they can attempt to force a fit.

Which do you think happens most often?

You likely had an answer that came to mind based on what you believe you and your sales team do. Unfortunately, unless you said "force the fit," you are likely wrong. This is called the Hammer / Nail Issue.

In other words, it's a mindset where if all you sell are hammers, you think every problem is a nail.

Most salespeople make this mistake every single day. They seldom, if ever, realize it - because in all honesty the only person's whose thoughts and feelings about it that matter are the prospect.

And when asked, nearly 100% of potential buyers share that this happens on a regular basis to them.

The biggest reason most people have no idea it happens is that most people sell more things that just hammers. So it is not quite as cut and dry.

They tend to sell the one product or service they like the most. That's typically the one they make the most money on, is on sale, or they just really like. That product or service becomes their hammer. It's all subconscious!

The scariest part of the Hammer / Nail Issue is that it is often a company culture issue. A large percentage of the time the senior leaders create an environment where the sales team is expected to operate this way.

Recently I saw this at a restaurant. I watched a waitress push a certain brand of beer to every table around us. People became uncomfortable at table after table.

When she did it at our table, I asked if there was a promotion where she makes money on that brand.

She said yes!

Turns out, the manager over ordered that brand and needed to get rid of it before the owner found out. He was forcing them to push a brand no one wanted.

There are two great ways to tell if this may be happening to you or your organization.

  1. You have more appointments than you would like ending without a clear next step.
  2. You are getting far less referrals that you would like.

The Hammer / Nail issue costs thousands of sales every single day. What is it costing you?

How often do you or your team attempt to force the fit to make a sale? If you don't know for sure, you need to find out.

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Change specific conversations

Colorful speech bubblesI've been working with a nonprofit that relies on members. Specifically, the local "chapter" of that group. They shared with me last year that they'd made a change in how they talk to people about prospective memberships.

As is the case with many membership organizations, their fiscal year lined up with the membership year. In their case, the fiscal year started in October.

They also didn't make pro-rating available for memberships. What that meant was that if someone became a member of their organization in September, you have to pay another yearly fee the very next month, in October.

So what do you think their worst month was for membership recruitment?


I may be a little off on the numbers here. They have around 2 million members worldwide, and in September 2013, they enrolled just 20 new members in the local chapter.

In September 2014, they enrolled over 800!

When I asked what they did differently, they said, "We changed the type of conversation."

Of course, being a good salesperson, I asked, "What do you mean?"

Turns out, prior to September 2014, here's how the conversation had gone with prospective members during the month of September:

"Annual membership is so many dollars, but you'll have to renew again next month."

If that's how they were approaching it, it's no wonder most people just waited another month! And the conversations in August were probably not that different.

They determined that their conversation needed to change. So they actually raised their price, and now that gets any new member a year's membership starting whenever they sign up.

And nobody even questioned the price increase!

Interestingly, this nonprofit has a couple hundred different chapters, and they all struggle with this same issue!

Which conversations can you change in your organization to make an impact like that?

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Our best management articles

ManageI've written a number of sales articles, but also many articles on the topic of management. This should be no great surprise, since management is one of the areas I coach and train in.

Let's take a look at the top five management articles over the last few years.

Woman on Phone Frustrated5. Do you make these 4 communication mistakes?

We all have people in our organization that communicates with prospects, clients, customers, or strategic partners. If those people are making any of these four communication mistakes, you need to make sure it's taken care of.

Read more

Diet4. Stop buying prospects food

This one is specifically for sales managers. It's all too common in the sales world to go around buying food for prospects. If your team is doing this, they need to quit it! Read a couple examples of what the real cost is.

Read more

Airplane seats.3. 4 words that changed a life

On a flight, I sat close to an extremely successful business executive who was sharing his secrets to success with a young business person. During that conversations, the executive shared just four words with the younger individual that summed up all his unbelievable success.

Read more

Stainless Steel Pen Laying on Written Page2. The common denominator of business success

I've been fortunate enough to observer many successful people over the years I've been in business. They all shared a common denominator that was obvious to me, yet I resisted engaging in that behavior for a long time.

Read more

question answer roadsign1. How to get answers from almost anyone

When you meet with anyone on your team, or with a client or prospect, you need to get information from them. And often times, they're resistant. In our most popular management article, I shared how to get answers from almost anyone.

Read more

If you found any of those articles helpful, feel free to brows through all of our articles, and subscribe to our newsletter where we share new articles as we release them.

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The most powerful Sandler Rule

Working smartI get asked all the time which of our 49 Sandler Rules is the most powerful one. Obviously, at different points of time, each rule can be very powerful.

From a general business growth standpoint, here is the most powerful one:

Sandler Rule #34: Work smart, not hard.

It's funny, because there are dozens if not hundreds of people that quote had been attributed to. But David Sandler put it in the Sandler Rules book back in the late 60's.

If you really boil that rule down, it can include things that take time, but have long term benefit.

One of my clients is not a natural planner. However, late in the year, he took six hours one week to actually plan a number of things for the next year. Although much of it he found painful, he saw the benefit in investing the time.

Most people won't do that! Even if the 6 hours of planning means a 20 hour or even 200 hour project goes a lot smoother, we don't typically take the time to plan it out.

Another client of mine discovered a prospect was going to lose $400,000 because they hadn't sat down to figure out what a problem was really costing them. They definitely weren't working smart!

Most of us were raised with people we looked up to telling us to work hard! It's been ingrained in many of us since childhood. But it's not in most people's DNA to work smart.

If we don't stop and ask ourselves, "Wait, is this really what I should be doing?" then we're most likely going to waste a lot of time, effort, energy, and even money. You don't have to look very hard to see other people doing it, but you do have to look hard to see it in yourself.

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Everyone should be looking

EV001716A key to a successful organization is establishing what a good prospect looks like (and doesn't look like), then training all of your team to keep their eyes and ears open for that person. It's not just the job of your salespeople. It should be everyone's job!

One of my clients has adopted this idea. They made sure that all of their staff knows what an ideal prospect looks like for them. And they've had great results!

Their office manager is a great example. Prospecting is not really in her job description, and it's definitely outside her comfort zone.

Despite that, she has had three conversations with people in the past year that led to sales for my client. In this client's case, that's thousands of dollars. And that's conversations she had outside of the workplace, not part of her role as an office manager.

Now, she might not say that she's prospecting, but they've built an environment where it's comfortable for everyone to keep their eyes and ears open for an ideal prospect.

Remember, sales is all about intentional conversations with the right people. In order to create that sort of environment, you have to do several things:

  1. Identify what a good prospect for your organization does (and doesn't) look like.
  2. Communicate that information with your entire staff.
  3. Reinforce the importance of sales with your entire staff.
  4. Publicly thank your team members when they demonstrate the behavior you're looking for.

Observing things like the vehicle a person gets into, the clothes they're wearing, or who they're talking to, can lead to intentional conversations. But your team has to know what they're looking for, and be ready to start intentional conversations. They need to make observations, then start conversations based on those observations.

The challenge is that most of us are far better at avoiding conversations than beginning them. It takes practice, and an environment where it's encouraged. Everyone on your team should be looking for new prospects!

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Common sense is not that common

Common Sense SignRecently I spoke with a CEO over the phone, and he shared that his former vice president of sales had spoken with me a couple years before.

When their former vice president of sales had called me, he was fairly new with the organization. He has been recruited through a headhunter, and the company had paid to relocate him to Oklahoma City. Then they gave him plenty of resources so that he could grow their sales.

One of the things the VP was doing was setting up sales training. He ended up talking to me and a few other organizations, and ended up not doing business with Sandler.

Flash forward to the phone call with the CEO a couple years later. The CEO shared with me, "Yeah, turns out he really wasn't very good."

Always digging in to find out more, I asked, "What do you mean?"

He shared, "He came to me and shared what sales development training organization he was going with. I had heard of Sandler, so asked, 'Why not Sandler?'"

Here's what the vice president of sales shared with him: "Everything that Sandler helps with is common sense, and we would be fools to invest in that."

The organization ended up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars they invested in the vice president and the team he built because, as the CEO shared it with me over the phone, "Apparently common sense is not that common."

We help clients learn new ways of thinking about sales, including specific techniques. A common response is, "That's not that hard!"

I like to use the analogy of breaking up a rock. The concept of using a hammer to break up a rock is pretty simple. But that doesn't mean it's easy. There's a reason we have prisoners on a chain gang do it!

On many levels, what we teach is common sense. But are you actually putting that "common sense" into practice?

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