Seven Bad Sales Development Tools

There is a lot of ‘get good quick’ type sales development advice about. We thought we’d share with you 7 we have come across being peddled recently.


  1. Understand The Secrets Of Effective Time Management. There are no secrets, simply work out what really matters to you and prioritise accordingly. It’s like effective weight loss; eat less and exercise more, the rest is propaganda.
  2. How To Get Past Secretaries To Speak to Decision Makers. This is a redundant concept, who even has a secretary these days? Make the effort to find the decision makers’ email addresses, mobile or DDI numbers, all being direct, unmediated channels. PA’s don’t count, they are people with real power, you don’t get past a PA, you work with them.
  3. Become More Self Motivated Through Gurus Books, CDs, And Rah Rah Conferences. Peter Drucker’s definition still stands. A guru is somebody so called because the writer can’t spell charlatan. Instead, read a proper business book, think about understanding your own needs profile more, and find somebody you really respect to act as a mentor.
  4. (Expensively) Train In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Something often evangelised about by people who believe it to be a substitute for real emotional sensitivity. Being bored by an expert in NLP should by definition never happen, but it does.
  5. Ask Open Questions. This is far too crude as a major communication technique. Effective selling practice creates a real need/want, placing the client or their organisation in a comfortable place (firstly imagined and then for real), of using the product/service. The types of questions asked to achieve this understanding are more about context and insight than whether they happen to be open or closed.
  6. Learn The Twenty (Or More) Ways To Close A Sale. These are really no more than different ways of asking the same question “Will you buy it?” Salespeople who have the courage to ask directly, professionally and early, will always outperform those who are debating whether to employ the Benjamin Franklin or Fear close etc.
  7. Appoint An (Any) Executive Coach. We see no correlation between people who have a coach and their effectiveness. There are some very good performance coaches working (we can put you in touch with one or two), but the majority seem to add no value at all. If you don’t see your performance, behaviour, self awareness or contribution improving, stop the coaching.

Six Signs of Real Solution Selling

The  concept of solution selling has become devalued to the point where everybody is ‘selling solutions’. See Private Eye (  for some of the most extreme and ridiculous examples. In our work we have found bringing clarity to clients’ value propositions in relation to how they view solutions is hugely beneficial in making their sales messages and processes more effective.


Below is a summary to help you get your own thinking on the right track.

  1. The number of companies who talk about selling solutions, when in reality they are selling standard offerings wrapped in solution rhetoric. Solutions are by definition, tailored in some way, you can’t buy a real solution off the shelf.
  2. You don’t ‘deal’ in solutions, or do offers on them, or advertise special price promotions. Those are things you offer with packages not solutions. Solutions are sold at a premium not a discount.
  3. You cannot disaggregate a solution, and sell only elements of it and still call it a solution. For solution selling to have any real meaning it has to remain an integrated proposition, its constituent parts melded into a something unique to that client. The strength of a solution, why it should attract premium pricing, is because of the value of the connective, additive benefits of its elements.
  4. Because of the integrated nature of genuine solutions, your proposition penetrates further into the client organisation. It becomes embedded in their work-flow, their decision making and their strategy.
  5. Solution selling is the close twin of relationship selling. Understanding how the potential symbiosis can work between the two is a critical success generator. Using meaningful relationships to sell transactionally is a wasted opportunity. And attempting to sell solutions to people you have no effective business relationship with will flounder. See this month’s other article on relationship selling.
  6. Solution selling focuses on creating value for the customer first and margin/revenue for the seller second. A simple test a SalesPathways client uses to make sure the salesperson’s mind-set is correctly focused is applied when the salesperson has completed a sale and is communicating back to management. How do they frame the conversation? Is it all about size of the deal, targets hit or bonuses won? Or more about what the solution will achieve for their client. Of course the financial benefits to the seller are important, but they will be outputs of the successfully delivered solution, never the other way round. Another important benefit of this approach is it removes the risk of over-selling because sales people are always keeping in mind the client requirement.

When Business Slows Down – The Ten Fundamentals

When business slows down remember these ten timeless fundamentals:


  1. Cash is king, not profit. Obsess about tracking the amount of available cash.
  2. Chase debtors, invoice correctly. Pay your own bills on time, not early.
  3. If possible sell underperforming assets, write off old stock, turn it into cash.
  4. Losing customers is a disaster. Develop customer retention strategies. Stay close to your best customers.
  5. Develop aggressive investment appraisal analysis. Any expenditure must do better than the net effect of the money not being spent and going straight to the bottom line.
  6. Before you make people redundant, look to be more creative; hiring and pay freezes, salary reductions, job shares etc. Morale is critical, because people deliver service and quality. Showing that you are trying everything will be noticed.
  7. Be careful about cutting small but significant hygiene factors like free tea and coffee. Better to cut heavy expenses, like business class travel except long haul. Even though it might be a ‘skinny version’ still hold a Christmas party.
  8.  Harvest every enquiry or lead, follow them up with gusto.
  9.   Over communicate, keep people informed, try to take as consistent a tone as possible.
  10. Remember one of the most relevant leadership definitions: Grace Under Pressure, people look to senior people for clues as to the business’ real position.


New Job Reading List

We’re often asked by people heading into a new management job what they should do to prepare.  We have a handy first 100 days article which will give you some ideas if you’re moving into a senior role, but if you’re heading into your first executive or graduate role it’s hard to know where to start.  If you’ve got some time this summer to have a read and build your background knowledge to boost your front line performance, here’s a capsule reading list to get you started.


7 Habits of Highly Effective People         Stephen Covey

We like the workbook edition of Stephen Covey’s 1990 landmark book, but before investing ask around, there’s a good chance one of your friends or family have this book already and you can borrow it.  It’s a classic, and with good reason.  There’s all kinds of spin offs for couples, families, teens or whatnot, but stick to the core principles.


The Chimp Paradox                                Steve Peters

If you want to be super successful in any aspect of your life then the one thing you can do that will mark you out as a together, inspiring, confident and empathetic leader in everything you do is to know yourself.  That’s much easier to say than do, and a great step towards that goal is to understand others better.  Once you better understand how others react you can start to unpick your own behaviours, one swing from a tree at a time.


Never Split the Difference                       Chris Voss

This one gets a bit more specific, delving into how best to negotiate.  Don’t be put off if you’re not headed into a life of sales or procurement, rest assured that any successful organisational life will mean plenty of negotiation with all sorts of stakeholders.


Thinking Fast and Slow                           Daniel Kahneman

You may have just acquired a huge burden of debt by going to university to learn how to think, debate and build convincing, fact based arguments, but you’re in the working world now and things won’t always go to plan.  Get to grips with why your gut reaction might be the only one that matters or why your thinking habits may be fooling you into making poor choices.  There’s plenty of thought experiments in here to keep you engaged.


Working with Emotional Intelligence        Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goldman has taken one big idea and turned it into a publishing phenomenon.  Our pick of the bunch is Working With EQ as it helps you to put the idea into action.  It’s not just the kid with the highest UCAS points who succeeds in life, it’s also the one who connects best with others, and themselves.  Put your mortar board aside for a moment and learn how to get the most from your personality in the workplace.


Why Does Management Get Setting Annual Sales Targets So Wrong

One of the major success drivers of sales performance can be measured by the amount of ownership salespeople have for their targets. The logic is inescapable; if salespeople really own their numbers then they will work tirelessly to achieve them. The opposite is also true, if they don’t own the numbers they will spend all their time either trying to get them reduced; blaming the reporting system or working to a lower, unofficial, self-set version they feel to be more realistic.


Many organisations pay lip-service to building ownership through ‘bottom up targeting’. The problem is it’s just that – lip-service. Salespeople are encouraged to analyse their customers and market-place, make careful considered judgments and build their target. This goes in for review and comes back with “It’s OK but needs more work (bigger totals)”.  This cycle can be repeated several times, the salesperson’s cynicism and frustration rising each time. The process only ending when the salespeople have come up with the right figure, or management have finally told them what ‘real’ number is required.

Everybody knows targeting comes round once a year and the need will again be for bigger (or certainly just as demanding) numbers, so why the lateness of starting the process and why the surprise?, because people are in denial, seeing this part of the year as a head banging, remedial, adversarial and motivation sapping few weeks.

The authentic way to engage the salesforce is to tell them in advance the range the numbers have to be within. No less than x, hopefully closer to y and ideally touching z, with the underlying assumptions clearly laid out for testing. The other key requirement is time. It is crass to expect targets/budgets to be built in a matter of days or for a carefully considered piece of work to be considered ‘short’ with the need for a couple more million to be suddenly found by the end of the week.

Salespeople should always be encouraged to focus more on the ‘how’ of the numbers not the ‘what’, because that’s where they will be spending all their time.

The only stretch targets salespeople will own are ones they’ve set themselves. The company’s business plan should be built around the required targeted numbers, stretch should be in addition, and its development and delivery motivated by personal appetite and ambition. Stretch should never be ‘baked into’ the formal numbers by the Finance Department.  As for Super Stretch, we’d perhaps better not even talk about that.


How well do you do set and manage your targeting?