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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Five Common Misconceptions about Sales Talent

Five_Common_Misconceptions_about_Sales_TalentI love the ah-ha moments in my job! You know that feeling… when you are talking about something you passionately believe in and then—bam!—you can practically see the light bulb go off for the other person (even on the phone). That’s a highlight for me and one I was able to enjoy just this morning. Talking with a new client who has never been exposed to the concept of strength management before, I was struck by how differently we each perceived the talents of the young seller we were reviewing. He was stuck in the old management paradigm of fixing people and hoping for improvement with additional experience until it all finally clicked. While this salesperson had quite a few strong talents, her account list and project responsibilities required her to lean heavily on areas I knew were weaknesses. The fit was all wrong!

Our conversation led me to share with you these five common misconceptions about sales talent.

1. Our talents can change over time.

Lots of things change as we get older and gain experience both in life and in our careers… but talent isn’t one of them. Our natural patterns of behavior are set at a very young age and once they are hard-wired, our thoughts, feelings, and knee-jerk responses remain pretty consistent over time. Luckily, as we mature, many of us learn how to use our talents more effectively and work around the weaknesses that keep getting in our way. We also learn which behaviors are socially acceptable and begin to conduct ourselves accordingly. So instead of throwing a fit on the floor, kicking, screaming, and crying like we may have done as toddlers, a highly competitive salesperson will typically act like a good sport in public and save that temper tantrum for those first moments alone in their car. They didn’t become any less competitive; they just learned how to handle themselves in public.

2. Talent is good but it’s not as important as hard work and practice.

Many years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the importance of “deliberate practice.” He maintained that, with 10,000 hours of repetitive training, an individual could become world-class in any field. You may have heard the buzz already, but a new Princeton study recently proved that while practice certainly leads to improvement, that improvement is often marginal at best. Practice makes perfect? Not exactly. The closest that practice came to perfection in this study was in the world of games where it was proven that an individual could become 26% better with deliberate practice. Many attribute that growth to the stable nature of the activity; games have rules and the rules don’t change. At the opposite end of the spectrum, this study showed that in careers such as sales (which we all would agree plays by different rules with different prospects), the bump was only a paltry 1%. Bottom line: If you have talent, you have the potential to grow and become excellent. If you don’t have talent, practice alone won’t get you there.

3. You can fix a weakness if you really focus and work on it.

Actually, sort of true… but not by much. If you dedicate great energy and many hours to becoming better in an area of weakness, you certainly won’t get worse! But the ROI is pretty low. Research shows that when we spend time developing our weaknesses we only become about 10% better—we never become great. What a wasted opportunity because that same amount of time dedicated to developing strengths can make us 10 times better! Every one of us has a unique set of strengths and an even larger set of weaknesses. Want to know what makes the most highly successful people so great? It’s the presence of the right strengths—not the absence of weaknesses. The goal is to focus on your strengths and become great in the areas where you have talent. Then your weaknesses become irrelevant.

What Does Putting on Your Shoes Have to do with B2B Selling?

What_Does_Putting_on_Your_Shoes_Have_to_do_with_B2B_SellingMost people put either their right shoe or left shoe on first. Every single time they put on shoes, they put them on in the same order. Pay attention to your habits the next time you put on your shoes! Try to put the other one on first—it will feel awkward.

But as ingrained and habitual as this is, can you tell me which shoe you put on first this morning? Probably not.

We follow patterns in other areas in our lives, too, without giving them much thought. Not all our habits are neutral, like the order of our shoes, or even good, like remembering to brush and floss our teeth everyday. In fact, in B2B selling, we can get into some pretty bad habits that can hurt our chances at closing a sale.

An Unfinished Needs Analysis

Picture this: You’re on a call with a prospect who seems interested in what you have to say. They’re actively listening, and responding like they want to buy. You’re in the needs-analysis part of the conversation, when the prospect asks about cost. 

It’s easy to jump ahead, to blaze forward. They’re talking cost! You think you can close the sale! So you bulldoze the rest of the conversation and throw a lot of facts, phrases, and terms in your prospect’s direction. You even go so far as to suggest a solution that might not be the best for your prospect. Their interest wanes, their eyes glaze over. They tell you they’ll have to think about it.

Slow Down Instead

Topics: Sales

Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour Rule” Gets the Comeuppance It Deserves

10,000_hours_of_hockey_practiceI’m not the kind of guy who tends to do a victory dance when he finds his point of view vindicated. But I came close the other day when I read about the Princeton University study that put the kibosh on Malcolm Gladwell’s famous—and utterly misleading—assertion that all it takes to be successful in any field is 10,000 hours of practice.

I knew Malcolm Gladwell was wrong the moment I heard his crazy claim. The 10,000-hour nonsense is the central theme, the activating idea, in Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, published in 2008. Gladwell observed that the best NHL players grew up on the ice in Canada; most were skating by age three, and they had something like, umm, 10,000 hours’ practice by the time the NHL scouts came to watch them play. And he noted that Bill Gates grew up in a rare (for that era) environment where he had access to computers from an early age and was able to devote, hmm, 10,000 hours to try his hand at programming these new contraptions and get good at it. The Beatles? You guessed it, 10,000 hours in the basement or in empty or crowded dance halls in Liverpool. It’s not talent, Gladwell kept repeating, it’s simply 10,000 hours. 

That was his axiom. And the corollary? You—yes, you!—can be as successful as John Lennon, Bill Gates, or Wayne Gretzky… if you simply commit to 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell specifically claimed that his observation about practice time proved that all that talk about talent was just wrong. Perhaps even more surprising than Gladwell’s allegation was that so many people fell for it, hook, line, and career. Pundits wrote about it, teachers preached it, and young people rearranged their life to fit in 10,000 hours of practice. That’s 5 years of 40-hour practice weeks, if my arithmetic is right. Most didn’t last 10,000 hours. Is that why they’re not gazillionnaires today? Not exactly.

Weekly Wrap Up: What We Wrote, and What We Read: July 21-24

This week, we wrote about a variety of topics, and one blog post included homework! From sinking ships to athletic coaching, from empathy and accountability to two-paragraph emails, we've covered a lot of ground, and if you've missed anything, now's your chance to play catch up.

The Center for Sales Strategy Weekly Wrap-Up

  • On Monday, Mike Anderson warned us of the dangers of holding onto our ideas like someone going down with a sinking ship.


Topics: Digital Inbound Marketing Sales

5 Parallels Between Athletic Coaching and Sales Coaching


We would probably all agree that strong athletic coaching is key to maximizing the performance of an athlete.  Effective sales coaching is just as essential for maximizing sales performance!


If you are a regular reader of our blog or a current client of The Center for Sales Strategy, you know that we believe strong coaching plays an enormous role in the development of people and their natural talents.  This slide show presentation will depict for you the five ways that sales coaching and athletic coaching are most similar and give you some important things to consider when coaching others.

 5 Parallels Between Athletic Coaching and Sales Coaching


10 Message Goals in Two Paragraphs: Can You Do It?

10_Message_Goals_in_Two_Paragraphs_Can_You_Do_ItLike you, I get a ton of emails in a typical day. If I read them all, I’d get little else done. So if I don’t see something in the subject line that grabs my attention because it’s relevant to me, that message is gone! That takes care of 50% of the email crowding my Inbox. If I do actually start reading, but there’s nothing intriguing in the first few sentences, there goes another 30% of the daily onslaught. Another 10% or so is internal mail, and my boss reads this blog, so I’m saying for the record that I read those. Which brings us to that last 10% of email, items I may actually read.

How can you be included in my 10%? Or the 10% of the other strangers you’re trying to reach? Make it stand out. Be intriguing and, include a call to action, and keep it short. Sounds simple, right? Try it. You’ll find it’s much harder than you think. Below are 10 message goals that fit into two concise paragraphs and will keep your email message “above the fold,” giving it a good chance of capturing the reader:

Example: Sending an Email to an IT Company

  1. Subject Line – Here’s your one and only chance to make a good first impression. “Less than 30% of IT administrators are certified in Cloud Computing.” Pretty intriguing if I’m an IT company transitioning from servers and desktop applications to a cloud-based, software-as-a-service environment.
  2. Introduction – The reader needs to know who you are and the company you work for… “My name is… and I work for…”
Topics: Digital

Are you Floating an Idea, or Clinging to a Sinking Ship?

Are_you_Floating_an_Idea,_or_Clinging_to_a_Sinking_Ship_Not long ago, I had the chance to watch a role-play workshop. The consultant from The Center for Sales strategy was playing “the client,” and an account manager was playing “the salesperson.” 

A few minutes into this hypothetical needs analysis, a light bulb turned on in the account manager’s head. It was as if the clouds parted, and a ray of inspired genius shone down on the salesperson from high heaven. (Or at least, that’s how the salesperson felt, based on the look on his face and the way he started fidgeting.)

Unable to contain his enthusiasm, he interrupted the client with, “Hey! I have an idea. You know what we could do…?” And of course, he dove into a thorough explanation of his epiphany. The idea was okay but not great. The client was patient and polite, but her reaction was subdued; not nearly as positive as the account manager had clearly anticipated. So the seller re-approached: “Yes, but you don’t understand. The reason this is a great idea is…” And he repeated his idea three times, in three different ways. Each time, the client was becoming less patient, less interested, and understandably less polite.

Topics: Sales

Weekly Wrap Up: What We Wrote, and What We Read: July 14-17

This week's writing was really interesting! Mike's post about great salespeople hitting moving targets really resonated with our readers. I loved Brittany's post about who should be using target personas. Kurt's post (and slideshow) gave us five reasons to stop talking about features, and I shared what I learned from a blogger's conference. Read below, and have a great weekend!

The Center for Sales Strategy Weekly Wrap-Up

  • Tuesday afternoon found us hearing from Jim Hopes about the future of sales and marketing. This post included a two-minute video of Matt Sunshine explaining inbound marketing.


Topics: Digital Inbound Marketing Sales

15 Inbound Marketing Ideas from Problogger Academy

Last week, I attended ProBlogger academy in Portland, Oregon. As blog manager for The Center for Sales Strategy, when I tell people what I do for a living, their reactions range from indifference to perplexity, so heading to a conference where I didn't have to do a lot of explaining about what a blog is, and why it needs a manager, was fun and enjoyable.

The academy itself was positioned toward personal bloggers, not inbound marketing, but there were still many important takeaways that I learned, and want to share those with you. If you have a blog, you'll find these useful.


1. The 80/20 rule applies to blogs. Spend 20% of your time creating content, and 80% promoting it. Tweet this.

2. Key to blogging success: discover problems, then solve them. Tweet this.

Topics: Inbound Marketing

5 Reasons to Move Beyond Selling Benefits and Features

Working Hard-4A friend of mine in sales was recently frustrated with the lack of response he'd been getting. Suddenly, it seemed, the tried and true sales methods he'd become accustomed to weren't working anymore. He sat down next to me, and said, "I think it's time I moved beyond selling benefits and features to my prospects."

I smiled, and said, "welcome to the club."

I've been in sales my entire career, and encourage everyone, not just my friend, to move beyond selling benefits and features. Below are five reasons why.

Topics: Sales

Revolutionizing How Sales and Marketing are Done Around the World

Screen_Shot_2014-07-14_at_10.52.29_AMThree years ago, our team discovered the power of inbound marketing and began experimenting with the best way to use it in order to grow our own business. We knew we needed to stop wasting time and energy searching for the right prospects among a mountain of possibilities and we were increasingly determined to figure out how to clear a path so those businesses who needed us could come find us instead. After our first year of great success on our own behalf (our new business is WAY up), our expertise was strong and we were ready to help our clients achieve the same kinds of results we were enjoying. 

For two years now we have been considered a leader in inbound marketing. We have helped many businesses in the U.S. learn how to turn the tables so the few best prospects can find them and raise their hands. We are currently a Platinum-level partner with Hubspot and we consult 22 inbound clients at this moment.

Recently our expertise gained recognition far beyond our country’s borders and we have had the opportunity to help businesses in Western Europe put these same principles to work.

Topics: Inbound Marketing

The Best Salespeople Can Hit a Moving Target

The_Best_Salespeople_Can_Hit_a_Moving_TargetI was recently asked how to provide an example of the kind of valid business reason that is sure to get a return call when left as a voicemail. My answer: There isn’t one. But let’s talk about some principles the best salespeople follow that are more likely to get you face-to-face with your prospect.
Topics: Sales

Weekly Wrap Up: What We Wrote, and What We Read: July 7-10

We hope you had a relaxing and safe long weekend last week. We certainly did! This week, we came back refreshed and wrote about a variety of topics. We wrote about different kinds of salespeople, concentration, motivating prospects, and managing your expectations regarding inbound marketing.

The Center for Sales Strategy Weekly Wrap-Up

  • On Monday, Mike Anderson told us that we suceed in sales, but we have to concentrate. More options is not better.
  • Tuesday, Harry Tomasides asked us what kind of salesperson we thought we were, and gave us a series of interesting questions we should ask ourselves to give ourselves a gut check.


Topics: Digital Inbound Marketing Sales

What Kind of Salesperson Are You?

what_kind_of_salesperson_are_youOver the last month I read four articles that kept coming back to the same theme: The impact technology is having on traditional sales organizations.

Consider this:

  1. Procter & Gamble recently announced that by the end of 2014 they want to buy 75% of their U.S. digital media programmatically—and just to make sure we’re on the same page here, programmatically means untouched by human hands.
  1. Publisher Conde Nast announced it was merging programmatic and direct sales together.
  1. Andrea Mitchell, in a piece on bizcommunity.com, said “It is predicted that programmatic media buying will soon replace all traditional ways of media planning and buying—not just for digital, but for all media channels.”
  1. While showrooming has had a tremendous impact on retailers, human interaction still mattersIt is still a vital driver that explains why, in certain cases, consumers still prefer to purchase products in-store versus online. For example, a 2012 Nielsen poll indicated that 69% of its respondents thought in-store purchases were "most reliable," and 68% said it was the "easiest" and the "most convenient" way to shop. 
Topics: Sales

You Can Do This, But You Have to Concentrate

You_have_to_concentrateRecently, I had the chance to observe a sales meeting where all of the current revenue initiatives of a company were being reviewed by management. And there were lots of initiatives. There were incentive programs, inventory priorities, special promotions, new product introductions, price-point packages, and a new website and workflow system to support all of the above. 

The point of management was obvious: “You have so many different things to sell, how can we possibly not hit our numbers?!”

But what the sales team was hearing was also obvious: “You have given us so many things to “focus” on, how can we possibly hit our numbers?!”

Look, I know I’m not going to—nor do I want to—talk anyone out of innovating new products, promotions, and sales ideas for their team. But I think it would be smart to reflect on the rules of concentration of force.

Topics: Sales

4 Things to Celebrate This 4th of July

4th_of_julyThe 4th of July is a great holiday. Think about it. It's a holiday that involves spending time with people you love, eating food fresh off the barbecue, and, if you're lucky, going swimming in the nearest body of water. There's very little in the way of expectation in terms of gifts (at least, nothing beyond a six pack or some coleslaw) and everyone is generally in good spirits.

Which got me thinking. There's a lot to celebrate this 4th of July.

Some of the things we're celebrating this 4th of July include:

1. Freedom

Our Founding Fathers fought for our nation's independence while wearing wool (and wigs!) in July. Today, we're connected to each other through the power of technology. We can meet with anyone, anywhere, virtually. We can work from any location. Technology frees us from commuting as well as ensures we can communicate more efficiently. Today, too, we can celebrate freedom from technology. So, put down the phone, step away from the computer, and get offline.

2. Loved Ones

The long weekend means we get to take time with the people who matter most to us: our family and close friends. Enjoying a long weekend with your favorite people lets you appreciate why you work so hard the rest of the year. Make the effort to ensure the time you spend with family is quality time.

Topics: Inbound Marketing

It’s Not About Money: 5 Steps to Reduce Sales Staff Turnover

sales_staff_turnoverSales staff turnover is expensive. I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard many times before. The Center for Sales Strategy published an ebook on this subject last year, revealing for many just how many different line items—and how many hidden costs—are driven up every time a salesperson departs, whether on their own or at your behest.

So I’m not out of line to ask: If so many sales managers are so aware that turnover is a giant expense undermining effectiveness and profitability, why don’t they take more measures to reduce turnover? Here’s what a smart manager would do—and what his savvy boss would require—to reduce sales staff turnover and bring the velocity of that revolving door down to a crawl.

1. Hire the right people in the first place.

Seems so obvious it’s hardly worth mentioning. But on this very day, sales managers across the globe will make more bad hires than good hires. That same ebook offered several steps that can help companies reverse those crummy odds. Follow them! The result will be alignment—alignment between (a) the talents, habits, preferences, and inclinations of your salespeople and (b) what you need them to do in order to be successful in your organization. If you have employed such people in the past, you know how delightful it is that you don’t have to hound, bribe, or threaten them to take the right actions. Having such a person on staff need not be the rare exception. If you use a validated talent assessment interview to select your sellers, your staff could be composed largely of people who are in near-perfect alignment with your needs and expectations.

2. Hire the right managers for them.

Focused on Customer Needs? Think Smaller to Sell Bigger

Focused_on_Customer_Needs_Think_Smaller_to_Sell_BiggerClients of The Center for Sales Strategy know that it’s more important to know your prospect than your product, and that well-defined needs lead to the most dramatic revenue opportunities. But finding customer needs is not enough.

What you’re looking for is an assignment.

The Difference Between a Need and an Assignment

A need is a way you can help (and chances are, you’ll find a lot of these). But an assignment is an important need for which the client has said they want your help. 

Consider narrowing the list of needs to the client’s most urgent and important priorities in order to sell bigger with questions like these: 

  • “We’ve talked about a lot of areas where it sounds like I could be of help to you. If you had to narrow it down to one or two priorities that are important right now, which would they be?” 
  • “If we could only focus on this list of needs by working on one thing at a time, which item would come first?”
Topics: Sales

Trained to Lead—But Not Allowed to Lead?

Trained_to_Lead—But_Not_Allowed_to_LeadI see more and more companies investing in their future by focusing on the next generation of leaders, the up-and-comers who they expect to drive corporate growth in the years, even decades, ahead. These companies are adding more people to their corporate staff to build programs and experiences that grow hard and soft skills (you know, mid-level managers go away for a few days, several times a year, to learn how) as well as to create mentoring programs and to provide opportunities that allow future leaders to emerge.

But once they're trained to lead, do they have the opportunity to implement what they learned?

Often, the answer is no. They're not allowed to lead. Consider the irony. At the same time that I see so many firms spending all this time and money on training future leadership, I see too many of them pulling decision-making away from their managers—removing the need for these leaders actually to lead. The irony is painful to observe.

Workshop experiences and mentoring programs go only so far. If you want managers to make good decisions, the first step is to let them make decisions. And too many companies are going the other way—transferring decisions to corporate staffs such as HR or Legal, defaulting to various algorithms, or just replacing field decisions with standardized responses listed in a rule book.

This is a very dangerous pattern. Managers with prodigious potential and tons of training, but no decisions to make, atrophy. Not only do they not hone their decision-making abilities in the real world, they lose confidence in themselves and interest in the job. Those that don’t seek a better position elsewhere simply learn how to hide behind the cape of their corporate Superman or Superwoman.