Jim Kouzes, Deb Calvert & Barry Posner: How To Be A Better Salesperson

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I spoke to Jim Kouzes, Deb Calvert and Barry Posner, co-authors of Stop Selling & Start Leading: How to Make Extraordinary Sales Happen, about why so many salespeople fail to connect with buyers, what they’ve learned about the buyer and seller relationship, how salespeople can become better leaders, and how salespeople can stay motivated despite the inevitable rejection.

Deb is the president of People First Productivity Solutions, working with companies to build organizational strength by putting people first. James is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. Barry Posner is Accolti Professor of Leadership and former Dean of the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. James and Barry are most known as the co-authors of The Leadership Challenge.

Dan Schawbel: Why do so many salespeople fail to connect with buyers in a meaningful way?

Jim Kouzes, Deb Calvert & Barry Posner: Our research reveals that there’s profound and wide disconnect between how sellers behave and what buyers want. Selling is a relationship, just as leadership is a relationship. Meaningful relationships are based on trust and credibility, and these kinds of relationships cannot be developed when sellers are stuck in a sales mindset that inhibits the enabling and ennobling behaviors buyers are craving. Our research with over 500 buyers reveals that sellers are significantly more effective when they engage more frequently in behaviors associated with exemplary leadership. Stories from sellers about their “personal bests” in selling affirm this. When they act like leaders, often not even realizing that this is the case, they are more successful in connecting with buyers and making extraordinary sales.

Schawbel: What new research did you uncover on the seller/buyer relationship? Did anything surprise you?

Jim, Deb and Barry: What’s new in our research is that, to our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has explored the connection between exemplary leadership practices and success in selling. Because both leading and selling are based on the quality of interpersonal relationships, we hypothesized that the same behaviors that exemplary leaders demonstrate would also perform well for sellers. That is exactly what we found. While we weren’t so surprised about how disconnected buyers felt with their sellers, it was amazing to see that for every single leadership behavior we tested, buyers responded positively. Regardless of how frequently sellers currently engage in leadership behaviors, buyers ideally wanted them to do even more. And buyers’ responses clearly indicated that when sellers demonstrate more leadership, buyers were more likely to meet with sellers, and buyers were more likely to purchase from sellers. Additionally, what sellers don’t fully appreciate is that exemplary leaders turn their followers into leaders themselves. That transformational aspect of leadership is missing in the relationships sellers and buyers have.

Schawbel: What behaviors should you change if you want to be more appealing to buyers?

Jim, Deb and Barry: The leadership practice of Enable Others to Act resonated most strongly with buyers. Sellers should actively invite buyers to participate in creating what they want and to find ways to put their own imprint on the solutions developed. Also essential is answering buyers’ questions in a timely and relevant way and asking them questions that invite a two-way dialogue. The second most important practice is Model the Way, especially the behavior of following through on the promises and commitments that sellers make. Do What You Say You Will Do (or DWYSYWD for short) is the mantra of exemplary leaders, and it should be the mantra of exemplary sellers.

Schawbel: How can sales people become better leaders and reach their full leadership potential?

Jim, Deb and Barry: Leadership is a choice. To become better leaders, sellers must make the choice to lead and to act like leaders. We know that leadership is an observable set of skills and abilities, and that it can be learned. That being said, first you have to believe that you can lead and believe that behaving like a leader will make a difference in your selling. Once you embrace that fact, then the rest, as in any set of skills, is about deliberate practice and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Schawbel: How do salespeople stay motivated despite the many rejections they have to deal with on a daily basis?

Jim, Deb and Barry: Most successful sellers draw strength from knowing that the products and services they provide make a difference; that they matter. This intrinsic motivation is even more powerful than external motivators like commission pay and contests. Forming meaningful and durable connections with buyers is essential. It is an ennobling feeling when sellers can see themselves as leaders, and this perspective provides a strong motivational boost.

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