Four Simple Questions for More Effective Sales Calls


I’m often asked what sets apart good salespeople from those who show greatness.  It’s not the gift of gab, it has little to do with making dazzling presentations, and charm will only get you so far.

In fact, there are really four very simple questions great salespeople ask themselves.  The questions are only the wrapping paper, but the real gifts are the answers you receive by asking yourself:

1.  Why am I here?

That might seem like an odd question, but the vast majority of salespeople are unable to articulate the goal of their call.  Plan your call so that you can understand your customer’s burning platform and how you can connect what you do to help them.  If you don’t know what your objective of the call is, there is a pretty decent chance that your customer doesn’t either.

Quite simply, the answer to the “Why am I here?” question is this:  You are there to help your customers be successful.

2.  Is it about me or about them?  

I can answer that one pretty quickly:  It ain’t about you.

Again, this seems very fundamental, but I can’t tell you how many sales calls that I’ve joined – or sales calls where I’m the buyer – where the salesperson totally forgets about who the experience is all about:  The Customer.  A tipoff that a salesperson is lousy at putting the customer first will be that they believe their mission is to “pitch their product” or have a “dog and pony show.”  Seriously?  Would YOU buy from that type of person?  Instead of the tired stereotype of sales resembling an old west medicine show, try something different…

In fact, do something radical:  Ask questions about them, don’t immediately feel compelled to tell them about you.  Because until a customer knows that you care about their well being, should you expect for them to be concerned about yours?  Probably not.

3.  Am I a vendor or a partner?

I’m often surprised at the number of salespeople who overestimate their worth to a customer.  Just like in real estate where the selling price of a home is only worth what someone is willing to pay, your importance to a customer is only as high as their willingness to keep you in their food chain.

Here’s the (maybe literal) million dollar question:

Can your customer afford to remove you from their business?

The facts are, customers have choices…and when customers have choices then they make value decisions. Vendors do not have high equity in a value decision, but partners do.

A good salesperson doesn’t just become part of the equation, they are the equation.  I was involved in a customer meeting years ago where the customer made a pretty bold statement.  They told me, in essence, that they assumed our company made good products, knew that we had great service, etc., but their decision to go with us was based on the tiebreaker that we lowered their cost of doing business..  In their eyes, it would have cost them not only a significant sum of actual dollars, but a very painful cost of changing horses midstream, so to speak.  Make yourself indispensable.

4.  Did I deliver a “wow” factor?

The rare air of exceptional customer service has nearly numbed consumers into expecting to be underwhelmed.  That’s a shame.  However, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Your product may or may not be a commodity, but you don’t have to be one.  You don’t have to resolve to over the top things like skywriting a birthday message to your favorite customer…just be different.  Understand your competitive landscape and then stand out from the crowd by not simply being good, but great.

In other words, sell how you buy.  We look for the “wow” factor when we buy everything from phones to fast food.  Think about your most dynamic consumer experience.  Be that and then some.

Great salespeople keep it simple.


The Effects of Margin – Part 3: Seven Ways to Build Boundaries for Your Life

Drawing a line in the sand.  An old metaphor.

In The Effects of Margin – Part 1, I discussed creating awareness for the need of margin in one’s life.  The idea of creating boundaries as a protective moat around the things that really matter is critical to our productivity, success, and well being.  In Part 2, I discussed The Four Key Reasons You Need Breathing Room.  In it, the difference between being “busy” or being “productive” were defined and how going deeper with fewer things enhances value.

So, just how do we create margin in our life?  The good news is that it’s easier than you might think.  As we wrap up this series, I want to share Seven Ways to Build Boundaries for Your Life.  These are practical, incremental actions that seem small in nature, but have enormous impact.

1.  Practice intentional time blocking.

Time blocking is a great way to schedule intentional space in your calendar to dedicate your attention to things that matter most.  For example, I purposefully “block” time out on the week for planning time (for me, I have a couple of hours on Monday and Wednesday mornings), as well as blocking my open time for meetings & appointments (Monday afternoon, Tuesday mornings, Wednesday afternoons, all day Thursday, & Friday mornings).  This still provides flexibility during the week for drop in meetings, facilitation, etc.  Obviously, if I am on the road or if there is more broad company meeting I make exceptions, but this practice allows met to be proactive with my calendar.  It also helps my assistant know when to schedule things for me.  You can find a great article on time blocking here.

2.  Take a social media sabbatical

According to one study, Americans spend 4.7 hours on our phone or tablet accessing the web, most of that time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets.  Accounting for 8 hours of sleep, that means while we are awake 15 hours, 1/4 of our time is spent gathering likes or followers.  Now, I’m not saying social media is a bad thing – in fact, I believe it can be a great platform and I enjoy using it quite a bit.  I’m merely suggesting to take a breath and take a break.  If you think you can’t do it for, say a month, try a weekend.  No one is asking you to join a monastery.

By the way, when you decide to take your sabbatical…delete your social media apps.  It’ll minimize the temptation to cheat and you can always reinstall them later.

3.  Batch emails & voice mails

In the late 19th Century, Ivan Pavlov became famous for his famous “Classical Conditioning” experiment.  It went something like this:  When it was time to eat, an assistant would ring a bell, show the dog food, and the dog would begin to salivate.  Later, the dog would begin to salivate simply by hearing the bell or seeing the assistant.  The resulting finding was that the dogs were conditioned to a response by learned behavior.

Now, I’m not saying we drool when our emails ping, but how often do you feel compelled to check them one at a time as they come in?  How often do you check even though there isn’t a ping?  In Part One, I described a situation where a co-worker was angry because he didn’t receive an instantaneous response on email.  Quite frankly, we’ve conditioned people for a response just like Pavlov conditioned dogs.

That being said, you can condition yourself as well as others in a better, more productive way.  I respond to emails three times a day:  First thing in the morning, around lunchtime, and at the end of the day.  I admittedly do watch them come in all throughout the day, but my reply time is the key.  It allows me to consider my response, minimizes the back and forth chain of emails, and spaces my reactive time out for replying to three times a day vs. every time I receive an email.  The same holds true for voice mails.

4.  Delegate

As a leader, you need to decide “what is it that only I can do?” and “what are the 2-3 strategic things that I need to be working on?”.  Then, delegate the rest.  Now, delegation is not dumping the parts of your job you like least on other people.  The highest form of delegation is empowerment.  When you empower others, you are providing them with trust, responsibility, and the chance to perform.  I’m very fortunate to have a great team around me and the result is almost always better when I empower them to make decisions and think creatively.  By the way, delegation works even if you don’t manage direct reports.  Identify subject matter experts and ask for their help.  Most people are honored and, as long as you aren’t dumping your entire workload on them, willing to help.

5.  Set boundaries on your work day


In a leadership course that I facilitate, one of the questions I ask is, “when do you work?”  It’s staggering the answers I receive: “24/7”. “When my customers need me”, “whatever it takes” are common answers.  Half the people I ask also

  • Work during vacations
  • Eat breakfast or lunch at their desk (or skip meals)
  • Bring home projects from the office and work until bedtime.

Just stop.

My practice is this:  My productivity is highest in the mornings, so I either head to the office early or find a quiet space to concentrate on key work that needs my undivided attention.  My cell phone goes on at that time and I’m fully available to my team, business partners, and others at work that may need me, but my availability stops at 7 PM.  After that, it’s my time and/or my family’s time.  There’s very little that I can or should do for work at that point, and my family needs to know that I am present, not just in the house.

Vacations are also off-limits time from work.  I set an out of office note on my email and phone and unplug.  I’m not the president, so there is very little risk of my being needed for a national emergency.

Now – just a note:  When I’m working, I’m all in.  I have a high work ethic and expect others around me to have the same.  I’m far more productive, however, when I surround that “all in time” with “all out time.”

6.  Say No to Say Yes

This one the hardest for me.  I’m a pleaser and hate telling people no.  What that has gained me in the past is an overcommitted life and negatively impacted my productivity and, ultimately, my health.  I have ulcerative colitis and related health factors that cause my  immune system to go wonky from time to time.  Overextending myself has, at times, put my well being at risk and I have to guard myself against that.

It took me a long time to learn that I cannot be all things to all people, but if I can be meaningful to a few, I might have a deeper impact.  It’s required me to say no to things and people that I would love to say yes to, but simply cannot.  It does, however, allow my “yes” to be much more meaningful.  The areas of my life that I say “yes” to get a deeper commitment.  At work, the things I say “yes” to by saying “no” to others, provide higher value to the organization.  Greg Mckeown gives some great advice on how to say no gracefully.

7.  Use the Eisenhower / Covey “Urgent/Important” Matrix


I Like Ike.  When asked about his process for making decisions, General Dwight D. Eisenhower noted that he had to first distinguish between what was “urgent” and what was “important.”  In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey translated this into a matrix that combined urgency and importance:


While it’s not absolute, try to put your activities into these quadrants as best you can and spend most of your time in the Urgent/Important or Not Urgent/Important boxes.  The common denominator is focusing your time on what’s important.  The less time you are fighting fires, the more fire prevention you create.

These are just a few ways to create margin in your life.  Remember, it’s not about doing more things, it’s about building boundaries for your life to be more productive.


The Effects of Margin – Part 2: Four Key Reasons You Need Breathing Room


In my previous post, I discussed the concept of “margin” and why we as busy leaders need to take note of creating “intentional space” in your life.  Margin provides protection, gives us boundaries, and creates clarity for our lives to focus on better things, not simply more things.

Here’s the thing:  Nature abhors a vacuum.  If you don’t create intentional margin, the space will be filled in for you.  

1.  Things take more time than you’ll plan for.

It never fails.  A travel app tells you that it will take 1 hour to drive somewhere, but   doesn’t account for a snarling traffic jam.  You’ve blocked an hour for a meeting, but someone needed “just a couple of minutes” just before you walked in and delayed your start.

Facts are, we don’t live in a bubble.  Life happens – and when it does, you need enough margin in your day to account for the unplanned and unforeseen.

2.  Guilt is not a good enough reason for saying “yes.”

Most of us often say yes, because we don’t think we have a compelling reason to say no.  We fear saying no – even for the right reasons – will be viewed as being “not a team player.”  The truth is, the more good things we say yes to with no discretion, the less margin we allow for the best things.  In his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown makes the bold statement “If something isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no.” (I highly recommend this book, by the way.  It’s probably been one of the single greatest game-changers for me over the past year).  You can find it here: Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

3.  It’s just not productive – period.

We’ve all been brought up with the old axiom, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, but our hyperconnected world has taken this to a different meaning.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, interesting points were made on the difference between being busy and being productive.  In the article, there were two key reasons cited why we often feel busy, but not productive – and both were self imposed:  An aversion to idleness and having a bias toward action.

So here’s where it gets muddy…we often confuse being reflective with being idle and activity for action.  First, reflection gives us time to think things through and calibrate our course.  Life is not a no huddle offense.  Secondly, there is a huge difference between activity and action.  Ask yourself this question:  Would you rather end the day by saying you were busy or that you were productive.  Now…which one DO you say?

John Wooden Quote

Why busy is not the same as productive – Kory Kogon

4.  Lack of margin is selfish – to yourself and those around you.

Burning the candle at both ends only results in one thing:  A burnt candle.  When it’s melted down, there is no way to create more out of existing material.  The same holds true for our lives.  In all honesty, not providing yourself margin is selfish – not only to your own well being, but to those around you.  When you do this, what your actions are saying is that doing more provides more worth than meaning more.  The only way to mean more is to go deeper on fewer things or with areas in our life that matter most.  There is a reason why, in the event of an airline emergency, you are advised to put on your own oxygen mask first.  Only then can you help others.

So, are there practical ways to intentionally create margin?  Thankfully, the answer is yes!  Part 3 will share a few thoughts on creating the space you need to live and work more abundantly, productively, and to say yes to the things that really matter.


The Effects of Margin – Part 1


It was 5:00 AM and the alarm on my cell phone pierced our pitch dark bedroom with a shriek that, to a half-asleep self, resembled the score of Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho. I had an early morning meeting that Wednesday, and needed to be up, showered, dressed, and out the door by six. Groggy and still heavy lidded, I turned the alarm off, picked up my phone, and stumbled my way through the darkness to fix a much needed cup of coffee before I hit the shower.

As the coffeemaker rumbled like a locomotive making my sweet morning nectar, I sat down with my phone and pulled up my email to see what I had missed during the night…and there it was. A co-worker had sent an email at 10:05 PM asking details about a large meeting we had in several weeks that I was responsible for setting the agenda, logistics, etc. Not that big of a deal, as I often received emails during the evening from teammates, friends, and others at all hours. Some people are most productive late in the evening, some early in the morning. But what bothered me was an email sent at 11:42 that evening:

Chris, haven’t received a response from you regarding my previous email. Are you sure that you have the time to work on this important project?
(Name Deleted)

Was I reading this correctly? He had expected a response between 10:05 PM an 11:42 PM? I had fallen asleep sometime between 9:30-10:00 while reading, awakened only briefly by my wife to turn off my nightstand lamp. The tone of the note was clear: I had let him down by not being quick on the draw and had failed expectations. Hastily, I dashed off an apologetic note and told him that I would discuss with him at 7:00 (he would be attending the early morning meeting).

I quickly showered and dressed, gulping down a cup of coffee as I grabbed my keys. There would be no time to eat breakfast, and I hoped I could run grab a quick bite of fast food at lunch to bring back to my desk. I slid into the driver’s side in my car and turned on the ignition. Quickly, before pulling out of the garage, I decided to glance at the calendar on my phone to mentally prepare for the day’s activities ahead.

There were back to back meetings in the morning, some around topics that I had little to do with, but had accepted the invitation to join in the hopes that it showed leadership and a willingness to be a team player. The afternoon was more of the same, including meetings at facilities away from my office. There was a school activity that evening for one of my daughters that would begin thirty minutes after my last meeting, which occurred at a location 45 minutes away. I’d just have to hope that the local police would be somewhere else while I sped home.  I would have to hope that tomorrow would be a little less crazy…
Does this look familiar? This was an actual recreation of a “day in the life” from my actual schedule several years ago. Crazy, huh? Only, it wasn’t abnormal for me then and, if I’m not careful, it can creep back into my life without warning.

“Margin” is defined in writing as the space around the printed word on a page. It allows the reader to follow the story without creating visual “noise” that disrupts line of sight. Writers, editors, & publishers create margin so that the reader has clarity.

This holds true in our life as well.  A life without margin is a life without clarity.  It fatigues you and those around your life.  I am not saying that during certain seasons in our life that our margin won’t be eroded, but I am talking about how to create intentional margin in your life to protect your life’s integrity.  Putting it bluntly, you are of no use to anyone if you are not around because you didn’t create margin.

The good news?  Margin is not something impossible or beyond reach to create.  You do, however, have to be intentional in establishing it as priority.  In Part 2, we’ll examine some of the practical ways to create margin in your life and to build protective moats around your time, energy, and things that matter most.

Stay Tuned!

Can an Introvert be a Leader?

Anyone who knows me can tell you one thing for certain about me:

I am a certified introvert.

It is not uncommon to find me on the weekends on my boat, watching a movie by myself, writing, or having a quiet night at home with my family.  At the end of the week, people often ask me, “Got any big plans for the weekend?” and are perplexed at my usual response, which is “I hope not.”

I am also in a public field.  I often speak to large groups, lead a team that trains & develops salespeople, & had a successful career in sales.  Part of my job is to connect to a sizable  audience and have lateral influence across a large organization.

So how does an introvert lead in public?  Part of it is in the recognition of what it means to truly be introverted.  Here are 3 truths of introversion:

  1. Introversion is not shyness – it is a preference.  Here’s the difference:  An introvert is perfectly happy not going out with a group of people on the weekend.  In fact, they may prefer being alone to recharge their batteries.  Someone with shyness may wish they were out with a group, but fears social interaction.  Introverts don’t fear social interaction, but need a counterbalance away from it.
  2. Introverts connect…but one on one or with smaller circles.  This is one reason why many are surprised that introverts make great salespeople.  An introvert typically has intentional purpose when talking or meeting with someone, because they find it difficult to do so when there is no reason to do so.
  3. Introvert leaders recognize that balance of personality types on a team is critical.  In her book, Team of Rivals, author Doris Kearns Goodwin describes the unique leadership style of Abraham Lincoln (an introvert) who surrounded himself with not only political adversaries, but temperaments that differed from his own.  Introvert leaders need extroverts on their team.

There have been powerful examples of introverted leaders throughout history.  Influential figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, & Mark Zuckerberg would all be counted as introverts.  Leaders come in all types of personalities.  Leadership is about casting a vision and influencing people toward a common goal.  If you are an introvert, you can absolutely lead.

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


What is Your Brand?

Coke or Pepsi?

Mac or PC?

BMW or Mercedes?

Brand preference is always an interesting debate.  It involves fact and emotion.  It takes into account marketing spin and performance results.  It requires head and heart.

Marketing strategy1

Organizations and individuals are often guilty of buying into their own hype machine.  If left unchecked, a personal or company brand can confuse what they want to say to the marketplace with what the market actually says about them.

Remember, your brand is what other people say about you…not what you say about yourself.

Companies are not the only entity that have a brand…people buy from people and consumers buy from brand preference.  Brand preference, in turn, is developed by establishing value creation.

Questions to consider –

1) What value are you creating for your customers?

2) Can a client take you out of their buying process or are you so valuable to them that it would disrupt their business to do so?  Vendors can be replaced, strategic partners are more difficult to change.

3) Do I have a “tiebreaker” that sets me apart from other brands?

The answers to those will define if you truly have brand identity or not.

…and it makes all the difference in the world.



Choose to Let Your Attitude Be Gratitude


Picture this in your mind: On any given day, someone is likely to ask you the question, “How are you today?” Most of will respond with something benign such as “fine” or “hanging in there” or, if nothing has rained on our parade, “good.”
Is that it? Our days are destined to be “fine”, “hanging in there”, or at best – “good?”

I’m pretty sure life is meant to be more than “good.” So how do we move our answer from the mundane to the meaningful? The answer primarily comes from how we view our situation. Is our station in life on of scarcity or abundance?

Scarcity takes the approach that life is one that needs to be lived by comparison. What don’t I have and why do others prosper instead of me? It’s viewed as never having enough and it begs the question, “How much exactly is enough?”

Abundance mentality, by contrast, is not about how much one has, but that whatever one has is “enough.” If I have abundance, or “enough”, then I choose to be grateful. A grateful mind and heart changes my perspective. If I’m abundant, my day is not just “fine”, it’s grateful.

To find abundance, each day, ask yourself:

1.  Did today have purpose?

Before you answer yes or no, consider how a “yes” or a “no” might be defined. A    seemingly routine day at your job could have purpose by providing an income for you and your family. A day doing laundry or running errands made you productive.  Even if you were convalescing in bed while sick, you had purpose of healing.

2.  Did my words build people up or tear them down?

We minimize the sphere and scope of influence we have on people – and the effect that we have on the number of people we come into contact with every day.  Consider this: On average we live for 78.3 years. Most of us remember people we meet after age 5.   Assume we interact with 3 new people (can be a grocery store clerk, barista at a coffee shop, etc.) daily in cities, 365 days in a year plus leap yeas days is 365.24. In total it will be (78.3 – 5) x 3 x 365.24 = 80,000 people.

So, what if were had positive words for 3 people a day? In an average lifetime, that’s a positive influence from one person on enough people to fill a city.

3.  What am I grateful for today?

Facts are, some days stink.   However, even on my worst day, I can make a list of things that I am grateful for that far exceed the negative.  Even my grievances I can divide into those that I can control and those that are out of scope.  Many people would trade for my problems, so I choose gratitude.

What’s your choice?