Four Big Bad Sales Myths of 2018

Justin Jones, co-founder of the sales consulting firm Somersault Innovation, offers this perspective on approaching the sales profession in 2018.

Myth #1: Expertise is the Source of Our Credibility. Most of us are all too eager to demonstrate our product and business knowledge and quickly take control of a customer interaction to demonstrate expertise. We believe this will help our clients trust and buy from us. However, as Amy Cuddy finds in her recent book, Presence, competence is only part of what compels trust. And, it’s the lesser part!

Before clients consider our competence or expertise there’s something else they’re looking for: they’re looking for warmth. Are we real? Are we authentic? Unfortunately, the more we hammer our amazing expertise, the less authentic we appear.

I spoke the other day with an account management team from a leading mortgage technology firm, and here is how they approached a recent client meeting. They went in without an agenda except to talk with the customer about their business. The client responded by openly sharing information about two key initiatives that led to new opportunities. The team reported their delight in what felt like a “natural,” and “authentic” meeting and were eager to experiment with more clients.

Give less weight to expertise in your next meeting and see what happens.  

Myth #2: The Customer is Always Right. Today, our customers are much further along in their buying decision by the time we talk to them. This makes our job a lot harder because, thanks to many online resources, customers are much better informed and often have their eyes on a specific solution. But that doesn’t make them right, no matter how sophisticated a buyer they are.

If we slip into order-taking mode, we end up in commodity-ville, talking about a limited solution that can be easily compared to the competition.  However, if we press for more discovery we’re almost certain to find that the client’s definition of the problem is limited, or even incorrect. To the extent we can reframe the customer’s certainty and fixation, we graduate from “problem-solver” – just like every other vendor who calls on them –  to the more coveted and differentiated “problem finder” role.

Myth # 3: Big Data Will Save Us. The benefits of Big Data are all around us. AI and predictive analytics are already being used to make our lives easier. After clicking only once on an ad for online bedding retailer Brooklinen, they showed up on every site I frequent, making it easy to build a relationship, and, yes, place an order. Many of our clients are likewise experimenting with this technology to identify leads.

While this functionality is fantastic, we see it leading too often to limited engagements. Sales people are over-relying on data to close ready-made deals. In a fashion, they’re combining this myth with the previous two: they leverage data to quickly demonstrate their expertise in the specified areas and make a wrong assumption about the customer’s problem. The promise of big data is real, but only insofar as it’s used to enable greater problem finding – not quicker problem solving and selling.

Myth # 4: Focusing on Numbers Will Drive Revenue. This last myth is pervasive among both sales people and their managers. I understand the power of the maxim ‘What gets measured gets done.’ But we’ve taken this to an extreme such that sales managers and their teams spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional calories reporting on their pipelines. The unintended consequence: sales becomes dumbed down into a revenue drone. It’s no longer about our customers and the interesting things they’re doing with their businesses and how we can help them.

It’s about delivering our numbers – or at least paying lip service to doing so. The remedy for sales managers is as simple as asking your teams about the interesting things they’re seeing in their accounts. What’s something new they’ve learned from a customer? Which accounts are they feeling excited about and why? You’ll have a much clearer picture about progress in each account, and you’ll open up your conversations toward what really matters: how your business can help your clients solve their problems.

Some Puzzling State Revenue Numbers

The Indiana State Budget Agency recently released the revenue collections report for October. The overall collections for the fiscal year now stand 2.8% ($136 million) below projections; not good, but not critical at this juncture.

The troubling numbers for the revenue watchers are the corporate tax collections. They were down again this month and are now at 52% below the April revenue forecast projections. Nobody really knows how to fully explain the drop. While the corporate collections historically fluctuate widely from month to month and are the hardest to predict for many reasons (that are not directly related to predictable economic activity), the gap between projections and collection is extraordinary. Fortunately, corporate collections have never represented a big piece of the pie (only around 6%) when compared to sales (48%) and individual income (36%) tax collections. Still, the unforeseen drop accounts for $126 million of the $136-million-dollar shortfall.

The State Budget Agency has drilled down on the matter and is attributing it to a high volume of refunds. But what is triggering the refunds is not clear either. Sometimes refunds can cover a number of years. They could be tied to a recent settlement of numerous cases or result from changes in the law – lots of possible factors. Whatever they are attributable to, they probably don’t mean that corporate collections will stay down; they are likely to rebound over the balance of the fiscal year and smooth out the impact, but they are not likely to recover to the total of the original projections. Let’s hope this is just a temporary mysterious dip that is evened out over time.

For those interested, you can review all the numbers and commentary from the State Budget Agency.

Protect Your Identity this Tax Season

Mask

It’s tax season! As you prepare to file your taxes, remember to store your personal information such as W-2 forms, bank account summaries and other tax-related documents in secure locations. This time of year, identity thieves are especially prominent and out to steal real taxpayer identities and file fraudulent tax returns to request and steal the victims’ refunds.

Since its inception in 2014, the Indiana Department of Revenue’s Identity Protection Program has identified and stopped more than $100 million in fraudulent refund attempts and helped thousands of legitimate taxpayers realize their identities have been stolen. This year, the department again will be implementing the Identity Protection Program to protect Hoosier taxpayer identities and refunds. This program will look similar to the security measures implemented last year, including the Identity Confirmation Quiz, a two-minute quiz asking some taxpayers to confirm their identities.

Those selected to complete the Identity Confirmation Quiz will receive a letter from the department. The Identity Confirmation Quiz is taken on a secure web site or over the phone and contains four short questions, which only the person asked to complete the quiz would be able to answer.

Through the Identity Protection Program, the department aims to protect taxpayers’ identities and potential refunds and the state of Indiana from potential refund fraud.

For more information about the Identity Protection Program and tips for protecting your tax refund and identity, visit the department’s Stop ID Theft web site.

California License Plates for $ale

California lawmakers are considering a move that would allow the state to generate revenue by allowing advertising on their license plates. No doubt, some will say this is an ideal merging of the public and private sectors, while others may get the creeps about such a partnership. While the funding source may be unique, the concept really isn’t. Advertising on vehicles is nothing new. Think of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, or those Red Bull cars we see in downtown Indy … or that van promoting the re-election of Hill Valley Mayor Goldie Wilson.

Popsci reports:

Like an early, static version of Twitter, license plates have long allowed drivers to stamp a statement right onto their bumpers, as long as that statement is of extremely limited length. But lawmakers in California are deliberating a bill that would allow electronic license plates that would display advertisements and other messages when cars are not in motion, turning every car on the road into a moving billboard.

When cars are moving, the electronic registration would display the usual numbered and lettered identifier. But when parked or stopped for more than four seconds in traffic or at a red light, the plate would display anything from advertising messages to emergency information or Amber Alerts.

For the highly insolvent state of California, such ad-bearing devices could generate a good deal of revenue. For drivers, they could generate a whole new source of distraction on our already media-saturated roadways. But in heavily gridlocked places like California, it could provide a fast means to disseminate important information quickly and even provide emergency instructions to drivers who regularly deal with natural disasters like mudslides, wildfires, and earthquakes. And don’t worry, Los Angelenos: You’ll still be able to advertise your ride as “SMOKN” in between the paid messages.

States Eye Unclaimed Property for Additional Revenue

Looking for ways to deal with greatly reduced tax collections, states are focusing on their unclaimed property statutes as a potential source of revenue. States are discovering that by changing their laws they can increase what escheats to the state coffers. Changes like expanding the definition of what constitutes "unclaimed property," shortening the period for owners to claim it and limiting recovery options result in more of the property going to the state (and less to the owners).

It is estimated that states collectively hold $33 billion in unclaimed property. Delaware expects to collect $380 million in 2009. So it is no wonder that struggling states are tempted to grab what they can in these disconcerting developments.

Advertising Still Important — Don’t be Afraid to be Prudently Aggressive

Economy got you down? You’re going over that budget with a fine-toothed comb, looking for places to slice and dice?

Stop! OK, at least slow down. While watching expenses is certainly understandable, don’t make short-term decisions that could cause long-term harm. In other words, don’t abandon advertising, marketing and sales efforts. They, after all, are the foundation for current and future business.

But you say that your competitors are slamming the brakes in these areas. That is an opportunity for your organization to have its message heard loud and clear.

You don’t believe me? Read the words of two people in the business of helping companies like yours grow your business. They are both featured in the current BizVoice magazine.

Phelps Demonstrates True Revenue Power of Sports

NEWS ALERT: Apparently, Michael Phelps is a big deal.

While his accomplishments in the pool have rendered him an archetype in his sport with legendary status, it’s the personal revenue machine he’s generated that might be equally appealing to capitalists everywhere. This article on ESPN.com is quite telling, and explains how Phelps could end up taking in over $100 million from the global business community.

Eight gold medals in one Olympiad are cool, I guess. I’ll only take mild offense that similar financial accolades were never tossed my way when my Lil’ Steelers bested the previously undefeated Lions in the 1986 Boone County Pee Wee Youth Football Championship. Pretty impressive milestone, but whatever.