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What’s the difference between an average salesperson and a rock star? For Lisa Earle McLeod, author of Selling with Noble Purpose, there wasn’t a clear-cut answer until she met a certain superstar pharmaceutical sales rep in Phoenix, Arizona. The women she was interviewing told her that every time she made a sales call, she thought about a certain patient who told her the drug she was selling changed her life.
That one comment sent Lisa on a six-year journey interviewing salespeople all over the world to find out if a sense of purpose is the one element that made a difference. Recently, she sat down with EntreLeadership Podcast host Chris LoCurto to talk about the study and her book based on her findings. Here’s a sampling of their conversation.
Chris: After spending literally thousands of hours researching what motivates sales people, what were your findings?
Lisa: The results were clear. Sales people who have a sense of purpose, who truly want to make a difference to their customers, drive more revenue than sales people who are focused on quotas.
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Chris: In your book you say that you have to have an NSP. What is that?
Lisa: An NSP is a noble sales purpose. You go to most sales meetings and the manager will say, “The goal this year is to sell a million widgets or 20 million widgets or $30 million in revenue.” And that’s fine and that company will probably do okay. But the company that will perform better is the one that has a noble sales purpose. And a noble sales purpose is a definitive statement about how you make a difference to your customers. I want to be really clear on this. Profit is not a purpose.
If you have a noble sales purpose, you will make more money. The results are absolute. The research is absolutely clear. And a noble sales purpose is a declarative statement about how you make a difference to your customers.
Chris: Will focusing on making a difference change the sales process?
Lisa: One of the interesting things that came out in the research was the mistaken belief that if sales people really focus on the customer, the sale will take longer. It’s not true. The sales people who have a noble sales purpose, whose goal is to make a difference to their customers, close bigger deals, and they close them faster.
Chris: How confused are sales team leaders and organizations on leading salespeople?
Lisa: They’re very confused, and it usually starts at the top. The single biggest mistake that managers make is talking about customers as anonymous targets. When are you going to close it? How much is it going to be? When is the revenue going to hit? When are they going to pay? All of those are really important questions. But the question that they always forget to ask is: How is this customer going to be different as a result of doing business with us?
When it’s numbers, numbers, numbers or got to close it, got to close it, what am I thinking about? Am I thinking about the customer? No. But what if before we went in that call you said, “Lisa, how will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?” And I started thinking, “My gosh, their life will be changed. They will have peace. They will be so much more successful.” That’s what we’re going to talk about on the call. That’s going to be my focus. And it all hinges on the manager asking the salesperson that question.
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Chris: How well do incentive programs work?
Lisa: Incentive programs work to a certain extent. But if you look at very big companies, typically only one or two things happen. The same people win the trip every year, so you really don’t change behavior at all. Or they win every other year because your previous year’s quota is based on the last year. Again, you don’t get any behavior change.
I am a fan of incentives. I am a fan of commissions. But when you have a purpose—when you are clear that you’re making a difference to customer—you really start affecting the mid-level group of performers. And that’s the group that incentive programs often don’t hit.
Chris: Why are sales managers important, and who can be one?
Lisa: One of the mistakes that businesses often make is promoting the top sales guy. As a manager, he goes on call with the sales rep and takes over, so the sales rep doesn’t learn anything.
A true sales manager is the person who enables their sales team to close deals when they’re not there. The manager fuels the dialogue that the rep has with customers. In the book, there is a series of questions that sales managers can ask their reps. The first is, how will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?
Beyond that question, the sales manager should start asking the rep questions like, what’s going with this customer’s environment? What are the customer’s goals? What are these customers’ challenges? They create some thoughts in the rep’s head that they’re going to carry into the call.
For more of the conversation with Lisa and Chris, check out the latest EntreLeadership Podcast, which also includes a lesson from Dave on sales.