Three tips to avoid Positive Delusion in sales

Three tips to avoid Positive Delusion in sales

The average win rate in B2B software sales is around 20%. Yours might be higher or lower, but then again, these numbers don’t get reported on in a consistent way anyway. Some sales teams define win rates as won opportunities divided by total opportunities created in that period, others only count the qualified opportunities, or even opportunities that reached a certain stage.

What does seem to be consistent across most teams is a recurring reason why deals are lost: poor qualification. You came in way too late, competitor X had already influenced things, previous attempts had lead to nothing, or the prospect never was going to be able to afford your solution. For whatever reason, you agree it just wasn’t the right opportunity. After it was lost.

But here’s the thing. The next time around, the exact same scenario plays out again. Once more, you spend precious time and energy on something that you will label as a waste of time later on. It’d be easy to simply blame the rep for being too pushy or enthusiastic to chase the deal, but the reality is that for many of us, rational reasoning seems to get suppressed in the heat of the moment. Our judgement gets clouded into Positive Delusion – the ungrounded hope that it might all work out.

So what to do?

Yes, we do need hope and optimism, but not if it leads to poor decisions. Three simple practices can help avoid the downside of Positive Delusion in sales.

1. Insert a fresh set of eyes in the early stages

All too often, qualification is just a subjective set of poorly defined criteria which the rep assesses in a pretty solitary way. Improve the process by creating a qualification review that involves the Solution Consultant, or the Front Line Manager. While there might be some apprehension for yet another review, the reality is that inserting some objective reasoning early on in the cycle will free up time later down the track.

2. Start with the end

This saved time should be spent on pipeline activities. Work out a Sales Productivity Model that shows how many opportunities will have to be generated to get to target. This will often serve as a wake up call; you simply can’t afford to waste time on bad opportunities. Pipeline generation requires focus and discipline; clear activity targets on lead generation are at the very heart of that.

3. Do Win/Loss analysis

The rather lose practices sales teams tend to have on reviewing successes and mistakes not only limit their ability to learn and improve, it also hinders accountability. At the very least, collectively agree on the “Lost Reason” before you log the lost opportunity into your CRM. Data is delusion’s ultimate nemesis, but only if it that data is valid.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see my website.

It’s all about the Pivot

It’s all about the Pivot

COVID-19 is hurtling us into a new, unknown, world at mind-numbing speed. For us sales people, it would be tempting to stubbornly hold on to our old world, the world we know. But the scary new world will bring opportunities, too, particularly for SaaS and Cloud solutions. Organisations are going to need our help. Digital transformations will see a huge acceleration the coming period – in some areas. The ability to pivot and respond to all this change is going to be key for sales professionals. Here are a few practical suggestions to get you into the right mindset.

1. Redo your territory plans and re-prioritise your accounts.

Industries likely to suffer this year are airlines, hospitality, automotive, apparel, durables and sports & gaming. That doesn’t mean they’ll stop spending, but they will stop all non-critical initiatives. Industries likely to shift more budget to the cloud will be online retail, food retail, government, telecoms, health, pharma, education, media, utilities, waste management, equipment & manufacturing, construction, defence, and professional services like finance, HR, and maintenance. Domestic logistics and some tech is going to go through the roof. The ABC model works really well to help re-align your focus on the right accounts.

2. Don’t try to sell

If you previously were struggling to find the elusive ‘compelling event’, COVID-19 is the biggest one you will ever experience. So call the prospects and customers who you believe you can help and offer just that. Don’t try to sell. Just listen, listen, listen. Understand their worries and pains, see how your offering can be part of the solution and get ready to move very quickly. Budgets will shift overnight and you want to be ready.

3. Be flexible

If there simply is no budget, but you still can help, consider running things for free for a while, or loosening other terms. The reward will come later. Access to the top (decision makers) is easier in times of hardship and this will lead to strong relations that will last a long time; they won’t forget you were there to help out. 

4. Don’t oversell

You should never do this but in these times you’ll need to be extra careful. You’re not only complicating already challenging situations, you could put companies out of business if your solution doesn’t do what was envisioned and only brings more distraction. Reputation damage done now will last for a long time so if you have any cowboys in your team, reign them in.

5. Re-do your sales pitch

Your old pitch might be tone-deaf to the new pains. Redefine the benefits of your solution in light of this new world. For instance, online collaboration, security, automation, and scalability (up and down) will now be higher up the needs ladder. 

6. Consider restructuring your sales teams

Working from home while going through the biggest change your organisation has ever seen is going to require more support and oversight. Create smaller teams or explore getting outside help to keep everyone focused and engaged.

7. Be grateful and help others.

If you still have a job, particularly if you are in SaaS sales or anything to do with cloud – be grateful. There are thousands of others out there who are in much more vulnerable industries and positions and who will pay a much bigger price than your dent in commissions. My previous article provides some practical tips on staying positive when facing challenges.

How to cope with all this negativity

How to cope with all this negativity

With all this overwhelming negativity around us, we have to be a bit more deliberate in finding ways to stay upbeat. Here are a few tips to help you with just that.

1. Don’t feel anxious for being anxious

Our brains are wired to prioritise negative messaging over positive messaging. Cavemen who dismissed that rustle in the grass as ‘probably just the wind’ didn’t stick around long enough to procreate. Our ancestors were those who paid attention to potential dangers, not those who ignored them. It’s in our DNA to be drawn to doom and gloom, and we shouldn’t feel bad for that.

2. Choose your sources selectively

Because of this wiring of the brain, we are more likely to click on videos of empty supermarket shelves or headlines with alarming predictions. Be conscious around which sources you check and how often, and question how staying up to date with all this negativity helps you make the right decisions. If it doesn’t, tune out. Instead, limit your intake by watching quality news just once a day.

Similarly, your friend who keeps warning you of armageddon is probably not a helpful resource; the panic he’s stirring up doesn’t help anyone. Even if he points you to supposedly credible research that predicts how many people will get infected, again, how will that help you? Be selective around who you listen to; national health organisations are a safe bet.

3. Look for upside

Your optimism is just lurking in the shadows waiting to be called upon. Try it for yourself by asking the following question: ‘What good could possibly come out of this bad situation?’. Here are a few answers from my direct network:

  • Now that events are cancelled, we have time to fine-tune our account plans, re-do that sales training, and finally agree on changing the qualification process;
  • This is a great opportunity to hone our phone pitches and improve our online webinars;
  • Now that I travel less, I am going to spend more time with the kids and eat well;
  • Now that the gym is closed, I can go running outside and get some fresh air;
  • Now that we all travel less, the climate could be better off.

4. Keep your chat group virus free

Many of our social media and WhatsApp chat groups provide a level of lighthearted entertainment and joy that (digitally) ties communities together. People who – unintentionally – hijack your chat group by constantly sharing their opinions about how bad it’s going to be, can undermine that joy and, hence, the sense of community. If you notice people tuning out, isolate your group from the virus and suggest to create another chat group dedicated to coronavirus views. Especially now, your digital communities should not serve as an amplification of all that doom and gloom, but as a counterweight. Protect it.

5. Encourage rational thinking

We’re all on edge and fear is everywhere. That doesn’t mean we should not ask critical questions, or stop looking for a more positive narrative. That’s unlikely to come from the media so it’s up to us to encourage more rationality. When you make an important decision, consult people with a more balanced view rather than one devoid of optimism.

6. Reach out (but don’t touch)

‘Social distancing’ is the right thing to do right now, but it can also lead to social isolation. Plan to regularly connect with your colleagues and friends – even if it’s just to shoot the breeze or share a joke. Don’t limit yourself to chat or text messages – do regular video calls to really get a sense of how someone is holding up. Agree that the aim of such calls is to come out with a more positive mindset, not to share the latest alarming stats. Make sure to extend such check-ins to the wider community, particularly elderly neighbours and people who have lost their jobs.

7. Count your blessings

Just before you go to bed, the late night news or a quick glance at social media will alert these ‘rustle in the grass’ receptors in your brain. Every night before it shuts down, pull your brain back into positivity, by expressing (out loud) three good things that you experienced that day. For instance:

  • I progressed a deal and locked in a new meeting;
  • The sun felt nice and warm during my walk around the block over lunch;
  • Christine told a really funny joke during our conference call.

Whatever it is, end the day with some gratefulness. There’s a lot of good in our beautiful world and this challenge is sure to strengthen our communities and bring out the best in us.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

The problem with sales training

The problem with sales training

Ahh, Q1. The quarter with the most valid excuses and distractions for sales people, including the invigorating Sales Kick Off (SKO). Most of us flew to HQ and were treated to an energetic week packed with reviews of last year, exciting announcements about this year, award ceremonies, and … sales training.

While the excitement of SKO tends to last for a while, the impact of sales training often doesn’t. By the time the hangovers and jet lags have worn off and we get back to work, most of us pick up our old habits like nothing happened. Notwithstanding our great intentions, only a couple nuggets of gold from the multi-day sales training actually end up “sticking”. This is not just an SKO phenomenon; of all the great frameworks, tips and skills that our sales trainings cover, not much ends up properly getting embedded in the field. Why is that? Why is it that so much of this great investment to help increase our win rate, goes to waste?

The answer is nearly 150 years old and was first revealed by Hermann Ebbinghaus who studied the brain’s ability to retain information. Numerous follow-up studies have proven his thesis to still be valid. It’s a pretty simple one. Most of the information that we absorb soon leaves our brain again. Yes, we forget. Quickly. With sobering clarity, Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve illustrates just how quickly. Within one hour, people will have forgotten, on average, 50 percent of the information which they were presented with. Within 24 hours, that memory leak increases to 70 percent. Within a week, people generally have forgotten nearly 80 percent of what was taught. This has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s more of a protection mechanism of the brain. Survival mechanisms have made it selective around spending energy to store information. It’s not the sponge to which we figuratively refer. The brain has built-in protections to cope in overwhelming situations. Like SKO.

e-Learning modules that allow you to process easily digestible snippets of content are only part of the solution. Your brain is still wired to forget most of what it has been presented with.

So what to do?

Focus and repetition is key. As a team, agree on two key elements from the training that you will be holding each other accountable for this quarter. To support the brain in creating the new habits, use templates. For instance, if discovery is your priority this quarter, focus on proper use of the discovery template that (hopefully) came with your training. As a manager (or SC!), if you see poorly filled in templates, go through the discovery questions from the training and coach the rep towards a better completion. If your priority is to elevate the conversation away from features and functions towards business issues, focus on the appropriate template to uncover these. Make a habit of attaching the completed templates to opportunities in your CRM and hold each other accountable. Once you feel comfortable the new habit or skill has properly been embedded (say, 90% of opportunities have a properly completed template), you move on to another set of priorities.

Don’t try to do too much at the same time. If you focus on five priorities, chances are you’ll do a half-assed job on all of them. Just focus on two and do them properly before you move on to the next couple. Oh and just to prove the forgetting curve applies to your brain, too: what % of information has generally been forgotten after 5 minutes?


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

Maximizing the impact of reference calls

Maximizing the impact of reference calls

Just when the finish line of your sales cycle is in sight, your prospect asks you to jump over one more hurdle. They like to speak with one of your customers to get unbiased feedback on your offering.

Even though it’s quite a common request, organising such reference call often causes unnecessary angst. Stumbling here could jeopardise the momentum of the evaluation, or worse, put your whole deal at risk. The 7 steps below help you get the most out of this important step to seal the deal.

As you go through these steps, you’ll see that while they are written for sales people, they also apply to a reference request during an interview process for when you, well, sell yourself.

Step 1 – Keep them warm

You’re going to need to dip into this powerful source of validation regularly, so don’t be that person who only pops up when you need something from others. Make sure you develop and maintain a community of references whom you have regular contact with. Find one or two references for each of the most common topics.

Step 2 – Find ‘the why’

Prospects don’t always have a clear idea why they need a reference call, or what specifically they want to get out of it. To avoid wasting time or even losing control of your deal, you will need to get this clarified. A consultative line of questioning could be: Sure, I can help you with that. Just to make sure I guide you in the right direction, what insights would you have gained after the call that would have made it a valuable use of your time? Don’t do this over email as nuances can easily get missed – both ways. Answers tend to fall into one of three categories:

a) “We’re just exploring”. Such a scenario does not warrant a reference call, so you’ll have to push back. Once your solution, integration, services, pricing, and contract have been evaluated, reference calls are a valid final check, but if they’re still exploring, you’ll need to guide them to alternative sources. Often, an underlying distrust towards sales people is at the heart of such thinking, so find out how you can better position yourself as a trusted advisor. A friendly way to push back is to explain that you want to avoid your customers get overwhelmed with requests, just like when the prospect would become your customer, they wouldn’t want to get a call every day. Offer case studies or videos from your annual customer event instead, or invite them to a local event where they can learn more about your offering, and informally meet other prospects and customers. Non-committal reactions point to the need to build more urgency or even a re-qualification.

b) “We need to validate what you’ve been presenting”. Assuming this happens towards the end of the cycle, this is a fair request. Ask what specific topic they like to verify and find out if there’s an underlying concern that ‘requires more selling’. Topics typically involve a function of your product, a specific use case, the architecture or eco-system integration, the user friendliness, the services involved from you as a vendor, or the work required at the prospect’s side. For instance, if it’s about your services, is it the initial implementation, the integration, or ongoing customer success? Get to the bottom as concerns are often based on seeds planted by competitors.

c) Sometimes, the answer points to a formality. “Procurement stipulates that we need to do a reference call with every new contract – it’s just our process”. Don’t be afraid to push back and turn this into something more constructive – they’ll not only get more out of the call, they’ll see your prodding as a value add. For instance, if your USP for that prospect is your ability to automate their processes, suggest that similar prospects have asked questions around that, and link them up with a customer who sees great value from that aspect of your solution. Guide them so your customer doesn’t perceive the exercise as a mindless tick of the box.

Step 3 – Negotiate

To maintain momentum, put forward a counter demand. “Once this is done, do we have a deal? Can we go to redlines? If not, what is the process at your end?”. I often see reps who are nervous to rock the boat by asking such action oriented questions, but when you’ve been asked to involve your customers, it’s completely fair to ask for something in return. A non-committal answer will expose other gaps that will need to be addressed, before you commit to a reference call.

Step 4 – Prepare your customer

Depending on the topic, determine which customer is most suitable. Also make sure you find the right person to address the topic. Call your reference in advance, and tell her what your prospect is trying to do, what their current limitations are, and specifics they like to see validated. The prep call helps avoid surprises that can kill your momentum. For instance, I once had a prospect who specifically wanted to learn about migrating from a competing platform which my customer also had been on. This had happened before my reference worked there, so after my prep call, she pulled in someone from the IT team to ensure these questions could be answered straight away. When you summarise the details in a brief email after the prep call, include your key sales messages in the lingo you have been using with the prospect.

Step 5 – Prepare your prospect

To avoid last-minute nervousness in these final stages of the deal, it’s key the call doesn’t produce anything alienating. Call your prospect to explain your customer’s configuration, their ecosystem, and the reason why they get so much value out of your solution. Provide details about the role of the reference, including the similarities and differences from the prospect’s role. People don’t often explain their technology stack or processes to outsiders, and unconsciously end up using internal acronyms, system names, and role titles that can sound irrelevant and foreign to your prospect. Make sure to ‘translate’ all of that – both ways. Summarise it via email so all information is in one spot. It’s a great opportunity to re-affirm your key sales messages as well.

Step 6 – Hook them up

After your prep calls, send a brief email to both the customer and the prospect. Share their contact details, links to their Linkedin profiles, and briefly confirm the topics of the call to guide the conversation. To avoid full agendas slow things down, suggest a time slot that you know your customer can make (within the next 24 hours), and let them work it out directly. If your reference is in a different time zone, include a link to an online time zone scheduler to avoid delays.

Step 7 – Close

After they’ve had their call, check in with the customer to thank them for their time. Do a quick run down to see how the conversation went, and whether any questions were left unanswered. Write notes and share these with your wider sales team: you will pick up on landmines from competitors that help you be more proactive on these with your next cycle. Provide something of value to the customer, like a 3rd party white paper, a ticket to an event or a chance to speak at one. Then, follow up with the prospect to see whether they’re ready to move onto the action you agreed upon before. Sometimes, minor additional clarification is required, but in my experience when you go through above effort to make it all happen, prospects don’t come back with new requests. You can keep the foot on the gas and move your deal to a close. And once that has happened, don’t forget to close the loop with your customer and tell them about the good news! 


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

The biggest mistake made at Sales Kick Off

It might not be up there with throwing up on your CEO after partying too hard at SKO, but it’s a big mistake nonetheless. Sales teams from all over the world fly all the way to the US for the annual Sales Kick Off, only to clique together with colleagues from their home country.

They all sit close together in the big presentation hall and stay close to each other during the break-out sessions. At the end of the day, they gather at the hotel lobby bar and then go out – with their local colleagues. They miss out on one of the most valuable (and lasting) take-aways from SKO: a strengthened social support network.

Social support networks are people you gather around you to obtain and provide support when facing challenges. They stimulate perseverance by providing practical support that develops skills and insights, to emotional support that strengthens mindset and resolve. Social support networks are the cement for a strong team foundation; without it, we’re weak.

While sales people like to clique together, underneath that pleasantness often sits a level of competitiveness that works against the proper formation of such a network. Some selfishly (or a least unconsciously) think that spending time on helping someone who’s struggling is a distraction with no payback for them. Some are keen to keep the best accounts, and quietly see their peer knocking it out of the park as a threat. Most are just too busy.

In sales, the typical attrition rate (the percentage of the workforce leaving their job in a given year) is around 34%. It’s three times higher than the average attrition rate across companies (11%). A strong social support network isn’t the only way to fix this, but the topic doesn’t always get the attention it requires either. If you’re in sales, it’s often up to you to create and maintain your social support network.

So what to do?

Consciously create and maintain a network of people who you can help, and who can help you. At the start of each quarter, sit down and think about who you would like to have in your social support team. You don’t have to ask them formally; a modus operandi based on an informal give-and-take works just fine. Catch up with them regularly, and make sure to give, and not just take.

International Sales Buddies can be a hugely valuable element of such network. An International Sales Buddy is someone in your company who has the same role as you but in a different country. They lack the competitive tension your peers in the local office might exhibit and will be more willing to help you succeed. Before Sales Kick Off, do your homework and reach out to a shortlist of potential candidates from across the globe. During SKO, spend time to network with them and find one (or two) with whom you click. 

Chances are your buddy is going through the exact same challenges as you, so agree to check in every other week to compare notes. These could be practical tips around how to better pitch that new solution, finding a case study that really resonates with CFOs, or a way to accelerate the discount approval process. Maybe you want to test your new pitch in a role play, or bounce some ideas around on how to best segment your accounts. Be careful to not make it a ‘whinging session’. It’s easy to vent your frustration with someone who doesn’t sit right next to you, but that could make it hard to build a healthy relationship over the phone.

Whatever you do, fly back from SKO with a strengthened social support network. And don’t drink too much.


Like to get more tips on how to get to target with a calm mindset and a smile on your face? In my new book, In the face of challenge: Perseverance in sales, I tell the story of my life-threatening kitesurfing accident that left me in a coma, and explore what my two-year recovery taught me about perseverance. I share over a hundred practical tips for AEs, CSMs, SCs, SDRs and their managers on how to deal with challenges in sales, and how to avoid them in the first place. For more details and a list of retailers who carry the paperback and ebook, see here.