Book Club: Alison Edgar on Key Ingredients of Sales Success

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Olivia Grieman: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Grieman. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

Sales is a career where mindset really can make all the difference. From understanding customer behaviors to developing a sound process to crafting an effective strategy and to closing with confidence, success in sales is very much rooted in psychology. I’m so excited to have Alison Edgar, MBE, here to tell us a little bit more about this concept that she details in her book Secrets of Successful Sales. So with that, Allison, I’d love to pass it to you to tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background.

Alison Edgar: Hi Olivia. Thank you so much for having me. I am Allison Edgar, MBE. Now, I’ll probably explain that before the book. In the UK, twice a year the then queen, now to be king, chooses a thousand people to be honored for specific things, and you can get them for charity, for sport, education, for pretty much anything. Mine is for being a member of the British Empire for Entrepreneurship and Business. In the US it gets confused a little bit because people think it’s an MBA, but it’s not. It’s an MBE.

I am also the author of two books. The first one is called Secrets of Successful Sales, which we will be talking about today because it’s obviously about sales enablement. The other book is called SMASH IT!: The Art of Getting What YOU Want. I think it is interesting when people ask which order you should read the book in. I think actually Smash It is the prequel. It should have been written in the order of Secrets of Successful Sales, but yes, I’ve written two books.

I think fundamentally, one of the things that I think will resonate with the audience is I actually love sales. I think that sales does evolve and there’s obviously new technology and there are things that can help us, but fundamentally, people buy people and they buy people like them. Hopefully, some of those things will come out today and just different ways that people can stay focused to improve their sales results.

OG: Fantastic. Thank you for being here. Also, thank you for explaining what MBE means. I did not know that, and what an honor to be recognized for all of your amazing work. I do want to dig into the Secrets of Successful Sales book that you mentioned. What I really loved about the book is that it brings together psychology and sales to walk through a methodology to help others really achieve success in sales. I’d love to hear, from your perspective, what are some of the key principles from psychology that really do have a massive impact on success when applied to a sales strategy.

AE: I pretty much think a lot of it is always the psychology behind it because you can have the best processes in the world, but if you’re not building strong relationships with different types of people, you’re alienating some of your customers and that affects your performance. I think that’s where when we look at what I use DISC, which is based on Carol Young’s psychology, and it’s based on colors. I think any of the psychology profiling tools, they get a bad reputation. Oh, you’re pigeonholing people. Oh, you’re putting them in boxes. You’re not. It’s really about self-awareness and adoption. It’s not about pigeonholing. Oh, task-focused introverts shouldn’t be in sales or introverts shouldn’t be in sales. It’s not, because actually some of those attributes are the best things, but I think it’s really building those strong relationships, and that does come from psychology.

The other huge thing comes from your mindset and how you stay focused and stay positive, and how you become resilient. Ultimately sales are wrapped in rejection, and this is quite controversial, I don’t think that everybody has got the inner strength to make it in sales. It’s those skill sets, which again come back to how you become resilient, how you continue to focus when you have a bad day. That to me is all the psychology, and those are really high priorities when it comes to motivating yourself and actually getting sales results.

OG: Absolutely. You talked about this a little bit as well, that there are a lot of different personalities that a salesperson can have, but not all people are cut out for sales. It’s a tough career. You mentioned that the most successful salespeople are what you call Stars, which is a set of attributes. I’d love to hear a little bit more about what it means to be a star and what it is about them that sets them apart from other types of sellers.

AE: I believe that when you come into sales, again, I said not everybody’s cut out for sales, but if you’re in sales, I believe that everybody has the potential to become a star because it’s about learning new things. The S of the stars is to stay focused. So again, a lot of salespeople are quite easily distracted. I think that at the start of my career, I was quite easily distracted, but I learned those good habits.

The T is tenacious. I think that if you look, a lot of that tenacity comes from rejection and how you handle that rejection. The other thing you’ve got is staying positive. Again, if you look at how you stay positive in situations a lot of time when it comes to negative thoughts, I believe a lot of negative thoughts come from fear, but also when things aren’t going according to plan, you’ll always have a group leader that’s trying to distract everybody and take their negativity with them, whereas actually, the stars can always stay positive. They switch off from the office gossip, they switch off from everything else.

Then, that Resilience, so that really welcoming things, not going according to plan. Then, literally, I call it the chumba womba moment. There’s a song that was big in the US called Top Thumping. It’s from the nineties and it goes, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. Nothing’s ever gonna get me down.” I think a lot of people can sing that song and then go, oh yeah, but I can’t get back up again. The stars can. That’s what equals success.

It’s not just one thing, it’s the combination of all of those thoughts. To me, a lot of those things are learned behaviors, and that’s why I believe that people can achieve that. It’s just about wanting to become a star as well. When we look at the mindset behind it, which comes back to psychology, Carol Dweck talks so much about this fixed and growth mindset.

People say to me, Alison, if you could give a gift to everybody in the world, what would that gift be? Well, I would love to get a little box with a little ribbon. I can see it’s a bit like a Pandora jewelry box, and I’d love to put a growth mindset into that box, and I’d love to give it to everyone and go, look, you know what, you’ve got this. Growth mindset. It’s okay. You can pull yourself back up. It’s okay. You can overcome difficult situations. It’s okay. You can overcome rejection. I can’t give that to anyone. They have to want to receive that gift, and if they don’t want to receive that, then their mindset will always stay in a fixed state, which will always affect their performance, whether they’re in sales or any other department, because that affects how you live your life.

OG: Absolutely. I am so glad that you brought up the growth mindset in Carol Dweck as well. I love that concept and I also love the song that you mentioned too, so that’s gonna be stuck in my head the rest of the day. Thank you for sharing that.

AE: You’re gonna be chumba womba all day!

OG: Exactly. The sales methodology that you walk through in your book has four key pillars, and I want to dig into each of them a little bit more with you. The first pillar is really understanding customer behaviors. I’d love to hear your advice on what sales professionals can do to get ahead of their competition by really understanding their customers better.

AE: I think preparation and planning when it comes to understanding your customers. In the book I talk about the cross, and I think that that really is one of those fundamentals to life, not just sales or sales enablement or growth or performance. It’s understanding that some people are task-focused, other people are relationship focused, some people are introverted, and other people are extroverts. The DISC methodology puts colors behind that red, green, blue, and yellow. It’s not about pigeonholing and you’re more than one behavior, but really that deep understanding of yourself.

For example, if you’re doing the planning and the research, tools like LinkedIn are amazing for that. Sometimes I feel that’s not particularly accurate, but we teach people using the methodology in the book to look at somebody’s profile picture, look at their bio, and look at their posting, and that will give you some idea. For example, unless it’s a set photo that your company’s made you use, a bit like the school day where the photographer comes in and everyone’s got the same photo, but usually, you’ve got free reign on selecting your photo on LinkedIn. You’ll find if it’s an extrovert’s photo, usually, they’re looking down the barrel of the lens, whereas if it’s an introvert, they’ll be way further back or they might be with somebody else, like their dog, or child. Even from that side of things, you know how to tailor your approach rather than just going in with the one size fits all message.

Also, looking at their bio, is it written in the first, or is it written in the third? Look at how much of their profile on LinkedIn is filled in. If somebody’s relationship-focused, for example, a relationship-focused extrovert, we call that the yellow behavior type, it’ll be all about them and their achievements. If it’s an introverted person, they don’t really like to brag and they really don’t even like a humble brag. You’ll notice that it’s maybe written in the third, or it’s quite sparse on any achievements they’ve done.

Again, it’s how you tailor that message and I think that’s where when we look at that cross, we tend to gravitate on the axis of the behaviors. All extroverts, all tasks, all relationships, all introverts, but a lot of the time the best sales performers, you don’t really know because ultimately they are the chameleon. They are the behavior of the person that they are with so that they build that strength. When I did the analysis on the top performers, that was one of the things that really came so highly to the forefront of what the top performers did. That’s what the research came up with.

OG: That’s fantastic. I love your advice around just even those little things that can make the difference in how you’re able to tailor a conversation and some of those clues as well into their personality type with just their activity on social media and on LinkedIn. The second pillar that you mentioned in your book is the sales process, and I’d love to hear your perspective on what a good sales process looks like.

AE: It’s interesting because if you look at the sales process, people talk about the evolution of sales and how it’s contemporary. I do think a lot of the CRMs now do quite a lot of the research for you to save time. Ultimately time is the biggest commodity, but I don’t really think the process has changed that much over the last maybe 20, 30, 40 years, if not longer. As soon as people start to sell, if we look, the process that I use, which I cover in the book, is things like doing your research.

Really knowing the person that you’re talking to, be organized and not just even organized in your approach to sales, but things like, we are really passionate about having an empty inbox and having a really clean CRM. The amount of people I’ve seen with messy inboxes, the CRM is filthy dirty, like they wouldn’t even know if they’d had a cancellation pop-up because they’re not in control of that. These are things that, not just on a daily basis, but in general it’s good sales hygiene to have a clean workspace and a clean mind. That’s what helps you to stay focused again, like the stars.

Then you’ve got what I call the reduction, but it’s really starting to engage that person in something that’s of interest to them. That’s where I talk about the Titanic. We’re on the Titanic, and we’re all about to sink, who’s the first person you want to save? Well, it’s yourself, isn’t it? Ultimately, we do the fight, flight, or freeze, but so many salespeople, when they have that initial conversation, we talk about how amazing the product is. Ultimately the customer doesn’t care. They only care about what’s in it for them. That’s where I think that engagement and knowing them more matters. Starting to build relationships and then moving things across into that business relationship.

Now I know that, again, time is limited. If that’s a cold call or a lead, that conversation with a task-focused person is going to ruin the relationship. That’s why it’s so important to know those behaviors because if you pitch that initially wrong, you’ve blown it already. A lot of the decision-makers are task-focused. That’s a good example of what not to do with a task-focused person, but a great example of what to do with a relationship-focused person. So many people don’t tailor their approach. That one reduction really starts to get people engaged with you because you’re talking about what’s in it for them.

Then the next thing, and I think, oh, this should be the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not. The reason I talk about this is I get sales calls from people who are trying to pitch to me, and it’s hopeless. A lot of them just don’t have the process and they talk and they talk and they talk. I know this sounds really bad, but sometimes I time them. If I get a sales call coming in, I start my timer to see how long they talk at me before they even engage with me. The main thing is really great open questions. It is basic questions like who, what, why, where, when, and how. Then, listen to the answer, and then again, who, what, why, where, when, and how. It’s just following that.

Another thing though, I do see people doing incorrectly in sales, and I talk about this in the book, is setting the table. If somebody doesn’t know why you’re asking those questions, and especially if they’re around finance, numbers, or existing suppliers, sometimes people can be a wee bit loath to give you that information. Whereas if you said, ‘Look, you know what, I’ve got this product, I think it’d be really a benefit. We work with a lot of people in your area and we’ve really helped them to be more efficient or get better results. This may or may not be relevant, but to be able to sort of qualify this for you and see if we can help, I just have to ask some questions. It’ll take about 20 minutes and again. We’ll touch on things like existing suppliers, how does that sound to you?’ This really gets them to talk and engage.

The next part is listening and then going for the close if you can at this stage. This is where a lot of people I see doing it wrong, that they’re not maybe doing a two-step process. If it’s, say a SAS product and you’re trying to sell the demo, that’s all you’re selling. Saying something like, ‘Well, what we can do is have a look. You’ve already got something. You’ve said that you’re not a hundred percent satisfied. What we can do is do the demo and see how that compares and how that would be of benefit to you. When are you available for that, Tuesday or Wednesday?’

It’s breaking that sale down, whereas what I see a lot is just people just, they’re not following any process. They’re just literally shooting for a target and hoping it hits. That’s the difference. It’s not teaching people to sell. The book helps people to be top performers. What do the top performers do? What do the stars do? That’s where it’s following that process.

OG: Absolutely. I love how you explained not only what does a good sales process look like, but what it does not look like? What are some of those mistakes that salespeople often make? Thank you for walking through that, that was very actionable for our audience as well. The third pillar is around strategy. Also of our audience, many of them are sales enablement practitioners, I’d love to hear your advice on how can enablement really support sales leaders in creating an effective sales strategy.

AE: I think a lot of it is networking. I don’t mean, oh, you pitch up in a room and you meet people, it’s really starting to become connected to the right people. In the book, I talk about the Emma Jones strategy. She was the key leader in this space and like literally I would go out of my way to be able to help. I would run events for her and again, non-paid, but it really grew my profile. Do you know Dan Disney?

OG: Yes, he has spoken at one of our events.

AE: He’s amazing, and I think he really is a role model as far as the sales space goes because he created his own profile. What he did was he was working in a sales role, but he created the daily sales, which again grew his profile. He then became connected to other people that might want to hear what he said. He then extended his knowledge to LinkedIn, and he’s now an influencer in that space. I think going back in the day, it was just dial-outs. Your KPI was around how many calls you would make. Now, I think social selling is really impactful. It’s the balance between having conversations on social media and commenting on people’s posts on social media, but also genuinely not being afraid to pick up the phone either or have zoomed. Coming back to the stars, that’s what they would do. So many people hide behind social media, hide behind emails, and don’t pick up the phone. It’s the balance of those things that really help you to achieve your strategy.

OG: Just to close the conversation here, I want to go back to something that we talked about at the start and throughout, but it was one of the first things that you mentioned. With the final pillar being confidence, you mentioned the importance of mindset and the role that mindset plays in successful sales strategies. I’d love to hear a little bit more about specifically how mindset helps to build confidence, and then how confidence on the inverse of that helps to influence sales success.

AE: I can’t even emphasize how important it is. Our mind is the most powerful thing in sales. I believe that that comes back to the cross because if you’re more introverted, you would rather hide behind emails because you’ll start to worry, oh, what happens if they shout at me? What happens if it’s an inconvenient time? You’re catastrophizing in your head of all the things that can go wrong and that’s where I think the top performers really believe that people do want to hear from them. They genuinely believe that their product or service is actually the best out there in the market. I think it’s really the importance of that self-belief in your product. If you don’t believe in the product that you’re selling and you don’t have that ultimate belief, you’re working for the wrong company.

I look at my transition from working for an organization into setting up my own business. I was in a room and the CEO of the company said that the Google thing will never catch on. When you have that disbelief in the product that you sell, you’re just lying to yourself. I’m now working with some of the biggest brands in the world. I work with Adobe, Amazon, Moe, Hennessy, and the Champagne brand. EasyJet, the airline. I’m working with those and I’m selling every day. People might sit and go, oh yeah, she’s not really in sales anymore, but I started a business with no customers and I have to literally follow everything that I teach and ultimately have to believe that I am the best speaker for their events. I have to believe that my books are going to change people’s lives, and that’s what gives me confidence.

Yet we get imposter syndrome at times. When I landed some of these big brands, I’m like, o, why do they want me? They probably want somebody that’s got more experience. Even at the peak of your game, you still have these thoughts, so you have to change those thoughts. You have that conversation in your head, you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not going to want to hear from me. They’ve got somebody else. They’ve got something. You’ve got to literally say to the voice in your head, stop. Like, stop now. You are good enough. You are worthy enough, you have got this. Your product can change lives. It changes how you actually feel like your physiological self changes because if it’s negative, you start to feel deflated and down and worried and anxious, and that comes across in your tone, in your voice. If you really have that belief and that self-belief, you feel quite excited. You’re like, I’m ready. I’m gonna smash this, I’m gonna do this. This is the difference between those positive behaviors and negative behaviors. They are actually influenced by your brain rather than external factors.

I talk about in the book, I look in the mirror and I see the supermodel of sales, and because I see the supermodel of sales, that’s what other people see. It’s about that belief in yourself and really looking in the mirror and going, do you know what? I’m really great at what I do. I think there’s a thin line between confidence and cockiness, but confidence is what people can sense in you and really will believe in you because if you don’t believe in yourself, other people won’t believe in you either.

OG: That is wonderful advice. I’m gonna start giving myself pep talks in the mirror as well. Oh, Alison, thank you so much for this conversation. I loved learning from you. I’m so excited for our audience to hear this.

AE: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

OG: To our audience, we absolutely recommend checking out Alison’s books. We will include links to both of them in the transcript and thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro, and if there’s something you’d like to share or a topic that you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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