business dashboard generic


I have said many times that I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the job that I do. I spend most days working with smart people to solve real problems in a creative and collaborative environment. In recent years, I have got into the habit of taking a photo of the whiteboard or  flip-chart at the end of a session. It is my usual practice to ask groups what they think they have learned from their participation in a workshop. Of course, I am interested in what they are going to do in the immediate future as a result of having attended the session. However, I also ask them to summarise the key, underlying  principles that they will take away. Lessons that will be useful again and again in their jobs. These are usually recorded as short statements or aphorisms that we record and share post course.

Below is a de-duplicated list of lessons recorded over several years of working with sales managers (in many different industries) on the topic of managing sales performance. We use it as an aid to coaching sales managers and as a checklist for helping sales managers decide what a great performance really looks like, (hint: it’s more than a great set of results).

1. Learning ≥ Change or we are failing to perform.

Our ability to perform is always affected by external factors, markets change, customers change and competitors change. If the sales team is failing to develop and learn at a speed that is at least equal to the rate of change they are falling behind and performance will suffer.

2. Everyone has the ability and potential  to perform at a high level.

Managers who get the best from their staff share this belief. People tend to live up to our expectations of them. If we believe that staff are incapable of high levels of performance, we begin to act upon that belief and our staff adjust their performance to meet our expectations.

Your starting point should always be to expect a great performance from everyone.

3. No one comes to work to perform badly!

People under perform for a whole range of reasons but in general there is never an intention to perform poorly. Sometimes the best way to get a great performance out of people is simply to remove the things that are holding them back.

4. High performing people tend to adapt the job to suit their strengths.

Sometimes the best way to get a great performance from a team is to devise a plan that allows them to play to their strengths rather than to try and eliminate all weaknesses.

5. High performing people tend to share similar traits.

Attitude plays a huge role in performance management if you can identify those traits that make the biggest difference in your marketplace. Sometimes replicating a few key skills or traits across the sales team can have a huge impact on performance and results.

6. Managing performance is a balancing act between internal and external forces.

In many ways all the key lessons from strategy can be applied to performance management, in so far as the art of performance is the ability to recognise external threats and opportunities and adapting your sales approach to maximise your use of resources and product strengths

7. People generally know how to improve their own performance

A coaching approach to sales is often the most effective means of improving sales performance. Sales people who have the skill and self- awareness to develop their own performance are the most valuable asset on your sales team.

8. Everyone learns and develops in different ways

An obvious but important point. Developing sales performance requires that the sales manager is aware of the different learning types on their team adaptable in their approach to training and coaching.

9. Coaches and mentors need to be experts in performance as well as the product or service

Great coaches have a detailed knowledge of all the factors that drive performance in their field. They have high levels of insight into individual and team performances and are able to pay attention to even the smallest details.


Performance management is the art of producing the results that you need over the longer term. It is everything that you do to produce the result rather than the result itself.



In April 2016, Ocean Learning will be launching a new training company as a joint venture with Software Promotions Ltd www.softwarepromotions.com .

For many years, we have had clients ask for digital marketing courses and we have always declined, not because I don’t recognise the importance of such courses but because the market was always so crowded with self-proclaimed experts. I attended several courses to help build and develop my own Inbound Marketing Strategy and usually I was somewhat disappointed, either because the person running the course was simply talking through the theory (much of which I had read) or worse, was using the course to sell consultancy services (in which case they didn’t really have an interest in teaching us enough to solve our own problems).

Then I met Dave Collins. Dave runs a business called Software Promotions and they are the people who the Software Industry (550 businesses worldwide) trust to manage their SEO.


Dave Collins

I first met Dave a few years ago when I was speaking at the Business of Software Conference in Boston. In fact, I heard about him long before I met him. Several delegates at the conference were talking to me (at different times) about sales and how to convert inbound sales leads into customers. During the course of the conversations, they mentioned Dave and his team as being the only people in the business that they wanted to manage their SEO and their Awards campaigns.

When I finally met Dave. I found that not only was he super knowledgeable about SEO, but that he was passionate about helping businesses grow. I learned more about SEO over an (admittedly long) breakfast at the conference, than I had on all previous courses.

For the last couple of years, I have been trying to persuade Dave to share his knowledge and experience with a wider audience and we finally started to work on the idea  in the summer of 2015.

It is hard to get time in Dave’s diary because his clients demand a great deal of his attention, however, the more we talked, the more we realised just how useful an SEO course could be for business owners and marketers.

  • The principles of ‘good’ SEO apply across all industries and markets. Equally, the most common mistakes can impact negatively on any business.
  • The best way to learn and understand SEO is to apply the lessons learned immediately to your own business. The theory is useful, but what really matters is making changes to your site that actively drive more traffic (customers) your way.
  • The nature of SEO, or rather the way it has been perceived as highly technical, complex means that many businesses are tempted to either ignore it and hope for the best or to farm it out to third party experts and hope that they know what they are doing.
  • Organic Search is crucial to all businesses who seek to attract customers on the web.
  • We know that people trust organic search more than paid advertising on Google. We also know that most people will not look beyond the first page of the search listings.
  • Business Owners must take SEO seriously and whether they do it internally or hire someone to do it for them, they must have an understanding of how Google rank businesses and what they can do to come higher in a search.

In April 2016, we will be launching Smart SEO Training. Our business aim is simple – we want to empower business owners to be able to make better decisions about SEO and to help them get more web traffic.

We also want anyone coming to a Smart SEO Training Event to have the very best learning experience.

Dave and I have worked together to combine his 16 years of SEO experience with my 20+ years of training and development experience to create a workshop that will engage , entertain and educate. Most importantly, it will provide you with real value by;

  • Demystifying the SEO process and explaining the most important parts in clear, simple, actionable language.
  • Running a workshop rather than a lecture. We encourage you to bring your laptops and to work on your own website strategy throughout the day.
  • Showing you the most useful SEO tools available to you and how to use them.
  • Helping you to create an SEO action plan for your business.

I want to stress that all our courses (there are a whole range in the pipeline) are aimed at the business owner and marketing professional. We do not train SEO agencies, nor will we ever pitch for your SEO business. Our business is empowering entrepreneurs to grow their own business.

Dave has published a really useful primer, “SEO for the rest of us” that you can download here www.smartseotraining.co.uk/the-seo-book 

3D book shot

You can find our more about our courses here www.smartseotraining.co.uk



Does the world really need more sales people?
One of the many benefits of the internet is that consumers and business buyers now have unlimited access to all the information that they need and easy ways to make purchases. At one click, they can access;

  • Hundreds of suppliers
  • Blogs and information sites offering advice to potential buyers
  • Customer reviews and case studies

In addition, they can order via credit card for instant or next day deliver.
In this world of easy payment and instant access, do we really need sales people?
Some businesses argue that we do not, that effective marketing and a good website are enough to generate sales and in some cases, this is true. However, for the majority of business, good sales people remain an essential part of the business development process.


7 reasons that your business needs good Sales People

  1. Customers don’t really buy your product, they buy the idea behind your product.  Let’s say 3 customers each buy the same CRM system. One customer may buy it because they fear that competitors will be gaining an advantage over them. Another might do it to be able to find efficiencies in their sales force and another might do it because it is important to them to be seen at the leading edge of technical innovation in their role. Great sales people invest efforts in finding out what the real concerns of customers are and on solving those problems. They focus on finding out what job the client needs the product to do, rather than just pitching features and benefits.
  2. Every business needs new business.
    Any business will lose between 10% and 20% of its customers each year due to reasons beyond their control. Customers change jobs, retire, restructure and shift focus. New business is the life -blood of any commercial organisation. Effective sales people know how to find prospects and create new customers.
  3. Many customers don’t know they need your product.
    How many products and services exist today that simply did not exist even just a few years ago? We didn’t know that we would need smart phones, tablets, web designs, SEO experts, online movie rentals, but we take them for granted. Often, customers do not know they need a product until they have an opportunity to discuss their business with a sales person. Only then do they begin to see the potential benefits. Great sales people don’t just respond to needs, they help to create the need.
  4. Sales Data is confusing and misleading
    Have you ever spent a significant sum of money on an important purchase, only to find that there was a better product or deal available?Many customers need an opportunity to discuss their needs with a knowledgeable sales person so that they can make their minds up confident in the knowledge that they are making the best decision possible.
  5. Service Matters
    In many cases, customers buy from one supplier because they feel like they know and trust the sales people that they deal with. The sales service is a key driver for many customers.
  6. Complexity and Value
    Not every deal is simple enough for an automatic transaction. Many sales require nurturing over a long period of time because they involve high value deals and multiple decision makers.
  7. Urgency
    Sometimes, customers need a gently push in the right direction. They need reasons to act now.
    A customer who has realised that they have a need, but who has not yet decided on a supplier, is a customer liable to be poached by a competitor. Sales people know how to create both the desire and urgency to buy.

Whenever we run Performance Appraisal courses for clients, we usually begin the process with a debate about whether there is a role for Performance Appraisal in fast moving modern businesses. There are many good reasons given for not running appraisals. Many people have memories of awkward meetings with their boss trying to make sense of things that happened months before. Others admitted that they were always somewhat guarded in appraisals because they were concerned that any negative marks could affect their pay. Others still reported that in their experience appraisals were used (by their boss) as a way of getting six months worth of negative feedback into an hours meeting or that the feedback they received was so generic as to be useless.

Of course we come to understand that such views are the result of poor execution of the appraisal meeting rather than the concept of appraisal. However when I ask groups to come to a conclusion as to whether Appraisals are a good thing the answer (after much consideration) is usually Yes if……

The “If” being that appraisals are worthwhile so long as there is a robust performance management process in place. So it is worthwhile taking a moment to identify the different elements of the performance management mix and to put the performance appraisal into it’s proper place as an essential component in the mix that will only work if the other parts of the engine are functioning well.

If your appraisal system isn’t working for you, then perhaps it is best to take a look initially at least, at your whole Performance Management System.


Many of these Performance Management Processes share similar characteristics. Most involve one to one dialogue and a degree of action planning. It is important, however, to remember not to confuse the measures or to try and combine them. A Performance Appraisal can be likened to a service on a car. The point of the service is to check all working parts, not just to address short-term problems. This way, the car will run efficiently and optimally for many years because problems have been avoided. In the same way, the appraisal should look at all aspects of performance, not just the problem areas.

How does Performance Appraisal Differ from other Performance Management measures?

Performance Appraisals are just one component in a range of possible interventions that a manager can use to drive performance. These include;

PM Measure Why Notes
Job Review Employee is changing jobs (through promotion restructuring etc) or the nature of their role is changing This is a meeting to review and amend the job description and the key performance indicators associated with it.The meeting should take place every time there is a significant change in the employee’s role or responsibilities.
Coaching Whenever there is a development need for which coaching is the most appropriate option. Usually a series of one to one meetings focused on developing a key skill or achieving a specific goal.
Pay Review To communicate and or discuss remuneration terms. This should be done at least annually (even if no award is made) or after a major shift in role or responsibility. Pay Review decisions should be made with reference to results as reported in a Performance Appraisal.They should not be a major part of the appraisal process. Avoid doing Pay and Performance reviews in the same meeting if at all possible.
Disciplinary Meeting Whenever there has been a breach of rules or professional standards.Disciplinary meetings can vary in severity from informal “reminders” to formal written warnings. Disciplinary meetings should take place close to the occurrence of the problem behaviour.Disciplinary meetings should never be combined with appraisals.
Career Counselling Meetings between Manager and staff member to discuss long-term career goals and opportunities. These should occur by mutual consent There is an element of career counselling within all appraisals, however, the appraisal must primarily be about current and future performance.
Performance Appraisal Occur at regular intervals (2 or 3 times per year).All employees should have the right to an AppraisalThe aim is to review and analyse current performance and identify ways to develop future performance Performance Appraisals are a regular and systematic review of every part of an individual’s performance.Usually one to one meetings, the primary focus is to improve individual performance.

I spend a great deal of my time talking with founders and sales managers about the best way to win those all-important first customers.

Getting people to buy a new product can be really tough. There is an inbuilt inertia in every marketplace. To some the word “new” can mean exciting, novel, fresh, easier and more cost-effective and to others it can  mean risky, uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

We all know the product growth lifecycle model, and we all know that even if we get those elusive first 100 clients (early adopters) that there is a chasm (see Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm!) that often swallows up the unsuspecting and over-optimistic business.

We all know the product growth lifecycle model, and we all know that even if we get those elusive first 100 clients (early adopters) that there is a chasm (see Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm!) that often swallows up the unsuspecting and over-optimistic business.

The logic, however attractive, does not always stand up.

If a customer really values something and they get a chance to have a bit more of it for free in return for their loyalty, they feel like they have won.

For example, for many years now, I have been somewhat disappointed with my health insurance. I value having it (I’m a self-employed man with 3 kids) but I resent the year on year increases with no additional value.  I was offered a cheaper solutions with greater flexibility by other suppliers, and I thought about switching but somehow never quite got round to it. I was too busy to see it through (I imagined long boring meetings and piles of paperwork were involved), and worried about the possible hidden restrictions, In short I was just about familiar and comfortable enough with my big brand supplier not to let my irritation at rising prices push me to look elsewhere.

Then a sales representative for another company came to see me.  He understood my reluctance to change, but also took it seriously. He made a good case for switching, did a thorough comparison of my existing supplier’s offering with that of the company that he represented. He then said that he understood how difficult it was to break with an existing supplier so as an incentive he offered me two months free cover if I were to switch. Interestingly he never once used the word “free”. He always talked about “additional cover, 14 months for the price of 12.”

On reflection I realised that I didn’t by health co*ver that day because it was free. I bought it because I believed it was the right product for my family at the time. The offer months free cover just made it easier for me to break my habit.

The key is that I already valued the product and I just needed a push. (The two months free equated easily to the £300 I would have spent over the same period). Free meant something.

Compare this with the “try this for free offers” pitched by so many start ups – there the “free” offer is on something for which I have no real need(as yet). I might try it, I might even like it, but because I have paid nothing for it (and for those of you selling software, I haven’t even had to expend more that a mouse click’s worth of energy to receive it,) I have nothing invested. My commitment levels are low and I associate the value of the product with the price I paid for it.

Now there are exceptions. If your product is a 12 foot multi-uddered seven shades of purple cow (Thanks Seth Godin!), you might get people to invest time and effort in trialling the product, thus realising its value. But if this is the case, why are you giving it away for free?

That’s not to say that free offers don’t work, they do, but they work best when the client understands that they are getting something of value for which they don’t have to pay, rather than just getting something for free.

So if you want to get traction, think carefully about what you mean by the term. If you just want to find a few individual people to try your product, that’s one thing. If you want to recruit members of your tribe who will genuinely appreciate your product and who will recommend it to all and sundry, then you need a strategy.

  1. Only offer free trials to those who will really benefit from your product right now. People who may have a use or need for your product at some unspecified time in the future will not value it, nor will they blog or tweet anything meaningful about it – make sure they have a problem – now.
  2. Make sure that the person trialling the product or having it for free is someone who has the power to buy (or is a significant recommender).
  3. Enter into an agreement. If someone gets something for free, it is without value. If someone trades their time and input to receive a product they need for free, it is worth at least the value that they put on their time and effort. If you want to give someone a product for free think about……..
    • Talking to them beforehand about why they may want the product. Make sure that they have a problem that needs solving right now.
    • Ask them to agree to a number of conversations to assess their impressions of the product (allowing you to pick up valuable feedback and PR quotes)
    • Ask them to recommend the product (so long as they are happy with it) to colleagues and peers.
    • Ask them to be the basis of a case study (you can arrange for it to be written).
    • Ask them to provide insight as to the best way to ? the benefits of the product. 100 new tribe members may be worth 100 free licenses. In fact we need a new word for no cost, but traded against other?

One of the most useful discussions we have in our management programmes is based around a checklist The 7 Areas Of Motivational Influence.

Too often managers think about motivation only in terms of incentives, i.e. things that we can do to motivate staff. However often the elimination of disincentives (i.e. unfair treatment / injustices) is just as powerful a means
of driving motivation.

Furthermore, the more we learn about motivation and engagement (from people like Dan Pink in his book Drive that the factors affecting the levels of commitment that an individual commits to a given task or goals are many and complex.

Ask managers to build a detailed picture of all the areas that influence motivation by discussing each of the seven areas in turn. Encourage groups to look for marginal gains (small things that they can do or stop doing
which when combined create an environment in which people can motivate themselves).

Our preferred method is to put 7 flipchart sheets up around the training room and then get the group to move around each one adding comments on post it notes until they have built their own picture of what drives motivation in their workplace and have generated ideas to enhance levels of motivation.

If you want a full trainer briefing for this exercise please email me via our contacts page at www.oceanlearning.co.uk

7 Areas of Motivational Influence
1. Leadership
2. Remuneration
3. Direct Incentives
4. Job Satisfaction
5. Values
6. Security
7. Status

Leadership matters when it comes to motivating staff. People need a clear idea of what is expected of them, they need to know why doing their job to the best of their ability matters to the wider team. People need to know that they will be supported and developed, they need to know that they will be trusted to get on with the job and that their efforts are appreciated. They need to know that they are working for a good company and for people who will make the right decisions for the long term good of all the company. Everything you do to invest in the quality of Leadership will provide returns in the form of increased motivation.

Remuneration and its effects on motivation is a vast and complex subject. However, there are four major principles to bear in mind.

It is not how much you pay a person that really matters but how they perceive their remuneration package. If a package is perceived as fair (in the context of colleagues and the marketplace), if it is enough for them to live without the constant worry of money matters) and they believe that it is within their control (i.e. there is a clear link between what they achieve and what they can earn) then people will not be de-motivated by their remuneration package. Remuneration is largely a hygiene factor, if it is perceived as unsatisfactory then the de-motivational effect is significant. If however people are broadly satisfied with their remuneration then it tends to be other factors that affect how motivated they are with their work.

Incentives and Rewards
Incentives are the non-cash prizes that are offered to staff if they achieve a particular standard of performance. They are most often found in Sales Environments (top performer prize schemes) but also in production departments (for example staff on the production floor at a factory may get incentives for quality, finishing jobs ahead of schedule and for safe practice). Incentives work because they signal and encourage staff as to the important behaviours and KPI’s that will ensure success. Incentives work best in departments where there are clear and measurable results are best used for:

Short-term motivation

  • Introducing elements of fun/competition to the team
  • Rewarding those behaviours that will lead to better results
  • Building confidence
  • Rewarding effort and initiative

Rewards are the non-cash awards that are made after staff have achieved an exceptional performance or put in an exceptional effort. Rewards can come in many forms from a box of chocolates to a holiday. They can also be non-tangible benefits such as “time off” offered to teams who meet their targets early.

Rewards work best for

  • Identifying exceptional work effort and creating a bench mark for others
  • Departments where staff all do different jobs
  • Departments where the quality of work is more important than the quantity

In either case Incentives and Rewards work best when;

  • All staff feel engaged in the process
  • They focus on behaviours and KPI’s rather than results. (if you need to reward results create a bonus scheme)
  • They are designed to be achievable (incentives) and awarded fairly (rewards)
  • They are designed to be fun and engaging
  • They are appropriate for the target group
  • They reward effort and behaviour over and above the job requirement

Job Satisfaction
How satisfied we feel at work depends upon many factors and those factors vary between individuals (see career drivers). However there are some key elements that always get mentioned in surveys where people report high levels of job satisfaction.

Need for Goals and Results. People need to know that they are purposefully moving on. People are objective orientated animals i.e. they work most efficiently when they have a clear idea of what they wish to do, and they have a feedback loop that tells them how well they are doing in relation to the goal.

For a goal system to be effective it must be comple mented by the continuous
relaying of results.

Training. Training does much more than improving selling skills. If people feel they are improving have a training plan set out for them, they will keep working and stay loyal.

Recognition. Every human being likes to feel that they have done well and are appreciated. “Catch people doing things right.”

Progression. Some people are ambitious. Help them achieve promotion, show them exactly what they have to do and provide them with regular appraisal.

The degree to which our work is aligned with our values has a direct impact upon the level of commitment and energy we give to it.

When we talk about Values we simply mean the things which we hold to be of value in our lives, these things may be;

  • Family life
  • Spiritual values
  • Creativity
  • Our rules and standards for dealing with others
  • The way we like to be treated by others
  • Our personal sense of reward
  • Our beliefs about ethics (what is right and what is wrong)
  • Our drivers See Career Drivers Survey in appendices

Security (a desire to know how things will be in the future) is a very common and powerful, although seldom- admitted motive. Our sense of security plays a significant role in our levels of motivation.

Managers must be able to strike a balance between:
a) A company that is too secure, which may stagnate
b) Lack of security means high turnover of staff and lack of purposeful activity.

Some Factors which positively affect our sense of security are

Standards. We all have a need for clear performance standards – people need to know where they stand. Worry about their positions is destructive – a major disincentive.

Belonging: Man is gregarious and in a sense, one of the things we look for at work is sociability and the ability to mix. People generally do not like to be isolated, when they do feel isolated they tend to worry more about security issues.

Need for Leadership: (See Above) Staff need direction, goals, a feeling of being supported etc. These are all attributes that
a good leader brings to the team.

People want to feel good about the work that they do and the results that they achieve. We all want to be considered significant and important. De-motivation creeps in when we begin to feel that what we do doesn’t matter to the team or the organisation as a whole.

Make sure they know how important they are to the company, but also make sure they are well served i.e. good back up, clear printed business cards etc.
Make people feel that the job they have is an important one and the products they produce are ones they should be proud of.


Like all trainers I read and borrow a great deal from others. When I am facilitating creative sessions I use a wide range of techniques from the experts and from fellow practitioners. I always try to recognise the author and to recommend their books if people find the processes that we are using to be useful and effective.

One of my Creative Thinking heroes is Edward De Bono. I have most of his books and have attended many sessions that taught his techniques. One of the most well known commonly used methodologies is the Six Thinking Hats.  (If you Google the term, be prepared for lots and lots of references). However I have found that some groups just struggle to make the six hats work for them. Some get so wrapped up in the detail of the process that they lose site of their goal, others dismiss it because they tried it before without success, others still seem inhibited by the idea of wearing different coloured hats (even if they are imaginary).

However De Bono created the Six Hats as a tool to access a powerful principle that he called parallel thinking. In short it is the process of getting everyone to look at all aspects of an idea or problem from the same “cognitive stance” i.e. we will all look at the positives or the idea together, or we will look at the negatives together. This approach saves time and energy required to battle on behalf of new ideas. Parallel thinking takes the Ego out of the discussion around new ideas. It turns debate into dialogue. De Bono is not the only one to tap into Parallel Thinking the Disney Creative Process uses the construct of three rooms (the dreamer, the realist & the critic) to achieve much the same result.

So here is my version, I find it works very well with business groups who may be a little suspicious of anything that seems like a gimmick. It is a variation on the six hats (and offered with the utmost respect to Professor De Bono) We call it the 360° idea review. It is slightly more directive a process than the six hats but is very flexible and a very effective way to promote real discussion.


360° Idea Evaluation

The 360 Idea Evaluation is a combination of Six Hats and Disney Creative Process (and other) methods which allows the group to work around an idea (without the need for dressing up or extra rooms).

1. Ask the group you are working with to abide by the 360 rules as they review the idea.

Tell them that we will look at the idea from all angles and that the aim of the exercise is to be sure that we make the right decision for the right reasons..
Remind the group that as a result of the discussion, we may decide to

a) accept the idea
b) accept the idea with minor revision
c) accept the idea with major revision
d) hold the idea for now
e) reject the idea, but use elements of it as part of another solution
f) reject the idea

Make sure that everyone understands that the purpose of the dialogue is to explore the idea together.

2. Put a flipchart page on the wall or table. Make sure that everyone can see it and contribute to the discussion.


3. Using the 360 checklist, start the discussion at Instinctive Reaction at the top of the chart. Remind the group that you would like them to give their honest and instinctive response to the idea but not to provide any justifications or reasons.

It is important to get everyone’s ‘gut reaction’ to the idea because it allows emotions and instincts out and acknowledges that they are an important part of the process. This, in turn, allows people the space to look at the idea from multiple perspectives without ego issues clouding the dialogue.

Use the questions listed below as a prompt to get the discussion going. Record everyone’s answers.

4. Then move round the chart to the Data section. It helps to move either the group or the chart so that everyone is looking at it from the same perspective.

Now ask everyone “If we were to move ahead with this idea
a) What information/data do we need?
b) What do we already have?
c) Where will we get the information?”

Remember, this is not a debate about whether the idea is any good or not simply a discussion about what data we need to explore it further.

5. Next we look at the Strengths and Benefits of the idea. Once again, we move the group/chart so you are all looking at strengths from the same perspective.

Remind the group we are looking only at the strengths of the idea and the potential benefits that it might bring. Record all input.
6. The next step is to discuss the Problems & Risk associated with the idea and to identify any issues that might arise from implementing the idea.

Remind the group that no decision will be made at this time, we are simply surfacing problems that might sink the idea at a later stage.

7. When we move to the next step, Development, the whole group works together to mitigate the problems.

They can use any brainstorming technique to do so, or simply start the conversation with the question;

“If we had no choice but to implement this idea, how would we go about doing so?”

8. Finally, ask the group to step back and to Review & Decide. Review the process that you have been through. Check that the idea has been developed enough for people to feel that they can make a decision.

Remind the group that in innovation, the decision is rarely “yes” or “no” and that we may decide to do something in between (see notes for step 1).

If you have a number of options you may, as a group, apply some decision-making techniques such as “paired analysis” or “weighted rankings”



Common Complain
While preparing some new sales courses recently, I spent several hours trawling the internet to find out what the most common complaints about salespeople and the experience of being sold to are. I spent time on general sales blogs, consumer group sites and industry sites for businesses that rely heavily on direct sales operations (financial services, household improvements, advertising, enterprise, software etc). Not surprisingly, lots of people have lots of opinions about the things that salespeople do wrong. The big list is very long and varied, however there are a number of themes that emerge and after some “chunking” and de-duplicating, here are the most common complaints that we have found reported about salespeople.

False Sincerity

This is the practice of acting as if there is already some connection between the salesperson and the customer. It can happen in a number of ways;
Asking how people are and what kind of day they are having. On a superficial level this is polite, but in reality the customer knows you are just filling in time until you can pitch your product. If there is no relationship, don’t ask questions that suggest there is, it feels wrong for everyone. Obviously, once a relationship exists (a second call or a follow-up meeting) then it becomes more appropriate to make such enquiries.

Lack of Research

“Salespeople who haven’t bothered to find out at least the basic details about the company really are signalling that they don’t care about me at all, they only care about how much I might be worth to them”. This comment from a technology buyer says it all.
Misleading reasons for calling

This takes many forms. At it’s worst; people who call claiming tobe representing another organisation are starting the call with a lie. Examples;

The software company that claims to be calling on behalf of Microsoft or other major suppliers
White-goods insurance companies that claims to be calling on behalf of the manufacturer
The alarm company that claims to be calling on behalf of the Police or Local Council

In addition, some salespeople claim they have been asked to call by a customer’s colleague, or claim that they have had prior dealings with the customer’s company. If the first thing a salesperson does is seek to mislead the customer, it does not bode well for the rest of the call.

Cheesy/Clichéd Offers

We all know the kind of thing – “Mr Jones, I am just calling to let you know about this limited offer, it must end on Sunday”.
“We have salespeople in your area next week and they are able to offer incredible discounts only this week”.

This is a scattergun approach. No effort is made to sell the value or to establish whether the product may actually be useful.

These kinds of lines may have worked in the 1960’s, but by now, everyone has heard them a million times.

Like the “closing down” offers from furniture stores that never close down, this approach treats the customers as though they are stupid. Not a great way to start a business relationship.

Scripted Pitches

Sometimes, salespeople actually do have a pitch scrolling down on their computer (or stuck on a wall in front of them). Sometimes, the script is just a well rehearsed sales pitch from which the salesperson dare not deviate.

The problem is that most customers can spot a script a mile off and script says that you think so little of the customer that the salesperson will just say what they are paid to say, regardless of their level of interest.

False Urgency

This is the habit of talking too quickly and responding before the customer has finished talking, or racing into the pitch. It often occurs because the salesperson is nervous or under pressure to hit a target by a given deadline.

The problem is that the urgency is the salesperson’s issue, not the customer’s. Customers who feel rushed often raise more doubts and create delays to give themselves time to think. If the salesperson sounds too desperate, then the customer’s instinct is to back off.

Not Listening

In many ways, this is part of the problem all the above complaints have, but not listening tells the client that their views (and therefore their needs) are less important than the sales pitch.

Customers don’t feel listened to when;

They get asked a standard bunch of questions, regardless of the answers they give.

There is a disconnect between the issues they have raised and the issues addressed by the sales pitch.

The salesperson talks over them, or attempts to anticipate what they are going to say.

The salesperson fails to (naturally) mirror the pace and tone of the conversation.

Scare Tactics and Criticism

These are tactics often employed by salespeople, over emphasising the downside of not buying or implying (and sometimes stating directly) that the customer is failing to do their job properly by not purchasing the product offered.

What do all these complaints have in common?

They are all avoidable through the selection of capable salespeople, by training them effectively and by building a culture that puts the customer first.

They are often the result of salespeople being put under too much pressure to hit a number and too little focus on the long-term customer experience.

They all destroy “perceptions of value” in the long term.

As entrepreneurs and sales people we have a choice as to how we interact with customers we can either focus on the short term fear driven game or on the longer term value driven experience. The behaviour of your sales people will say an awful lot about your company make sure it is not the cause of common complaint.




Are you suffering from premature negotiation?

So the phone rings and on the other end is a potential new customer. What’s more they seem very interested and excited about your product- so much so that they want to get right down to talking about price. Who knows what this business could be worth? It’s been a slow week and you are now as excited as they seem to be. They hint that they could become a regular purchaser and want to know what the best price you can offer them is .

Do you

a) give them a run down on all the different price options but refuse to give them any sort of discount?

b) give them a rundown of all the prices and let them know what discounts and free stuff you can give them if they buy?

c) Take a deep breath and…..

If you have answered a or b, you have handed over way too much control to the customer. Here’s why;

5 reasons why premature negotiation doesn’t work.

1) Value is subjective

Price is largely an arbitrary figure; you have decided the offer price for your product based upon some calculations that include (amongst many factors) cost of sale, perceptions of value and competitor activity.The price that a customer is willing to pay for a product is largely down to how much value they place on it.

When a customer calls you and asks you;

a) absolutely love the product and need to buy licenses for 50 of their colleagues right away.

b) liked it but found parts of the UI a bit annoying

c) liked the bits of the functionality that they bothered to check out but haven’t yet considered the many ways in which the product may benefit them.

d) downloaded your trial because they are looking at a range of competitor products and are playing each of you off against another

If you start to talk price too early in the call, you are trying to justify a pricepoint without any reference to what the customer really values.

2) It’s a negotiating gambit, A TRICK!

Some buyers, particularly those who have been trained to to buy, understand point 1 and push for an early commitment to a price before you have had an opportunity to sell the product fully. They believe ( because experience has taught them) that if they go straight to a conversation about the money, that you will fold quickly. Over the years I have heard and observed countless examples of salespeople throwing in discounts and free stuff before the conversation has even got warmed up. It is a trick, it is trained as a legitimate technique on buyer,s courses and it works particularly well on inexperienced sales people.

3) The bigger opportunity is probably elsewhere

A quick sale may be one step away from a HUGE sale. The guy who is looking for a discount on one small deal may well work for a company that needs lots of your product or a whole suite of your products.

4) Relationships Matter

A conversation about price i.e. what the customer is going to buy, is entirely transactional, a conversation about a business need is much more personal and therefore memorable. You will have a far greater impact on the customer if you avoid a premature negotiation.

5) When price dominates a conversation then the authority to buy is often elsewhere.

People who refuse to discuss anything but price are often negotiating on behalf of other more senior colleagues. Years ago when I sold advertising, it was always the junior buyers who were the real hard asses.  They would never engage in a discussion about the marketing need because they didn’t know anything about the marketing need. They had been told to get the best price they could and that was all that they were interested in. You need to ask yourself the question whether you should be negotiating with these people at all.

So how do I avoid getting sucked into an early negotiation?

Here are some tricks that work for me.

1) Politely ignore the price request

Client : ” I wanted to get your best price for three licenses”

You:     “certainly, may I take a few details first”


“May I ask what kind of project you are hoping to use the software for”

2) Trade off

Client:  ” I am  interested in buying 5 licenses but I want to know what your best price is”

You:     “That’s great, I am always happy to consider a deal based on volume bookings, but in order for me to do so I  need to understand more about who will be using the software and what for”

3) Separate price from the quote

Client:  “How much is this going to cost me?”

You:     “I will email you the prices right now but in order to prepare a tailored quote for you I need to know a little bit more about…..”

4) Patience

Client: “I just need your best price, I don’t want to discuss things further”

You:  “Certainly our best price is – quote directly from your published price list-”

If you talk price before you have made a case for your product, done the demo or answered the customer,s concerns you are actively reducing the value of your product in the customer’s mind.

Stand firm – Keep questioning – Build value.


I get between 10 and 30 sales calls every week. Of these, I take 5-10. I would take more, but my time is precious and the calls are not always at a convenient time. It is one of the problems of being both chief cook and bottle washer in my business.

Recently, I had to review our home broadband package. I was out of contract with AOL(UK) and I had some concerns about the speed of the service.

Now let me say from the outset that generally speaking, I quite like dealing with salespeople and I have great empathy with them, particularly those learning the job for the first time. I try to be pleasant and helpful where possible and even if I am saying no I try to do so politely and to provide some reasons for my decision. In short I have a higher tolerance than many to sales people and sales practice.

AOL has been calling me for some time now, eager to persuade me to renew the contract. This is what the experience is like.

I answer the phone and there is a two to three second delay before I hear an echoey voice

“Hello……. Is that Mr Paul Kenny?”(Many times my name is pronounced very slowly as if being read for the first time)

So, first impressions are not great. I feel somewhat disengaged and I know that I am simply the next person on the CRM list.

When I acknowledge that they have the right person, they introduce themselves, but I can’t quite catch their name. This is followed by a rather exaggerated “How are you Mr Kenny?”

Now I am all for politeness, but this person, whose name I didn’t catch and who I don’t know, is enquiring after my wellbeing. Before I have a chance to finish my (somewhat guarded) reply, they say “That’s great Mr Kenny” and I am not feeling the sincerity.

I now feel that I have just done a bit of an awkward verbal dance with someone who patently sees me as nothing more than the next number on their list and who I care little about. There follows a couple of seconds of awkward silence, I disengage further and start to think about tonight’s dinner that I can smell cooking in the kitchen.

My ‘no name’ contact now proceeds to tell me that he has some fantastic news for me. “I’ll be the judge of that” I think. The forced friendliness and enthusiasm is already starting to wear thin.

“Mr Kenny” they say for the fourth or fifth time (no-one really calls me Mr Kenny – only tax inspectors, so no great warmth is being generated by this overly-formal address). “Mr Kenny, we want to thank you for being such a loyal customer and to offer you 3 months free (I think it was 3 months, I don’t recall the detail) broadband followed by a new monthly rate of £xx”.

Now this might normally be seen as good news, but I suspect that there might be a catch, so being a bit hungry (dinner is now smelling great) I ask outright “what’s the catch?”. “No catch Mr Kenny, we want to say thank you for being such a loyal customer”.

Now I am getting the feeling that this person is reverting to their script and they do not want to tell me about the conditions. I decide to let things run on, though now my son is doing keepie- uppies with his new football in my office, my attention is waning.

No name now proceeds to go through a script telling me what a wonderful package they are offering me, their most loyal customer. And guess what? All I have to do to get this loyalty reward is to sign a new contract for another 12 months.

“Aha” I say, so there was a condition. No name insists that the offer is for loyalty. I guess they mean for future loyalty, but now I am a bit disgruntled. We could have saved a lot of time by getting to the point –“we have some great discounts if you commit” would have done nicely.

But now the wheels start to come off. No name is clearly expecting a straight “yes” or “no”, but I have a few issues to discuss first. I explain that I don’t want to re-sign a contract for another year because I have been experiencing very slow connection speeds and attempts to address the problem through the help lines have been frustrating and unproductive.

No name says “I am very sorry to hear that you are experiencing difficulties with your service Mr Kenny” Strangely, he says it in exactly the same way (words, tone, pace, everything as the technical support people who had patently failed to  give any technical support). I start to think that AOL script writers are using copy and paste a little too freely!

No name tells me that AOL are working on the problem and that all will be well soon. I’m expected to believe this on trust because no explanation or evidence was given. He then goes on to remind me that this is a big discount and a great deal!

We do a couple more rounds of this dance before I realise that no name has no intention or deviating from the approved script. He continues to sell a discount even though I thought the package was fairly priced (at least when it worked!) and that my only real concern was reliability of service.

No name made no attempt to explore or clarify my issues, so now I feel that I have been processed rather than sold to. It’s not going well and to give him some credit, no name is also feeling the pain. In spite of me being a loyal and valued customer, we are just not getting on. Dinner is almost ready and my son is desperate to practice a few penalty shots before Mum calls us in to eat. I politely decline the offer and no name mumbles through an exit script- something about calling back again soon, but he and I have lost all heart and he can’t get off the phone fast enough.

So how do I feel about AOL? Well, before the calls (there were 3 or 4 attempts by AOL to repeat the process) I was a loyal customer  (more than 10 years) who paid by direct debit and rarely gave a moment’s thought to broadband supply. For 9 of the 10 years I have been a customer, I have been satisfied. I had a few issues recently, which I would have discussed in detail, had anyone asked. Broadly speaking, I was indifferent. Home broadband is not a big deal for me – some detailed assurances and guarantees of service may well have been enough to ensure my continued custom . On this occasion I am very much an ease and convenience buyer.

The experience of being sold to by AOL left me determined to change suppliers. The calls politicised me, they made me actively seek an alternative. They were, in every way, the opposite of what a salesperson should do.

  • Garbled openings and overly-formalised scripts make the customer feel disengaged from the start.
  • The sales promotion was based on a strategy of deciet (“our most loyal customers get a special offer) instead of honesty (“we’d like your continued custom and are prepared to reward you for it”).
  • An utter failure to question or to listen and an over-reliance on scripted responses left the customer feeling completely disengaged.
  • Price incentives were offered without any reference to how happy I was with the service. They were thrown into the conversation so casually that I was left wondering whether I had been overpaying for the service all along.
  • Ignoring objections about quality issues or glossing over them leaves the customer feeling dissatisfied and doubtful.
  • Dropping all pretence of interest once the call is going badly simply re-confirms all the worries, doubts and fears that the customer has.
  • Dropping all pretence of interest once the call is going badly simply re-confirms all the worries, doubts and fears that the customer has.

AOL, you could do so much better. Your current sales processes are damaging, not enhancing your customer experience.

In Part 2, I will tell you how 2 sales people and BT made their business stand out from the competition and how it was the sales person that swung the deal.