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When selling, you ask.

“Asking is the most important discipline in sales. You must ask for what you want, directly, assumptively, assertively and repeatedly,” Jeb Blount writes in his book Objections: The Ultimate Guide for Mastering The Art and Science of Getting Past No.

“When you fail to ask, you fail.”

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But you can ask and still run into barriers. In some cases, that will simply come from mistaken perception. Mr. Blount says most sales professionals want the best for their prospects, to do the right thing, to keep their promises and to tell the truth. They believe in what they’re selling.

“The trap salespeople fall into though is the false belief that good intentions are enough. Stakeholders are not judging your trustworthiness based on your intentions. Instead, they judge you based on their intention,” he writes.

He delineates four types of objections you will hear:

  • Prospecting: People are very busy, and when prospecting, you are asking for some of their precious time. Their reflex is to brush you off or come up with an excuse. “Prospecting objections are the most frequent and feared objections for salespeople, occur at great speed, and can be especially hard,” he says. But if you want a lot of prospects in your pipeline, you have to interrupt people in their busy life. On any prospecting interaction, your goal is to get a yes, no or maybe as fast as possible. If you make a fast pitch, a third of the time you’ll get a quick yes, a third of the time a speedy no, and a third of the time the prospect will hesitate, say maybe, negotiate or throw out an objection. You earn your living by handling those maybes well.
  • Red herrings: The prospect will introduce an irrelevant issue, intentionally or unintentionally, that diverts attention from your purpose. It may be their normal pattern of behaviour or meant to fill in an awkward pause. But he warns that “salespeople chase red herrings with the same single-minded zeal of a bigmouth bass chasing a shiny lure – with similar bad endings. If you manage them poorly, red herrings distract you, take you off your agenda and cause you to lose control of the sales conversation.” Don’t take the bait. Pause, acknowledge what is being said, ignore the red herring unless it is raised again, which is highly unlikely. If there is some legitimate concern contained in those comments, save that for a future discussion.
  • Micro-commitment objections: Throughout the sales process, you ask the prospect for small acts of commitment to take the next step. That keeps the discussion going and tests their interest. Indeed, you must never leave a conversation with a stakeholder without a firm next step. These should be low-risk acts, and therefore the objections will generally not be harsh or an outright objection. When an objection does arise, regain your poise with a smile and affirmation – “that’s exactly why I asked,” “that makes sense” or “I get why you might say so.” Then, in a relaxed way, explain the value of the step you are asking for, and ask again.
  • Buying commitment objections: Here you might hear about price or budget objections, timing issues, satisfaction with the status quo, a need to discuss it with higher-ups and the like. Mr. Blount’s five-step turn-around framework begins with acknowledging and relating to the comment, followed by questions to clarify exactly what the problem is. “The secret to getting past objections is not in what you say but in what you hear,” he stresses. Minimize the objection by reminding the prospect of their current problems and pain, and the yeses you have been getting through the process. Ask again, and if the objection continues, suggest an alternative.

Overall, lots of asking – and lots of listening – to get the sale.

Bring back assistants

Productivity-enhancing computer systems are making us less productive.

That’s the conclusion from a series of 20 case studies in different departments of five major U.S. corporations in the mid-1980s to early 1990s by Georgia Tech economist Peter G. Sassone. It may seem like ancient history, but productivity expert Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, pointed to it in his blog recently as having captured the loss in productivity that started and has continued since assistants were replaced by computers.

For example, the studies found:

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  • A corporate marketing department where senior marketing professionals were spending more than a day’s worth of time per week preparing charts and graphs for presentations.
  • A large commercial bank where corporate bankers were devoting more than a quarter of their time to handling routine interactions with clients.

Mr. Sassone called it “the law of diminishing specialization.” Executives and professionals were prevented from doing their deep, most productive work by typing letters and producing spreadsheets.

“Reducing administrative positions saves some money. But the losses due to the corresponding reduction in high-level employees’ ability to perform deep work – a diminishment of “intellectual specialization” – outweighs these savings,” says Mr. Newport.

Mr. Sassone found that the corporate divisions studied could produce the same amount of valuable output by reducing the number of managers and professionals while increasing the number of administrative staff.

Mr. Newport concludes: “Just because a given technology makes things easier doesn’t mean that it makes an organization more effective; you have to keep returning to the foundational question of what best supports the challenge of thinking hard about valuable things.”

A five-step template for thank you notes

Here’s a five-step template for writing a thank-you note after a job interview, presented by career development consultant Lauren McGoodwin on the Career Contessa site:

  • How much you appreciated the meeting (the “thank you” part).
  • Something specific about the interview or items discussed.
  • Why you are excited about the opportunity.
  • A brief explanation of why you would be a good fit for the job.
  • Next steps and your contact information.

Quick hits

  • Oprah Winfrey starts every meeting with these three sentences:  “What is our intention for this meeting? What’s important? What matters?”
  • Hold some of your meetings outdoors, walking. The Wharton School reports that leading decision-makers are recognizing that walking and working are compatible; walking actually improves business outcomes.  So during the day, take a hike.
  • When dealing with customers, speak as an individual rather than as part of a team, advise Canadian academics Sarah Moore, Brent McFerran and Grant Packard. In a series of controlled studies, company representatives who referred to themselves in the singular voice ( “I,” “me,” or “my”) were perceived to be acting and feeling more on behalf of customers than those who adopted less personal plural pronouns (“we” or “our”).
  • Surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande says there are two paths to progress. The primary one in professional life is pedagogical – take courses. But professional athletes find blind spots preventing improvements through getting a coach. He says over time we’re learning that the coaching model beats the teaching model.
  • Stop living up to wellness ideas that don’t fit your life, says Sarah Larson Levey, who happens to run a yoga studio, Y7. She kept trying to meditate before work as many experts recommend but found a schedule didn’t work for her. She now tries to fit it in when she can.

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