The Power of Purpose in Sales

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The Power of Purpose in Sales

 “Sell like hell” was our tagline when I was in B2B sales, to keep us running at peak performance. That was what my boss told me, what I told myself and the members of my team. Did it work? Not for everyone. In fact, for most people it didn’t work at all. Since then, I have trained thousands of salespeople as a sales coach and trainer. At one of the team coaching sessions, when I was with the sales leaders, they asked me what the single common trait among all successful salespeople was, if there was one.

I remember racking my brain. No, it wasn’t their personality. It wasn’t whether they were extroverts, introverts or ambiverts. It certainly had nothing to do with their sex, age, upbringing, social status and the schools they had attended. It wasn’t even their sales style or the kind of process they followed. What I concluded was that really successful salespeople were more self-aware than others. But my own research proved me wrong, eventually. I met a lot of very talented and successful salespeople, and many of them were quite seasoned and yet had low self-awareness. They couldn’t explain to me what made them successful. Some of these exceptional sales performers were also high on learning-agility, but that was really a separate dimension.

Then I came across the longitudinal sales research of the Sales Executive Council in 2011. It became so famous that now this small red book is on the bookshelf of every sales director. I think the research is sound, clear and well-founded. I also believe they have captured many of the key elements of a winning sales approach. They coined the phrase ‘Challenger Sale’, based on a type of sales style that seems to be the most successful approach. This style is all about having rich business insights that allow the salespeople to challenge the way customers think about a relevant business problem.

By reframing the customer’s thinking, these salespeople can use constructive tension to get decision-makers to ask for a solution from the sales rep. Still, I thought that the folks at SEC only had it 80% right. As convincing as the research may have seemed, something was still missing. I have worked with many sales directors and salespeople who were trained on the Challenger Sale model and yet were not really successful. Not because they hadn’t done it right. They indeed did it right, but they were still unsuccessful while doing the right things.

I have eventually realized that the problem was the mindset behind the process. And this belongs to the latest discoveries about the nature of motivation. According to Daniel Pink, who has written a great book about this, studies point to the trio of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as the pivotal sources of human motivation. And the people who find Purpose in their work unlock the highest level of their motivation. The original idea comes from Viktor Frankl, a world-famous therapist, who realized that the Jews who survived extermination camps in the Second World War all had some kind of meaning in their life that carried them forward. For him it was that he wanted to rewrite and publish his book, which the Nazis had confiscated from him.

I have seen in my own research, and it’s recently been confirmed by many other research projects (Gallup 2015, HBR 2014), that behind an extraordinary performance there is almost always a Higher Purpose. Or to put it more precisely, if you have Higher Purpose you will Perform Better. I have eventually connected the dots. Have you wondered, reading the small red book, what was the ‘It-factor’ the best-performing ‘lonely wolves’, ‘hard-workers’ and ‘relationship builders’ commonly shared? I can tell you, it is Higher Purpose. And it is something that is not even dependent on industry and the complexity of the sale.

If you can’t answer the question ‘Why will your customer’s life be better if you make this deal today?’, don’t go out to sell. You will be inauthentic. You need to have an answer to this question and believe in it genuinely. In general, following your Higher Purpose will prevent burnout and help you reach exceptional results. Purpose will work for everyone: it will work for a janitor or for a nurse, just as much as it works for a key account manager and CEO. That is not to say, however, that the process and the sales style you follow are not important. But the “Why-Purpose” factor is paramount.

On an organizational level, companies with a clear and powerful Purpose will outperform others who don’t. Purpose-driven employees will sell 37% more (Shawn Anchor’s research), have 66% less sick-leave and 51% less turnover (Forbes and Gallup), and show 300% more innovation according to HBR. Not having a Higher Purpose is like a fine engine that needs high-octane gas but is running on a low-octane one. It will damage the engine sooner or later, and you will constantly feel there is more potential there which never seems to be realized.

Companies end up creating endless numbers of KPIs, refining their propositions and training their people, and yet, they don’t reach a breakthrough. The great thing about Purpose is that it creates intrinsic motivation, which is invaluable. It creates an inner force that will carry people over challenging situations, the moments when their manager is not there, or when they have to put up with rejection. It is this change that will make the difference.

I have worked with salespeople selling to farmers in the agricultural industry. I have worked with private bankers selling to the rich and the elite. We also worked in the pharma industry, and in the call centers of IT companies and FMCG businesses. In hindsight, the ‘It-factor’ the best-performing salespeople had in common was Higher Purpose.

So, if you can help an organization and individual salespeople find their purpose, why not do it? You will benefit enormously. You will get more engagement, more autonomy, more satisfaction and happiness. And guess what? You will also get more profit and increasing sales results.

The trick is to know how to do it, though. We have the answers for that and have developed a methodology based on the latest discoveries of neuroscience and psychology. If you want to know more, get in touch with us for a free consultation.

mickey feher