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Put the polish on your new sales year

January 17, 2014 in Brain Science, Brand & Reputation, Neuroscience in Sales, Presentation & Grooming, Sales Presentation & Grooming, Self Development, Self Promotion

I have previously written about ‘putting yourself in another’s shoes’, however, I have never written about actual shoes before. In this post I wanted to raise awareness about our attire, our physical presentation – as sales and business professionals.

There are 2 key areas we need to consider:

  1. The overall congruence of what we are wearing and how we present
  2. The relevance and suitability of what we are wearing and how we present

You may think this topic doesn’t matter much with the broader and more relaxed approach to business attire these days, but it does. Consciously or not, people, are making several decisions on different levels about you when you meet with them: They are assessing whether they can trust you, whether they can connect and relate with you. They are assessing if what you are saying matches the non verbal signals presented. And they are looking at your physical presentation – the whole package if you will. They might for instance assess whether you seem to take care of yourself. ‘If you don’t even care for yourself, how am I to expect you to take care of me?’ is the assumption that people might make. In a business context they might wonder if you understand them and their industry. For instance, knowingly turning up to a muddy construction site in high heeled shoes and summer dress for a day’s worth of work in the field with a client may cause quite some doubt about your expertise “in the field”.

We know that common sense should prevail in these matters however, with so many changes in business attire in recent times it’s probably worth taking a look at some of the common sense practices that never go out of date.

The importance of congruence

congruenceAs we have written before, our brains are wired to risk, therefore our brains are looking for things that match and things that don’t so that we can make decisions quickly to protect ourselves from unnecessary danger. When we meet people and vice versa our brains are looking for congruence. The brain likes congruence – when everything lines up and makes sense. Congruence is the state achieved by coming together, the state of agreement. The Latin congru? meaning “I meet together, I agree”. As an abstract term, congruence means similarity between objects.

In short when it comes to sales and our personal presentation including our attire it means everything needs to match or else our prospect or customer will become fixated on and distracted by the things that do not match.

It may sound trivial on the surface but incongruence can be a real game changer. For instance, if you meet a man who is wearing a nice suit, his shirt and tie are clean, he’s had a good shave, smells nice, however his shoes look like he last took care of them five years ago what is going to happen? You are most likely going to be distracted at best by the shoes and it could change the way you think about that person. In short, the shoes are not congruent with the rest of the appearance. This will keep your mind occupied, distracted and might make you wonder what else about this person is just “covering up”.

Now I’m not talking here about being obsessed with clothing and becoming a ‘peacock’ or the latest fashionista, however when considering what you are wearing and what message or impression you would like to leave, the little things do count. It’s those little things, whether we like it or not, that can significantly influence how others perceive us and our overall appearance.

Most important rule: It’s all about cleanliness.

Are your clothes (including shoes) clean, well pressed? How much care did you apply to your body in regards to cleanliness, grooming and a pleasant yet unobtrusive fragrance? Is your brief case, laptop, phone, car, etc. clean and well kept?

There is nothing more off putting than being in the presence of someone who appears bedraggled or messy or smells unpleasant. This, by the way, is not just about body odour or bad breath but also about people who insist on spraying half a bottle of perfume or cologne on themselves. Either way, the other person is overwhelmed by their smell, especially in closed quarters. And what about our equipment and clothes? How do they present in terms of cleanliness?

well-dressed-manThe human brain can take in a lot of information in very short time – you may not consciously register it but the subconscious will notice the chipped nail polish or the dirty marks around that tie that has not been untied for 2 years, the frayed edges of your trousers, the dried sweat marks in the armpits of your suit, the shoes that have never been polished since they were bought, or the worn mark on the back of your right shoe and heel that comes from driving your car. These and many other little things are what people see and these could set up cognitive dissonance or incongruence with how you are perceived by your client or prospect.

As sales professionals the first thing we need to remember is that we need to build trust. We need to make sure that our customers and prospects feel at ease with us. Anything that causes them to be distracted or make them feel uneasy will make it harder for us to work with them.

I admit I do pay attention to these things and I have found that I am not alone. You think shoes are an issue? Here are some comments from people who pay attention to shoes, ties, belts, hem and necklines, etc. These are their comments from a web chat room about this topic:

In fact a good pair of shoes can make a cheap suit look good but even a good suit looks cheap if worn with cheap or badly kept shoes.

What is also annoying is the way some guys wear their ties!! What’s that about?? Loosey goosey, the knot looking more like scrambled eggs than a tie. How hard is it to look good and put some effort into: 1) shining shoes, 2) tying a decent looking knot?

Don’t even get me started on belts…sometimes you’ll see a great looking suit, good or decent shoes, and then there’s THE BELT!!! what a nightmare…it seems like  fallen at the seams

Why do some women, usually young women, insist on wearing the neckline of their tops too low? Save it for the nightclub.

My son has informed me that the two things women check out to gauge how well a man looks after themselves are if they have clean well kept shoes and nails.

I agree. Your shoes are an extension of you and how you conduct yourself. It baffles me how people dress for a job interview these days!

I had three equally qualified candidates for a good job. The young man whom had his suit tailored and shoes shined got the job.

The last comment is very telling. You just never know what will get you over the line. So why risk possible exclusion because you didn’t take the time to keep your shoes in good repair, you didn’t change your shirt or get rid of those white socks before you jumped into your suit, you didn’t remove that chipped nail polish, or take up that hem and so on? There are good shoe repairers, dressmakers/tailors, manicurists, etc. who can help you keep a clean and well presented appearance – an investment worth considering!

Relevance and Suitability

As I mentioned at the beginning, over the last decade or so we have seen a more relaxed approach to business attire. While there are still industries that expect business suits and more formal business attire, other industries are more relaxed in their dress codes, think advertising, IT, etc. Even in banking I found that a tie is not necessarily a minimum standard any more.

Business Casual FinalThis is perfectly okay with most people; however, there are still some guidelines we need to consider if we are going to make the most of our sales opportunities deriving from personal meetings. All it takes is in fact a bit of common sense and the effort to observe our environment.

With more relaxed dress codes it is important to be aware of:

A) The General Trend

B) The specific attire of your industry or clientele (industry).

Changes in fashion may change some things, like the width of lapels, the cut of pants, or the colours of blouses, shirts and ties. Basic professional attire does not change with the whims of fashion, however whenever there is change in dress codes you will find that there will be people who explore the extreme end of the spectrum – the more avant-garde or radical styles, and those who try to stick to the old school of dress codes.

There is danger in both these extremes – for instance you may want to wear the latest grooviest patent leather, strappy platform shoes with a mid thigh skirt and flowing blouse in a formal business meeting in town, but despite being dressed up to the height of the fashion, this might be way too relaxed for the occasion or the industry. Or you may want to stick with the formal suit and tie because you want to be perceived as a serious business man despite the fact that all your customers are fine with polo shirts in the heat of midsummer and might perceive you rather as uptight or old fashioned than a credible business partner.

I know that some women think that this is cramping their style if they need to restrict their creativity and personal style. Believe me I know. I have made some bad dress choices in the early years of my career in sales and business. Trying to be a fashionista and professional business person at the same time is hard to pull off.

Determining appropriate business attire can be mine field, and given the wider variety of dress codes on offer this can lead to some confusion over what one should wear and when. So what do we do?

It’s all about the relevance and suitability of what we are wearing and how we present to others.

This could mean that one day we are suited up and more formal in our attire and the next day we are able to dress down to something more casual.

western-work-shirtWe understand that for some professions, like people who work in the agriculture or in industrial sectors, their attire may require polo shirts, cotton drill pants and work boots of some nature which account for the rugged terrain they are likely to encounter in their daily work. However, even the sales people whom we meet in these professions seem to know that keeping their clothes and boots clean and in good working order is tied up with their levels of professionalism. In fact I would say that I see sales people with more clean/polished foot attire in the ‘rugged’ professions than I do in the city high street roles. Interesting, isn’t it? Have a look around when you’re in the CBD or business district next time.

As a general rule it is recommended that if our work environment is changing in terms of dress code we should not opt for the lower, most progressive or avant-garde end of the spectrum of styles. It is suggested that we stick to the top half of the industry’s or environment’s dress code. However, this does not mean we have to be conformist or invisible. We can still dress in a style that suits us and our personality, however we just need to remember we aren’t just dressing for ourselves we are dressing for others too (remember Theory of Mind). We are dressing to ensure that we can continue to create trusted relationships based on a fair exchange of value.

Curiosity – A Foundation to Sale Mastery

December 13, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Success

Let’s start with a question: What is the most important quality of highly successful salespeople?

This question is often on the mind of anyone looking to sell well. There is much speculation about what this elusive quality actually is.  The truth is that there are many traits that make for highly successful salespeople , but the number one quality that makes top sales performers outstanding is…

 their desire and dedication to engage in self-appraisal and continuous learning.   

We have not met a successful sales person yet who doesn’t want to know how to be even more effective.

Second question: what underpins this desire and dedication to engage in self-appraisal and continuous learning?


If you are curious then you have a key foundation already in place to drive mastery and success.

Albert-Einstein-about-CuriosityOne of the most significant defining features of successful salespeople is their curiosity. They have an ongoing, intrinsic interest in the world around them and in their own interpretation of that world as it relates to them and others. They are attracted to new people, new ideas and new experiences, and are rarely bored. Their curiosity benefits them both socially and professionally.  These salespeople are considered good listeners and conversationalists; good problems solvers and solutions crafters. Their thinking is not constrained and their curiosity drives their interest in innovation and collaboration. People seem to like them too. These curious salespeople tend to bring interesting ideas, fun and novelty into relationships. In the business realm you can see why being curious is also attractive to clients.

Researchers are finding that curiosity is associated with intelligence and problem-solving ability. Because of their curiosity, these people create rich environments for themselves as they seek new experiences, new ways of solving problems and exploring new ideas. Clients are never boring to them; these salespeople do not go through the motions; every interaction has endless possibilities, they want to discover what is happening in their clients’ world.

Research has found also that curiosity leads to cognitive growth. And whilst researchers have not yet identified the pathway by which this happens, the likely explanation is the rich environments curious people create for themselves. What the research is showing is that curious brains are active brains, and active brains become smart brains.  This is then leading to findings that curiosity is also associated with high performance in both academic and work settings, and so it is with selling.

The desire and dedication to engage in self-appraisal and continuous learning is fundamentally driven by curiosity.   In short, the more we learn, the more we want to learn, and so on.

stay-ahead-of-the-culture-by-creating-the-cultureStellar sales performers are always on the lookout for the latest information, trends, tools and education on how to be and stay as high achievers in sales.  These top performers understand that to achieve excellence in sales, their sales education needs to be continuous, ongoing, incremental and relevant – a little bit every day, every week, every month, every year to keep the momentum going and allow for an evolution in sales mastery, and achievement of sales results.

To these stellar performers every opportunity is a learning opportunity driven by curiosity.  The more they learn the more they grow, the more they grow the better they become, the better they become the more people want to be around them, and so on.  You get the message.

So make time for curiosity in your life, it is a great antidote for pretty much anything that ails you.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Writing, brain research and being a better salesperson

September 11, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Neuroscience in Sales

How does the act of writing affect your brain?* This is an interesting question that Rebecca Accadia, Barrett’s resident Organisational Psychologist, posed to us when she presented some research and facts she found on brain science thanks to Benjamin Starr.

As highlighted in a previous post, Take Note, we emphasized the importance of taking notes in client meetings and why it is so important to our success as sales people. Now we have some brain science facts to back it up.  Here’s what Rebecca found and why we, as sales professionals, should take note.

First some brain facts

“The Frontal Lobe is the part of the brain that is associated with speaking and writing. This area of the brain is also responsible for movement, reasoning, judgment, planning and problem solving.

The Parietal Lobe is also important in writing. This part of the brain interprets words and language. Research has shown that patients with damage to this part of their brain often have trouble spelling and writing by hand.”


We remember 50% of what we see and hear …

In sales it is very important that we can gather information and infer meaning from that information to then use it to guide us as to what to do next i.e. ask another question, explain a concept, introduce new topic, paraphrase, solve a problem, generate an idea, etc.  You can now see which parts of your brain are involved in that process.

So how does writing things down help us remember? And more importantly help us be better sales people?

“When you write something down using a pen/pencil and paper, you are stimulating a collection of cells in the brain known as the RAS – reticular activating system.”   

Many of you who have worked and trained with us will remember the RAS – a filter system that helps us filter and sort information. It also directs information to our conscious brain and helps us pay attention to what we are currently focusing on.

Benjamin Starr goes on to say that “The physical act of writing brings information to the forefront and triggers your brain to pay close attention.”


Todays laptops are so much better for note taking.

Paying close attention to what is being said, understanding and interpreting that information is greatly enhanced by writing things down. Watch good sales people and you will see them writing lots of notes. Interestingly, in the digital age, I have taken to typing my notes on my tablet instead of handwriting notes.  It has taken some time to transition and I did have to train my brain to listen again as I got used to typing. However, the difference taking notes digitally has made to me gathering information more quickly and then being able to turn a proposal around more efficently has been fantastic. If you can I would recommend trying out taking notes via your tablet or PC – using a program like OneNote (part of Office) or Evernote. It will seem clunky at first but like anything, your brain will get used to it. Either way the lesson is – takes notes.

One final interesting note is that “writing can have similar effects on the mind as meditation. Your breathing slows down and you get into the ‘zone’ where words flow freely from your head. This can make stream-of-consciousness writing a very effective method for distressing.”

A fact I can attest to, now having written some 400+ sales articles plus trend reports and e-books.  I have found it very therapeutic to write as it de-clutters my brain for one thing and I find it a lovely way to express myself. I hope you too are benefiting from my writing output.   

*Reference source: BENJAMIN STARR managing editor of www.Visualnews.com

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

Are you paying salespeople enough to sell well?

February 14, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Talent

Are you paying your salespeople enough to enable them to focus on selling and not worry about where their next paycheck is coming from?  Because if salespeople are constantly worrying about when they are going to get paid, how can they sell well?

For many years, unlike most other salaried employees who can rely on a regular weekly/monthly pay check, salespeople have often been required to live hand-to-mouth – making sales and waiting for their commission or bonus to supplement their living income.  Often the commission or bonus comes in monthly or quarterly bursts, however there is no guarantee of what money salespeople will make each month.  Worse, there can be arguments and struggles with companies as to what they should or could be paid. 

thinking about one thing only

thinking about one thing only

Earning a decent income for their efforts is never far from salespeople’s minds and if times are tough it is usually the only thing on their mind. Obviously this obsessive focus on income can lead to all sorts of issues, not all positive.

Imagine that you are a salesperson and in a good year earn anywhere from $80,000 to $130,000 per year gross.  Imagine too that you are also paid a low basic salary (let’s say around $40,000 a year) and the rest of your income comes from commissions or bonuses from selling.  Imagine too that your salary structure means your company recovers what it paid you as a basic salary out of the total amount you earn each year.  

Like all of us, you have living costs to account for such as mortgages, daily living expenses, family commitments etc..  Over time you develop a lifestyle around earning around $150,000 per annum – which is a combination of yours and your partner’s part-time salary.  You know that you have to work hard to sustain your lifestyle. And you are. You are making contact with lots of prospects and clients but the market is tight and sales are hard to come by. As a good salesperson you are performing well but the specter of a tight market is playing on your mind – it’s distracting.  So, if your partner lost their part-time job and you are the sole bread winner in your family, money is likely to be tight.  Now imagine how you feel not knowing what will be in your next pay check!

This is a common scenario for many salespeople.   

Think about  what those salespeople are focused on – is their mind in a good space of safety and reasonable certainty, where they can think clearly and make sound decisions, or have they reverted to flight, fight or freeze mode, where they are becoming fearful about their future, worried about future income and how to pay their bills?   In the salesperson’s mind are they saying: “ I know markets go through ups and downs. I am doing all the right things. It’s tough but I have a full pipeline of opportunities and some will definitely come through?” Or are they in a space that says: “I can’t see myself getting out of this. It’s really tough out there and I’m so worried about my family.  Where do I start?”

Ideally the mature, self aware, straight thinking people manage their thoughts in the positive. But most people adopt the latter mindset and in so doing, they inadvertently start to prioritise their own interests over those of their customers. There is the possibility that they may start to engineer sales in their favour. Perhaps cutting corners or not being as thorough.  It’s survival instinct in play!

distress by kristen diefenbach

distress by kristen diefenbach
(click to see more)

A major inhibitor to achieving optimal long term success in anything, including sales performance is being in a distressed state. It reduces one’s ability to bounce back from adversity, make effective decisions or manage ourselves. Being under constant pressure to achieve results (e.g. sales targets), with no consideration given to a stable income can quickly lead to poor quality decision making, poor overall performance and unhealthy life practices. The resulting negative behaviour then contributes to the prevalence of poor sales results.

When we live a life under constant distress we are unable to engage the frontal cortex of our brain, because our emotional energy levels are drained away and the unconscious part of our brain runs the show. We live on “auto pilot”, in a constant state of distress. If that part of the brain concerned with basic drives, emotions and short-term memory (i.e. the hippocampus) is damaged through such prolonged stress we can become even more negative in our view of issues starting a vicious, almost self-fulfilling cycle.

With selling becoming more complex, demanding that we make more effective use of cognitive (reasoning) skills of salespeople, one of the best moves organisations can make is take earnings off the table as an issue.  This doesn’t mean having no bonuses or commissions. It means moving the earning base from a low level (on average 40% fixed and 60% by way of bonuses and commissions) to a more stable 90% base salary with incentives to top that off.

What research shows is that for simple, routine tasks – which aren’t very interesting and don’t demand much creative thinking – rewards can provide a small motivational booster, without harmful side effects. In short if you want people to (for instance) stack boxes more quickly, offer a bonus to those who stack the most in the shortest time and to the standard you want. As long as the task is simple and mechanical, bonuses work to lift performance.

However if the task or situation involves, even rudimentary cognitive skill, – i.e. where one has to come up with ideas or solutions, possibilities or plans – then a larger reward leads to poorer performance.

Translating this to sales, simple transactional sales that are taking place via the internet leave most salespeople out of the equation. The rest of the sales spectrum – 100% of complex and most of B2B / complex B2C selling – requires salespeople to deal with solutions, consultation, problem solving and prevention, creativity and collaboration. All of these tasks require cognition.

Research highlighted in Daniel Pink’s book Drive – The Surprising Truth About Motivation outlines this research in detail. This short 10 minute video gives a very good summary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc.  

In his latest book, To Sell is Human, it also shows that the big commissions and bonuses have been part of the sales paradigm for many years may well become something of the past.

Here is the bottom line – if salespeople are living in fear, worrying about their next pay check, they cannot think effectively, fix and solve problems which means they are unlikely to do a good job.

freeloaders are not tolerated

freeloaders are not tolerated

Whilst money is important, not everyone – even many salespeople – are motivated solely by money.  If we want high functioning, high performing salespeople we need to take the worry of money off the table. Sure we need performance measures in place and there is no suggestion that freeloaders are tolerated. Instead allow your salespeople to be great at what they are paid to do, and that is find the customers with whom they work with to find, solve and prevent problems and in the process, make money and profits for the organisation.  In his latest book – To Sell is Human – Daniel Pink quotes Microchip’s vice president of sales who  summed it up well when he said: “Salespeople are no different from architects, engineers or accountants.  Really good salespeople want to solve problems and serve customers.  They want to be part of something larger than themselves.”

A great philosophical approach to appreciating the value of salespeople not bogged down with concerns over money is to recognise that companies pay salespeople well, that’s why they make money. By taking the worry of money off the table organisations are already seeing the shift in attracting quality sales staff who can deliver good, if not excellent sales results with much less stress for everyone concerned.

When we give salespeople the space and the appropriate salary to be really effective and accountable they perform at their best. When that occurs, great things happen.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

Empathy – The New Sales Edge

January 18, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brain Science, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Emotional Intelligence, Life Skills, Mindful selling, Neuroscience, Sales Psychology

Late last year we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each sales trend in December.  Over the year we will delve a little deeper into each sales trend.  To kick off the New Year we will focus on the Sales Trend Empathy.

This sales trend is seeing smart businesses making it a priority to redress the balance and develop our brains’ Interpersonal sensitivities: our empathetic side to take into account the needs of others as well as our own needs.  We will see people working more in collaboration for the mutual benefit of each other while maintaining the best of analytical thinking and risk taking. 

Why?  Well, 2 reasons:

  1. Sadly, for some years now the business world, by and large, has been worshipping at the corporate alter of Profit which has created an Empathy deficit… and most people (read employees, customers, communities, etc.)  do not like it.  It’s not sustainable by itself.
  2. There has been, and still is, a shift away from product as central to the complex sale with businesses and markets becoming more intertwined, and people now featuring at the heart of viable business relationships.   

emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained

And the good news is that the emotional qualities such as compassion, empathy, and benevolence can be trained: they can be proactively developed and mastered.

Effective selling and building profitable businesses in 21st Century is all about developing viable relationships based on real value and substance which is a combination of the tangible and intangible.

The challenge will be to reconcile the prevailing norms of the cool headedness of the analytical thinking brain and the risk taking brain of the ‘cowboy’ entrepreneur with the empathetic moral compass brain as we navigate and manage the impact of our decisions on individuals, customers, suppliers and communities.

However, making Empathy a priority is not that easy.  A lot of emphasis has been placed on the importance of being ‘analytical’ in business, being rational, yet the newspapers are littered with stories of CEOs and leaders whose rationality and analytical thinking was of the highest order yet the decisions they made failed to consider the people factors, at worst, put the lives of people and communities at risk, destroying or severely eroding their business brands and future viability as well, creating horrendous consequences for those affected by their decisions.

We also read countless stories of risk taking entrepreneurs who are lauded as business celebrities one day for the way they have taken a business from zero to hero faster than the speed of light and then canned the next when their venture takes a dive leaving people jobless and out of pocket, and investors poorer for the experience.

Interestingly, in this increasingly complex world, capabilities such as empathy, compassion and benevolence are emerging as critical qualities of highly successful people, teams, organisations and communities. Even in the highly competitive world of business and selling, it has been found that those sales people and leaders who are able to incorporate these qualities into their daily work and personal lives are finding greater levels of success. This is coming in the form of better sales results and healthier, more prosperous client relationships as well as better personal health, resilience, and overall job and personal satisfaction.

Numerous articles and books are written about that ‘One thing’ or that ‘Secret to Success’ that will solve all your issues – and what happens? It doesn’t work by itself – it needs to work as part of a system.   And so it is with the brain.  The brain is a complex network and being able to access and develop key areas of the brain allowing them to work in concert and counterbalance each other for positive outcomes is the key. 

If you want to understand more about Empathy as a powerful societal force you may enjoy watching a very interesting video (see below)  about a concept called Outrospection by philosopher and author Roman Krznaric who explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves. 

Now is the time to reconcile and place equal importance on developing the empathetic parts of our brain as our new sales and business edge.

If you would like to you can purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2013 now to see which sales trends will have the greatest impact on your sales optimisation efforts in 2013.

 Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

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