EPISODE 302: Women in Sales: Gretchen Gordon Explains How Behavior Management is Key to Ensuring Sales Performance Effectiveness

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on November 17, 2020. It featured Braveheart Sales Performance leader Gretchen Gordon.]

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Find Gretchen on LinkedIn here.

EPISODE 302: Women in Sales: Gretchen Gordon Explains How Behavior Management is Key to Ensuring Sales Performance Effectiveness

GRETCHEN’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Tune into yourself. Behavior management is more important than just results for sales managers and salespeople. Behaviors are everything from activities to how you are conducting the sales conversation. For example, make sure that you are doing customer call planning and debriefing. If you do not have a manager that is frequently available to help with that, partner up with a friend. Have an accountability partner to help you change your behaviors.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, everybody, we are here for another round of professional development and I cannot wait to introduce you to my current guest. I have with me Gretchen Gordon from Braveheart Sales Performance and Gretchen works with sales performance teams. I’m going to let her introduce herself and we’re going to be talking about not your standard mindset conversation which is around fixed or growth mindset, but what we do as individuals and how our mindset can be hurting or helping us. This should be a really interesting conversation. Welcome, Gretchen.

Gretchen Gordon: Thanks, Gina, I’m glad to be here. I’m Gretchen Gordon, I founded Braveheart Sales in 2009 on the heels of the great recession, not a great time to start a company although it was a great time to start a company if you were helping companies execute on the sales front because so many companies needed help. I am not your typical sales consultant, sales expert, as a child I was not a kid that had the paper route at age 10 and then had ten 12 year olds working for them by the time they were 12. I actually was a reluctant salesperson to the point that I quit girl scouts because I loved everything about it except the cookie sale. I could not bring myself to go knock on doors and it wasn’t cookie sale today where you sit out in front of your grocery store, you had to go sell it and it was petrifying to me. For years I felt like a failure so lo and behold, had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated college so I got a job in sales at Procter & Gamble selling cookies.

I was in the food products and pretty much the only part of my day that I actually liked was when I was in my car and I had a long drive because I was in Oklahoma and I had a big geographic territory. I was again petrified of walking in and interrupting a store manager’s day, a warehouse manager’s day. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out what sales is really about, which is helping the other person get what they want and what they need. Doing further deep-dive and analysis, I figured out that there were some mindset things getting in the way of what could have been an incredibly successful and gratifying career but turned into a lot of turmoil for me. That’s really how and why I started Braveheart, to marry the connection between not only selling from a tactical perspective but also from a mindset perspective. We know that there are lots of reasons why people fail in sales and if we can take away some of those barriers, we feel like we can save the world one sales team at a time. That’s a little bit about me and how we got here.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a perfect segue into what we’re going to be talking about. Why don’t you, Gretchen, talk to us a little bit about what it means to have a mindset that can sabotage you or your career?

Gretchen Gordon: What we find from analysis on hundreds of thousands of salespeople is that too often managers, leaders, training companies focus on the tactical elements and basically teach salespeople to say and do certain things. “Say this, do this, when you get a question, when you get an objection this is how you’re supposed to handle it.” That’s all great, you have to have that. You have to have the, “What do we say in these situations?” but more often than not, salespeople’s motives, beliefs, their childhood, their upbringing cause them to feel – to use a technical term – icky about saying certain things [laughs]. They sometimes feel like they’re too salesy or too pushy or, “That just doesn’t sound natural to me.” What we found is that success in sales is really tremendously dependent on someone’s mindset and that can be changed. Do you mind if I show just a few stats about salespeople?

Gina Stracuzzi: Not at all, please.

Gretchen Gordon: Here are some specific things that we would lump into the category of sales mindset and this is on a database of almost 600,000 salespeople from all walks of life, transactional to highly consultative enterprise sales, everything in between. One of the things that we know is that 61% of salespeople have a need for approval, they need to be liked more than they need to close the business and that’s what was going on with me when I was a girl scout and felt very uncomfortable knocking on the door and asking home owners, I might be interrupting their dinner, I needed them to like me. I was too focused on me, not focused on them enough and that’s also what happened when I was at Procter & Gamble.

We know now from data that we can collect that 61% of all salespeople have a need for approval. 62% don’t control their emotions during a sales conversation, what I mean by that is they make too many assumptions or they are thinking about what they’re going to say next, or they’ve got a bunch of thoughts rolling around in their head. You know the thought bubble can go faster, we think faster than we speak or than the rate of the conversation. What happens is salespeople have a tendency to get caught up in what they’re thinking as opposed to being laser-focused on their prospect or customer. 62% are not really comfortable discussing money so you might say, “That’s okay” but what ends up happening is that salespeople avoid the money conversation or the pricing conversation or even maybe the “budget” conversation until they produce the proposal. They hope that the proposal with this price will be fine, when we shove that proposal across the table or we email it to them,  we hope that the prospect says yes to it because we feel uncomfortable finding out about the real impact, the quantifying of our services. It can cause salespeople to spend a lot of wasted time with the wrong prospects.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s me in the beginning of my sales career, every one of those [laughs].

Gretchen Gordon: It’s not like you just maybe have one of them, you can have a bunch of them and also, people don’t always understand this until we explain it a little bit better but a lot of people in general have negativity around their own purchase habits. What I mean by that is the way they make purchases might be detrimental to getting their prospects and customers to make decisions. What I mean by that is if a salesperson is someone who likes to do a lot of research, checks consumer reports, got to get the best deal, has to really take a long time to make a decision on something of size, when their prospect or customer says, “I need to think it over” or, “I need to get three quotes” or, “I need to compare”, whatever they say to put you off, the salesperson who is a comparison shopper has a tendency to think, “That’s prudent, of course they would, this is a big purchase, they need to think it over.” Some of the time that’s true and some of the time the prospect is just trying to put them off or stall them or hope they’ll go away so the salesperson doesn’t really dig down and they again spend too much time with the wrong prospects. It gets in their way of success, actually.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a very interesting one, the first three I can see.

Gretchen Gordon: Yes, that one’s a little different but a huge percentage and it’s actually incredibly detrimental to salespeople’s success. The last one I want to talk about is beliefs, we have these things called self-limiting beliefs in life, “I’ll never be a doctor” or, “I could never do that” or, “I’m just lucky that I’ve got a job”, whatever it is. That applies to sales as well and what happens is in conjunction with making too many assumptions, if a salesperson believes that, let’s say, cold calling doesn’t work, they’re going to have this self-fulfilling prophecy around it. Cold calling doesn’t work because they don’t want to do it, maybe it’s a necessary evil potentially but maybe they don’t want to do it. If their real belief is that it doesn’t work then when they do it, they’re maybe not very good at it so then they go, “See? I was right, it doesn’t work.” It’s that self-fulfilling prophecy and salespeople, we know 88% of them have some level of self-limiting sales belief which from the get-go hold them back from being successful. It could even be things like if they’re doing business with XYZ company, “I won’t be able to win the business so then why bother calling them?

Why bother in trying to get an appointment? Because I’m never going to close business with them” and it can be incredibly detrimental. We actually know the most common sales self-limiting beliefs we see are these four right here. “I need to educate my prospects” and you know what that turns into, a spray and pray, we just tell them how great we are and why they need to do business with us. The whole adage, you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason so we need to use our ears a little bit more. Instead of educating – which is code word for telling – we need to ask. I don’t have any data on this with regard to men versus women but I feel like sometimes women have to project that they are smart and that they know as much as their male counterparts do, so they feel that turns into telling more. In reality, if they could just use their talents to ask better questions they’ll have greater success and they’ll honestly look smarter. If you ask thought-provoking, more robust questions of prospects or customers, you will be placed in a higher position as an advisor. You don’t have to come in and be the one that tells people what to  do, it’s better to ask from an informed position. That’s a big one.

Another one is prospects are honest. You know how a prospect is lying, right?

Gina Stracuzzi: No, I feel a joke coming on [laughs].

Gretchen Gordon: Yeah, their lips are moving [laughs]. That’s the whole phrase, “buyers are liars” and all that kind of stuff. Here’s the thing, most prospects aren’t intentionally misleading, don’t intend to fib or lie to salespeople. Some do as sport but most don’t, what salespeople believe is that they’re being told the truth because they want to believe that it’s the truth, they want to believe that the prospect likes what they have to offer so they get in that mindset of, “He liked it, of course he’s going to buy, he just needs to talk to his business partner about it or he just needs to get another proposal but he really liked it, we really connected, of course he’s going to buy from us.” I had a revelation about a week ago and I actually wrote an article, I wrote a blog about it last week that wagering on in particular college football is similar to sales. I did not ever think about this but it’s completely logical.

People place bets on the outcome that they want and a guy on TV, Bear from ESPN’s College Gameday said that and I think it was profound. It’s the same thing with salespeople, we put a lot of time and energy and sometimes money and sacrifice into a prospect so we want to believe that they’re going to buy from us, therefore we want to believe them when they say, “I need to get multiple proposals” or, “This looks really good but I can’t do it right now, can you come back to me in two months?” And we’re just like little puppy dogs and we do that. We have to smash through that and be a bit more skeptical, that’s the cure for being too believing of what our prospects say and again, it’s a lot about asking better and more questions.

Gina Stracuzzi: I would imagine that it takes the pressure off if you already have a lot of these mindsets, if you believe them then you don’t have to face the fact that this isn’t going anywhere. It’s just easier to believe and keep on with some of those other statistics that you showed us and that particular mindset. This is like looking in the mirror about 20 years ago when I was selling, every one of these things was true. I could have used you back then, Gretchen.

Gretchen Gordon: Here’s the thing, it’s like holding a mirror up to yourself, you’re like, “Of course they’re being nice to me” and if it’s coupled with, “I need approval” then, “Whatever the prospect said to me made me believe that they like what I have to offer and I’m not going to challenge them because that might offend them. I want them to like me.” It’s this vicious cycle. The other thing is – and you hit on this, Gina – if we are believing what our prospects are telling us all the time, it’s that whole trust but verify, salespeople have a tendency to trust and they just get their happy ears on and they believe what they want to believe.

We don’t verify, “What do you mean by that? What’s going to happen between now and two months from now?” You don’t have to be really aggressive about it but you can say, “I understand that, some other people tell me that but frequently they don’t end up buying, so are you just trying to be nice and you just don’t want to tell me no?” We have to solicit the no. What I find which you were talking about, Gina is that salespeople who believe that prospects are honest, it is easier. It’s kind of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know so I’ve got this big full pipeline of opportunities and if this person says no to me, that means I go to go find something else and it’s hard to go prospect and find something else. We have to quit kidding ourselves that everything that someone tells us is the truth and cut to the chase a little bit more and ask more hard-hitting questions.

Connected to that is, “Prospects that think it over will eventually buy from me.” These are four of the most common self-limiting beliefs that we see in sales teams, that’s a close cousin to prospects are honest. “This is really good stuff, let me think it over and get back to me in two months.” We want to believe that they’re telling us the truth but the reality is that if we fail to create that sense of urgency in the customer’s mind then we’ve probably already lost the deal. Sometimes there are very specific reasons, “This has to happen and then this has to happen before we can close the business with them or before they can spend money with us.” But more often than not, it’s just that we’re wanting to believe that they’re going to buy from us if we just give them the time that they need. Unfortunately, a lot of salespeople are actually uncomfortable talking with prospects about their finances and this goes into that being uncomfortable discussion money and having money issues, that kind of thing. It’s a very deep-seeded thought process.

If you think about it, when you were a child sitting at the dinner table and you were saying, “Mr. Jones must make a lot of money because they have a huge house. I was over at Dave’s house today and they have everything, they’ve got all these cool electronics. How much money do you make, dad? How much money do you make, mom?” Then the parents would say, “That’s a private matter, we don’t talk about money at the dinner table” and that kind of thing. It’s not a flaw in the individual salesperson, it is deep-seeded and pounded into us from an early age that money is a private matter. So it’s not surprising that we graduate, we get a job in sales and all of a sudden we’re supposed to be asking about “budgets” and we’re supposed to be talking about the quantitative impact about what our services offer. That can feel pretty uncomfortable for someone who has grown up believing that money is a private matter. The cure is process, follow a system of when do I ask questions, how do I ask them? And really being focused on solving business issues, not just trying to push a product or a service.

Gina Stracuzzi: We have a question from Samantha and she wants to know if these limiting beliefs are more prevalent right now and in people that maybe didn’t necessarily adopt these previously.

Gretchen Gordon: That’s a great question. What we know is that in times of stress, we fall into the fight or flight mentality. We can’t help it, it’s a physiological reaction to stress just like if the dinosaur was chasing us when we were cave people. When we’re under stress, we’re nervous that we’re not going to close another piece of business this year, we’re nervous that our company is struggling, we’re concerned about what’s going on in the world, every customer or prospective customer that we talk to is not spending money right now. Our stress level goes up and #1, we aren’t able to function as well from a brain perspective. Our neurological reaction is that the brain is not as clear because the blood flows from all extremities so that we can either fight or we can run away, it’s just a basic response. What happens is therefore our brain is not functioning as well either so we’re more concerned, worried even about the future. It’s hard for us to stay in the moment and it’s harder for us to conduct thoughtful, regimented sales conversations because of what’s going on in the world today and fear over what might happen in the future.

That’s a great question and the way to get over it is to spend even more time preparing. Preparing for the call but preparing in such a way that you are really well conditioned to be able to conduct the sales conversation even if that other party says something that throws you for a loop. Preparing what are you going to say when they say, “I can’t do anything for 6 months, we’re laying off people” or whatever the negative things are. What we have to do is wipe the slate clean every time we finish a sales conversation and start fresh. Instead of taking that baggage with us from that last sales conversation we had where they said no or they didn’t say no but they said not now and we’re worried about our pocket book and our commissions and things like that, we have to, with everything in our power, not carry what happened in a prior sales conversation forward. That means having a repeatable process to plan your sales conversations, plan the objections that you might face, plan how you’re going to deal with those objections and above all else, you have to be focused on what matters for the customer. What is the value that you bring? The more that you can stay focused on the customer and the value you bring, your products, your services, different way of doing things, the better you can make their life, the less frustrating you can make it for them… Remember, they’re worried too about the future so what can you do with your products and services to help them reduce their stress? That would be welcomed by most customers and prospects. Great question, I appreciate, Samantha, you asking that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Barbara has a question and it goes to one I was wondering about and you started to hit on it a little bit. That’s the difference between how men and women face mindset issues. Barbara’s take on it is, “With so many mothers facing child teaching issues in their house, are you finding that more women are now facing mindset issues than men?”

Gretchen Gordon: That’s a great question. I don’t have specific data on it because we don’t collect it by gender. Anecdotally, I would say that if more often than not we have two parents working and it seems to be still that women take on a bit more of the burden of the child rearing, if they do that and now they’re also homeschooling, they’re doing everything, there’s probably two things going on. One is absolutely mindset but I think we can’t discount the impact of being pressed for time and what that does to our mindset. It’s super easy to say, “Be very planned out about your sales conversations” and I know you’re doing them all via Zoom or whatever. All plans are, “I’m going to have this 45 minute call with a prospect and then at the end of that I’ve got to make lunch for my kids and then get them on their next Zoom”, there’s any variety of those things going on. What happens is the prospect is 10 minutes late and then the prospect takes you down a path that you weren’t really planning on going on this call and then you’re rushed. Then you’re going back to spray and pray, you’ve got to get it in because, “I’m looking at my watch and I’ve got to be done at this particular time because I’ve got to get my kids fed before I do that.”

All of that absolutely does flow into mindset so to the extent you can give yourself a little bit of cushion, to the extent you cannot plan your day back to back, you won’t have as much stress about, “I’ve got to wrap up this call and get onto the next one.” What happens is if you’re just trying to wrap up a sales conversation because you’ve got to get onto the next one and you’re trying to wrap it up because you’ve got to go do something else, we have a tendency to take the prospect at face value, “They’re not interested, I did the call, I’m moving onto the next thing.” It’s a vicious cycle because then we’re not closing as much business so then we feel like we’ve got to pack more sales activities into our day and then we’re rushed again and we’re up against the clock all the time. I don’t have specific data about heaping on more on women versus men, our history has been that we take more of the burden so if you’re doing that and you’re still trying to sell, you need to put some boundaries in place and maybe have what they call margin in between your sales conversations and moving from one thing to the next. Women tend to be better multi-taskers which is not necessarily a good thing when you’re trying to stay in the moment and not let your mind get in the way.

Gina Stracuzzi: Cindy says she’s a sales manager and she’s witnessed some of these self-limiting beliefs in a couple of her salespeople. “What should I do about it?”

Gretchen Gordon: I won’t say that it’s easy but there’s really two specific things you can do as a sales leader, sales manager. “Prospects are honest” is one of my complete favorites because so many people are afflicted with that, you’ll know that your salespeople are falling victim to this if you ask them how the meeting went, how the call went and, “It was really great, we really connected, they loved what we had to say.” Then when you ask them a question about what’s the agreed-upon next step, they can’t answer it. “I’m supposed to call them back in a couple months” or, “We didn’t set a time but they’re really interested.” If you’re witnessing any of that, what you need to do is first of all, planning it out more than not. You can actually implement a game or a contest around a salesperson asking one or two more questions.

When the prospect says something positive, have them ask more qualifying questions about that. “This looks really great, I love what you guys do”, and then the salesperson needs to ask, “Do you love it enough that you’re ready to go?” or, “What do you mean by that?” and really get to the meat of it, don’t just sit on the surface. That’s one thing and obviously it’s self-regulated but maybe if you’ve got salespeople and you’re witnessing this kind of behavior maybe just incent them to say, “Let’s have a little contest. For the next week or two weeks, every sales conversation you have, I want you to ask two more questions.” One could be, “Tell me more about that” – that’s not really a question, but you know what I mean – and one could be, “I’m not sure I understand completely.” Get them to dig down deeper so that they find out what’s really going on. Then they can just keep a little marks and you can say, “How many extra questions did you ask when the prospect gave you some feedback?”

The other thing you can do from a self-limiting belief perspective is really drill down and reformat those beliefs. If we just stick with the same one, “Prospects are honest”, instead of letting a salesperson believe that prospects are honest, how about if we change that and say, “Prospects don’t intend to lie but they sometimes don’t tell the truth because they don’t want to hurt my feelings, so I need to ask more questions to get to the real truth.” It’s those types of things, reformatting the behavior and then you can implement some games and contests around it. If you’re noticing that we’re not getting the truth about budgets and whether or not the prospect can buy, you just need to map out the process until the person is able to change their own self-limiting beliefs about things.

Get them to follow a very defined process, “Ask these types of questions to find out how compelling the need for your services is from the prospect. Then ask questions that would relate to return on investment and how the customer might value what it is that you do or what the impact is of not doing something, what’s the negative financial impact of not doing something. Then find out about who’s going to be involved in decision making, how are they going to make decisions, how have they done things in the past?” If you could just put buckets in place and say, “What questions are you going to ask around these?” it will help a person who has a tendency to get caught up in their own head to follow a process instead of getting caught up in their own head.

Then as you’re dissecting the pipeline of opportunities, you need to be asking salespeople what is the agreed upon next step with a date, with a time, not, “I’m just going to call them back” or, “I’m just going to visit them the next time I’m in town.” It’s got to be agreed upon by the prospect and that will help in a lot of ways, actually, flush out the fluffy pipeline and get people focused on making sure that they’re asking enough questions during the sales conversation. Those are maybe a couple things that you can do.

Gina Stracuzzi: Cindy has a follow-up question, she wonders if you know of or have any kind of non-threatening tests that you can give your sales teams to check on their mindset.

Gretchen Gordon: Non-threatening? [Laughs]

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s not like, “Take this and I’m going to decide if I’m going to keep you.”

Gretchen Gordon: We make heavy use of a sales specific battery of tools specifically designed to identify not only selling competencies but also mindset issues and willingness to do things. We use it with all of our clients when we’re designing training and development programs or when we’re helping them hire the right salespeople that don’t have the issues that might sabotage their success. It’s produced by Objective Management Group, it’s the originals and really it’s the #1 ranked sales battery of assessment tools on the market, has been for every year since I think 2011. We use it with all of our teams. I wouldn’t say it’s not non-threatening, it is designed to evaluate individuals’ point in time with regards to their selling competencies, their sales mindset and their willingness to do what’s necessary to be successful in sales. It’s really all about sales so if you present it in the right way, it’s designed to uncover what the upside potential is of an existing sales team, for instance. It’s really not designed to say, “Fire”, “Don’t fire”, it’s designed to say how much more effective your team of people can be.

Gina Stracuzzi: Can you leave us with some easy-to-implement ways to maybe look in the mirror and self-assess? Or if you’re like me and of course, now my game changed over time more out of necessity than realization of what I was doing but if somebody knows that they’re inside some of these mindset traps, what can they do to drag themselves out?

Gretchen Gordon: It’s not one silver bullet. I would say being reflective instead of just doing what an individual’s always done. “This is how I conduct a sales call and this is what happens, I close some, I don’t.” Taking a few minutes afterwards and really dissecting, “What did I do really well?” You will feel it creep up if you know that you’re supposed to say something or ask something and you don’t do it because it feels uncomfortable or you’re nervous about how the other party is going to take it. Just tune in and pay attention to that and then maybe make a plan for, “What am I going to say the next time? I know that I’m supposed to say something or ask a question and I don’t do it.” Plan that out, one of the biggest motivators can be, “How much money did I lose in commission because I didn’t close that piece of business because my mind got in the way?” Pin that up at your desk and vow never to let that happen again.

Behavior management is more important than just results, so if you’re a manager make sure that you’re managing behaviors. If you’re a salesperson, make sure that you’re managing behaviors. What I mean by behaviors, it’s everything from activities to how I’m conducting the sales conversation. Get focused on goal setting, personal goals, that can drive you. We know that salespeople that have a personal goal setting plan, not just, “The company said I got to sell this much” but, “What do I want out of life and how does this sales job relate to that?” are far more effective fighting through some of these otherwise difficult hurdles to overcome. Make sure that you’re doing customer call planning and debriefing. If you don’t have a manager that is frequently available to do that, partner up with a friend but have an accountability partner to help you change your behaviors. Then make sure that you’re well-practiced on how to overcome objections. What are you going to say? How are you going to react when objections occur?

I think that’s a very tactical plan of attack that people can implement if they’re noticing, but the first is you’ve got to tune into yourself.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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