A chance encounter with Helen Kensett at a recent conference reminded me about her 2016 sales book. I’ve reviewed several books on selling (see the list below) and this one is different as, rather than focusing on the stages in the sales process, it provides pragmatic tips to help. It develops your understanding of the psychology of selling to help create a sales mindset. It’s beautifully illustrated. Whilst not specific to the professions, I like the book and really value some of the practical ideas and exercises it includes. Book review: Sales Mind – 48 tools to help you sell by Helen Kensett.
About the author – Helen Kensett
Helen is an experienced sales expert who has advised companies like Channel 4, Google, Ogilvy, The Telegraph and KPMG. Like me, she has a keen interest in psychology and she frequently quotes cognitive psychology and neuroscience findings to support her insightful tools and tips.
This simply but powerfully illustrated little black book comprises 260 pages. But don’t be fooled by its brevity. Each page is packed with insights and ideas. Which are backed up with scientific evidence. And illustrated with interesting examples and exercises so you can attempt to implement them.
A short review can’t do justice to the wealth of ideas in this book – there are simply too many. The illustrations give an illusion of the contents being light weight and flighty, but they are anything but.
Contents and key ideas
The book contains 48 tools which I don’t have space to review in detail. They are organised into sections:
The seller mind shift
To think: Synthesising your sell
To think: Communicating your sell
Closing the sale
The author considers the difference between using our innate natural selling skills compared to learned techniques. She acknowledges that we are all facing an overwhelming volume of information. And that technology is making some jobs obsolete. Our buyers’ reality is a constantly changing flux. We need to use three uniquely mental skills: to see, to think and to improve. (These themes are explored further in The Human Edge – How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers (kimtasso.com))
How buyers feel and think
There’s an introduction to neuroscience and how the brain has developed. And she shares a model of our brain comprising The Feeler (the early primitive and unconscious parts allowing us to react to the environment) and The Thinker (the modern connected conscious). This equates to the ideas of system 1 (fast thinking) and system 2 (slow thinking) of Daniel Kahneman.
The Thinker is also split into left brain analytical depth and focus and the right brain big picture and visual perception. She explains that our buyers’ brains are overloaded with information and their time for salespeople is shrinking. She says we need to rediscover mindful attention.
Shifting the sellers’ mindset
To switch on our minds we must focus. Figure out our priorities to move from seeing everything and noticing nothing to becoming “exquisitely alert” and mindful.
She offers four tools to get your brain into seller mind shift:
strengthen the mind (she suggests colouring in to practice focus)
detox the mind by creating periods of unplugged productivity (breaking your day into 90 minute chunks)
load the mind (use soft background noise) and
focus on a pen and ask questions (“Questions are at the heart of selling”).
Selling tools: Active Buyer Impression (ABI) and Passive Buyer Impression (PBI)
Once your mind is ready, the next tools help you see your buyer’s reality: “Lack of enough or the right knowledge is one of the biggest seller deficiencies”.
She suggests that there are three or four challenges for every buyer you can identify at any one time. She suggests creating an Active Byer Impression (ABI) which is clear picture of your buyer’s reality – combining the big picture and collection of details about the customer’s day-to-day experience. There are eight questions to help you build an organisational ABI:
What is their central goal?
What are their secondary goals?
What are their future market trends?
What are their market challenges?
What is their current scenario?
What are their preconceived ideas?
What are their anxieties in buying your product?
What are their finite resources?
Once you’ve identified the organisational drivers, she suggests you move onto your ABI Personal – to understand the personal goals of the individuals involved. These are divided into groups:
Purpose (what are they trying to achieve? Creative ownership, actualisation)
Pleasure (financial gain, personal praise)
Progress (getting better at something, improving skills, moving forward with a project)
Then there’s advice on recognising your buyer’s psychology. Understand how and why they make decisions. Identify emotional hot buttons. To do this the author suggests creating a Passive Buyer Impression (PBI). This helps explore the impression you are giving your buyer:
Likeability (do they like you?)
Simplicity (is your pitch simple?)
Familiarity (are you familiar?)
Authority (are you an authority?)
Urgency (are you making it crucial?)
Accessibility (are you accessible?)
Quick win (can the buyer see a quick win/gain?)
Reciprocity (does the buyer owe you something?)
Social pressure (are you already working with people like your buyer?)
She advocates that the start of each meeting is for knowledge collection mode – asking lots of simple questions (What and Why). She mentions Nassim Taleb of Black Swan fame (his 10 principles are listed here: Be more strategic – Strategy in a post-Covid19 world (kimtasso.com)) who argues that a single outlier observation can have an inordinately large impact.
She references Adam Morgan’s “The Pirate Inside” when technical and salespeople work together collaboratively in sales situations (this resonates with professional services firms) using collective and customer intelligence.
It helps with developing the value proposition by considering three buckets:
How your service is the same as competitors?
How it is better than competitors?
In what ways is it (or will be) game changing?
Synthesizing and communicating your sell
“In any sales scenario, to think is to spot patterns in the information”. We have access to so much information that sifting and synthesising to find the nuggets becomes a challenge.
The author suggests you use a bow tie – where you use the left-hand triangle of a bow tie to write down facts about your buyer’s reality (goals, challenges, future trends) and in the right hand triangle write about you (your offer, the benefits). In the middle of the bow tie note what correlates between the buyer and your offer. This is about developing a value proposition and Malcolm McDonald wrote a whole book on this topic Malcolm McDonald on value propositions – How to develop them (kimtasso.com)
She encourages you to simplify things (referencing thin-slicing – the observation that we make snap judgements based on only narrow windows of experience by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal). There’s a fair amount of guidance on storytelling principles. Video – The art of storytelling – Kim Tasso explains Your sell is your “hook” (a story to guarantee maximum resonance with your intended recipient) and must differentiate you.
The stretch is a device to shift the hook to being about a more specific product feature on the periphery. All these ideas are backed up with examples. Other tools here include the magnify, incremental gains and point of view (by reference to material which is the foundation for the Challenger sale).
She explores persuasive language ideas such as use of metaphor and adjectives. There’s a “do, doing, done” approach to writing emails. And insights into killer subject lines for emails and the shift to messaging and social media. She also talks of the importance of answering “What’s in it for me?” questions and using emotion.
She suggests dividing the sell into three steps and to draw it as a diagram (current scenario, how you help, improved scenario) that creates the impression of progress.
It’s rare to have 100% sales success. She encourages you to recognize, embrace and learn from mistakes. She urges you to shift from outcome orientation to a process orientation (which is the opposite of what is advocated in change management programmes).
I liked her 3P tool for creative minds – Prepare, Play, Ponder. She outlines various creativity tools including: The spider brief to break down large creative projects into manageable chunks, the third space, walking and “look up”.
Closing the sale
Finally, the advice moves to closing the sale. Here the author provides the ladder – 10 steps that need to be considered from the outset.
Recognise – from the beginning of any new prospect relationship, be alert to what will generate the close
Think big picture – consider where your solution fits into the big picture of the organisation’s overall goals
Pre-empt the challenges – Anticipate fears in the relationship
Don’t be IKEA – Nobody wants to invest in a product that will add to their workload
Share-ability – Communications must be clear and comprehensive for when they are shared with other decision-makers
Taste it – Offer trials and demos so customers can “try before they buy”
Little yeses – Seek agreement to move forward at every occasion
Say it, Do it – Be reliable. Fulfil your promises
Agitate, don’t irritate – Create a sense of urgency, but don’t push
The High Road – Don’t get dragged down by small set backs such as a lack of response
Some interesting snippets
Research from Harvard suggests we spend as much as 50 per cent of our day mind-wandering (our resting state)
According to psychologist George Miller, chunking is the process your brain carries out so you keep mental control over lots of information. As experts we create blocks of information about our services which are abstract and mean little to the buyers. So we need to dechunk – opening up what you do, splitting it apart, slicing away the layers and stripping it back to the core elements
A third of our brain’s functionality is dedicated to sight
The picture superiority effect – We are six times more likely to remember a picture rather than words 72 hours later
We feel more comfortable following a straight path than one with dips, setbacks and hurdles. Ellen Langer calls this our ingrained “outcome orientation”. (I like to stress that the journey is more important than the destination!)
You can think of the ideal sales journey as shaped like a shark’s teeth with highs and lows along the process (success, setback, recover, learn, proceed)
“Some sales and marketing focused organisations using observational technologies are placing far too much emphasis on this data, too concerned with the facts and not enough with learning from them to deliver game-changing ideas”
In Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardener describes the creating mind as “able to see beyond existing knowledge and synthesis to pose new questions, offer new solutions, fashion works that stretch existing genres or configure new ones”
Defining home as the “first place” and the workplace as “second place”, social psychologist Ray Oldenburg talks about the idea of a “third place” where you can escape overly familiar surroundings and broaden your social experiences
Recent research has shown that walking can increase creative thought by up to 60% (Geoff Nicholson)
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