Occasionally, at a seminar or training program, I’ll overhear one salesperson mention this to another — “ I have my own style of selling.”

From my perspective, that idea is more detrimental to that salesperson’s success than almost any other. Not only that, but that idea holds down entire sales forces, renders sales management impotent, and dissipates the sales team’s potential. Of all the ideas that detract from sales performance, this is the most malignant.

Don’t ignore best practices

Here’s why. In the profession of sales, just like in every other profession, there is a set of best practices — specific things to do, behaviors and processes that are proven to produce results. (see my article, Best Practices for Salespeople, for more details at www.davekahle.com.)

“Planning for every sales call,” for example, is a best practice. Those salespeople who adhere to that discipline achieve better results than those who don’t.

That’s an easy example.

The truth is, though, that there are literally dozens of best practices, impacting every aspect of the sales process. There are proven ways to identify your highest potential prospects, to approach a prospect, to uncover opportunities, to present your solutions, to acquire agreement, and to leverage that transaction into greater opportunities.

The world is full of sales trainers who make a living teaching some of these practices. And, professional salespeople make it a quest to continually seek the best practices, and to inject them into their routines, turning them into habits.

Here’s the problem.

When a salesperson believes that he/she “has his own style of selling,” they are negating the entire concept of best practices and discounting the past 70 years of development of the sales profession. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, it doesn’t matter what practices the vast weight of professional judgment reinforces, it doesn’t matter what behaviors research identifies as effective — the only thing that matters is “my style.”

How can anyone teach you anything as long as you have “your style?”

While I occasionally hear that in my seminars, I’m convinced that the salespeople who really believe it are the ones who don’t show up at the seminars. Why bother? They have their own style.

Avoiding accountability

I suspect that, in many cases, there is something deeper going on. I suspect that those salespeople who maintain that they have their “own style” are really hiding a more profound situation. Maintaining that you have “your own style,” is a way of avoiding scrutiny and sliding out from under accountability

How can anyone teach you anything? How can anyone coach you? How can anyone question anything that you do? That’s the issue!

I believe that many salespeople who maintain they have their own style are really, at the heart, insecure about their performance. They may understand that they aren’t really suited to selling, and they are insecure and uncomfortable with what they do. So, to avoid scrutiny, to escape being accountable for their actions, they hide under the cloud of “their own style.”

“Their own style,” is then, in many cases, the hiding place of the mediocre. Salespeople who announce it, sales managers who allow it, and sales executives who tolerate it are severely limiting the performance of their sales teams.

The two most important decisions a salesperson makes

It’s 10 a.m. Tuesday, and you are about to visit one of your customers. Why are you here? That’s the question I have asked innumerable distributor salespeople. Unfortunately, the answer too commonly is, “ Because it’s Tuesday at 10.”

In other words, the salespeople who answered in that way had not stopped to consider whether or not this call was potentially worthwhile, and certainly had not entertained the notion that it might not be a worthwhile investment of their sales time.

That is a shame. They have squandered their most valuable resource — sales time — by abdicating their greatest responsibility.

“Sales time” is that portion of a salesperson’s work week wherein they are interacting with their customers and prospects. It can be on the phone, over an interactive webinar, or in person.

It’s the heart of the job, wherein the salesperson exercises all the skills, concepts, practices and tools he/she has acquired over the years. Sales time is when the salesperson expresses the essence of what it means to be a professional salesperson. If it were not for sales time, there would be no salespeople.

Of all the tasks that a salesperson performs on the job, almost all are in preparation for, or in reaction to, sales time. All the results for which salespeople are held accountable accrue as the result of what happens during sales time. Yet, sales time accounts for only about 25% of the typical salesperson’s work week.

That makes the decision as to how to invest sales time one of the most important decisions that a salesperson makes.

Specifically, the decision about investing sales time takes the form of these two questions, the two most important questions a salesperson asks; the key to a salesperson’s effectiveness:

Who should I see?

What should I do?

Those two decisions are not made once and then assigned to a file. Rather, they are made over and over again every day, multiple times in the course of that day. In the long run, the salespeople who make those decisions well will sell more, earn more, be more fulfilled, and have more fun than those who don’t make those decisions.

Make the wrong decisions, and you find your sales time squandered on prospects and customers who aren’t worth the time. Make the right decisions, and you find your sales time invested where it will bring you the greatest return on investment.

Three obstacles to smart time management

Why don’t all salespeople make these decisions effectively? Here are three common obstacles.

1. Great relationships with customers

This is the crutch of the mediocre salesperson, and the rationale proposed to excuse all kinds of ineffective sales behaviors. Here’s the way this works: A salesperson, new in the territory, naturally gravitates to those customers who are “nice people,” those customers who are agreeable and amenable to spending time with the salesperson. Eventually, the salesperson spends more and more time with those people who he/she perceives “like” him.

Instead of making strategic decisions about the best place to invest sales time, the salesperson allows his existing relationships to overwhelm his strategic responsibility.

What should I do?

Who should I see?

The answer for the salesperson who claims great relationships with his customers is too often I’ll go see those people who I think like me.

2. Habits/routines

This is the hiding place of the salespeople who are too lazy or untrained to mindfully and thoughtfully answer the two questions. Over the years, they develop habits and routines, and allow them to overwhelm the responsibility for making good decisions. They simple don’t think about it.

Is this the best way to organize my

Should I be seeing these people this frequently?

Are there prospects out there upon whom I should be calling?

Is my sales time most effectively invested this week?

The salespeople who are ruled by thoughtless routines have no answer for these questions, because they have never asked themselves the questions.

Their sales time is squandered, the decisions about it swept under the rug and hidden from view.

3. Self image

Some salespeople are hindered from making effective decisions about the investment of their sales time by their own views of themselves. Where it may be far more effective to call on a production engineer, for example, the salesperson who is hindered by his self image may just not be comfortable calling on anyone other than the machine operators. While this hesitancy to call on decision makers who are older, more accomplished and more educated than the salesperson is the most common expression of this obstacle, the opposite can also be true. This is the salesperson who has such an inflated view of himself that he won’t call on the operators, handlers and end users of the products he sells because he believes that to be beneath him.

Regardless, this obstacle raises up to block the roadway of the salesperson who knows it is more effective to call on some other class of customer, but whose image of himself just doesn’t allow him to see himself as successful in those encounters.

In my three-plus decades of selling experience and 21 years of working with tens of thousands of salespeople, I have found that few salespeople are ineffective because they are totally incompetent in conversation with a customer. Most are far less effective than they could be because they fail to make these two decisions consistently well.

On the other hand, those handful of salespeople who are the superstars are often obsessed with the need to make these decisions well.

Making these two decisions well, consistently, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year after year, is often the most important difference between the accomplished, professional and productive salespeople, and those who are not.