Sales Lessons From the Hundred Acre Wood
Whether a galaxy far, far away or the Hundred Acre Wood, the fictional world can be as real as our own.
For generations of children, the Winnie-the-Pooh stories feature adorable, anthropomorphic animals. Since 2000, however, many mental health professionals see the characters as distinct, very adult, disorders. Although this read can be controversial, it is also helpful. In many cases, there’s more to children’s literature than children could or should ever know.
To salespeople, the Pooh stories can be instructive. In addition to disorders, the characters can represent pitfalls sellers should avoid. Without dismissing the complexities of the psychological read, here’s how our favorite characters relate to our beloved profession:
Obsessed with honey, Pooh is seen to represent an eating disorder. While we all have our favorite foods, Pooh’s love of honey causes trouble. And it’s not just eating but procuring and possessing. For example, Pooh fears the woozles and heffalumps will steal his honey. As a result, he proactively looks to steal theirs.
In sales, this recalls sellers who stick to a single strategy. Of course, sellers always revert to what has worked before. With most clients, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Yet, in an ever-changing sales environment, our tried-and-true processes may not yield winning results. Here’s how to avoid fixating on a sales habit:
- Vary your approach
- Mix and match
- Think outside the box
- Consult sales colleagues or managers
In today’s uncertain times, buyers and sellers face numerous challenges. This was best illustrated in the pandemic. Both buyers and sellers were forced to adjust. This meant updating and adapting their skills and behaviors. At the same time, they needed to learn new things, such as the tools of virtual selling.
Today, the internet has revitalized sales approaches. Some of the most popular include:
- Social selling, in which sellers employ social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, to research and connect with prospects
- Value-added selling, in which sellers move beyond cost-centric transactions to provide additional long-term value
- Relationship selling, when sellers personally connect with prospects and clients to create the bonds that uncover needs
- Consultative selling, where salespeople become trusted advisors, consulting with clients on all aspects of their business
While all approaches will not suit all clients, each presents options. Instead of falling back on one, sellers should select the best aspects of each. They should then tailor these to the client’s individual needs.
To avoid fixating on a singular sales approach, sellers must become proactive problem solvers. As deals become increasingly complex, with longer cycles and more decision makers, sellers must think outside the box. More than innovative products, buyers need innovative solutions to align disparate needs and decision makers. This necessitates consulting managers and colleagues on new approaches for old and new challenges.
Although young, Piglet is a nervous character. In addition to timidity, he stutters, fears darkness, and distrusts woozles and bees, creatures he’s never seen. In addition, he anticipates failure, as when he considers feigning a headache to avoid chasing heffalumps. For children, he is as cute as he is helpless. For adults, he represents general anxiety disorder.
For salespeople, fear can manifest in numerous ways, including:
- Not meeting quota
- Not knowing the answer
- Getting rejected
- Requesting an order
In sales, quota is a necessary evil. To achieve goals, sellers must know their targets. This keeps everyone productive and accountable. However, by itself, quota is a number. Viewed this way, it can loom like a phantom, haunting every call.
To alleviate this fear, concentrate on productivity over production. Faced with a list of 30 prospects, 30 calls might seem an accomplishment. However, if none of these calls nets a positive result, it’s activity, not productivity. Keep an eye on your quota. But so long as you’re engaging clients and putting in the right level of activity, the numbers usually follow.
Inexperienced sellers often think ignorance is failure. In truth, the opposite is true. Not knowing something is an opportunity to learn. This can be a great thing for you and your client. Top sellers don’t have to be the walking Google of sales. There are far too many clients, industries, and situations to be an all-knowing anything. Rather, the best sellers know to be forthright about what they know (and don’t know). And they know where to find the answer.
Rejection is another unfortunate fact of selling that inspires fear. However, in one of the oldest professions, no one has closed every deal they opened. Instead, win more than you lose. And winning big negates multiple failures. Simply, a no is not a loss. There are levels of rejection. A sincere sorry now can pay off later. Maybe it’s a difficult decision maker or the uncertain economy. But never take rejection personally.
In addition, requesting an order can trigger fear. This stems from insecurity. So long as sellers don’t hear a no, hope springs eternal. Therefore, sellers will avoid asking, However, this is a false assumption. After conducting your research, following your process, and presenting your best deal, it’s time to move forward.
From blindly tasting unknown substances to recklessly climbing trees, Tigger is an accident waiting to happen. In his restlessness and impulsivity, he is seen to represent attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. For salespeople, he embodies those who mistake activity for success and do more while accomplishing less.
In sales, this is a common trap. With the endless array of sales goals and quotas, it’s normal to feel we’re not doing enough. However, in sales, the adage to work smarter not harder always applies. To make the most of your time, concentrate on these things:
- Set a schedule
- Make lists
- Focus on clients, not quotas
- Leverage technology and sales tools
Sales is a process-oriented profession. While there’s no way to prepare for every contingency, a schedule keeps you grounded. It’s much easier to approach tasks when you start with a plan.
For example, set a day and time for prospecting. If it’s Tuesdays at 9:00 a.m., be at your desk early, limiting distractions. This means your notifications are off. You’re not taking calls or answering emails. Know you will be unavailable until 11:00 or whatever time you set. Have your research done and your talking points ready.
From prospecting to presenting, focus on the client. Either in person and one-on-one or virtual with multiple VIPs, think one moment, one client. Scattered sellers will miss the cues that get beyond the surface.
Also, check your quota at the door. Of course, it’s a necessary part of any sales environment. And it might keep you up at night. However, when connecting with clients, it’s a dirty, profane word. This is your client. They have names, titles, and specific needs. They are not number 362 on your call list.
Today, sellers have many technological tools at their disposal. These save time and energy. From your CRM to automated dialers and email sequences, ensure tech proficiency. This starts with clean, accurate information and best practices.
One of the Pooh stories’ best-loved characters, Eeyore is hunched, slow, and dour. For many, he is seen as depressed. For example, upon seeing his reflection in the stream, he calls himself “Pathetic.” At the very least, his self-esteem is questionable.
Of course, all salespeople know this feeling, especially after downturns or a last-minute rejection. Also, common sales slumps can trigger an existential crisis, if not just bring us down. To avoid this, sellers must build resilience. This is the ability to bounce back from defeat. Remember these tips:
- Expect a yes
- Embrace the no
- It’s not personal
- Celebrate small victories
- Seek sales coaching and training
Often, success is mind over matter. We conjure wins with our attitude. For example, employ an authentic smile on a cold call. Your prospect may not see it, but they will hear it. This sets the stage for a pleasant and productive call.
In contrast, if you approach prospecting as a chore, it will become one. Buyers encounter countless sales pros. They can differentiate genuine enthusiasm from rote motions. Whether on a call or in email, in person or virtual, attitude is apparent. If you expect a no, the client won’t trust you can help. If you inspire them, their interest will inspire you.
In sales, the work-life balance is tipped. With quotas, bonuses, and incentives, it’s hard to shut down. You can’t always leave it at work. As a result, rejection feels personal. However, with all the reasons buyers say no, it’s hardly ever the seller. It’s the economy, the timing, the accountant in procurement. As most reasons are beyond the seller’s control, it’s not your fault. If it’s not you, it’s not personal.
Often, when engaging prospects and clients, we achieve small victories. These might not lead to deals, but we must recognize them. If you generate interest, that’s a win. If the buyer likes you, that’s another win. Keep these in your pocket and remember them. You can’t predict the future. But you can prepare. Save your small victories for larger payoffs later.
In addition, sales coaching and training can lift a fog. Sometimes, a manager’s belief can make you believe in yourself. Whether it’s a tip, pointer, or past sales story, coaching is a great motivator. Also, sales training can reinforce skills and behaviors or reveal new ways to do things. These can be inspirational and reignite our interest and energy.
Without knowing poor Eeyore’s backstory, it’s tough to understand his malaise. However, the feelings he displays are all too common. This has made him a favorite character of both children and adults. May he inspire a few sales professionals as well.
With his own PTSD, it’s possible A.A. Milne intended the Pooh characters as psychological metaphors. However, stand-ins for salespeople might be a reach. Still, like all great literary characters, they take on a life of their own. In much the same way, they inhabit our lives. Whether it’s psych disorders or sales pitfalls, they become the metaphors we need. No matter how you know the characters, from books, movies, fluffy pillows, or comfy P.J.s, they are always present. Their longevity is a tribute to their sales success. For salespeople, their stories can be cautionary. They show us what to avoid as we pursue our own stories and our own sales success.
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