Granny Shots and Selling Great Ideas

I am a sucker for minority reports. I love anything that questions the conventional wisdom. As soon as everybody starts to think the same way or have the same perspective, I begin to wonder if we’ve got it all wrong.

rickbarryIt’s for this reason that when I heard that one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, was going to be doing a podcast called Revisionist History in which he was going to reinterpret something from the past, I knew I would be in. It’s a 10 part podcast, and my favorite episode has been #3 – The Big Man Can’t Shoot.

The Big Man Can’t Shoot is about taking granny shots – underhanded free throws. They look silly but they are far more effective than overhand shooting from the line. With two notable exceptions – Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain (especially in his 100 point game) – nobody shoots this way. Even though it’s better.

In the podcast, Gladwell talks to a sociologist named Mark Granovetter about the Threshold Model of Collective Behavior. The basic idea is that we are all influenced by the behavior of others, but we have different thresholds at which we’re willing to change our behavior. Some people won’t try something new until everyone else is doing it. Other people are early adopters who’s threshold for change is very low. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.


It’s high thresholds that keep good ideas from catching on. 


In sales, we’re trying to get people to change their behavior, to try something new, to adopt a new idea. It might be a new brand or a new strategy or a new system. For us to be effective, we need to figure out the threshold for change that our buyers have.

Some buyers have a low threshold. They want to be innovative. Appeal to how you can put them on the cutting edge, far outpacing their competitors.

Some buyers have a high threshold. They’re going to need to see case studies, proven results, and examples. For these risk averse buyers, you’re going to need to mitigate the fear of change.


To determine a buyer’s threshold, you’ll need to be direct. Here are some questions you can ask to help determine your buyer’s threshold for trying a new idea:

Tell me about a time that you tried something new. How did it go?

Generally speaking, do you (or the company) tend to be open to trying new things?

What holds you back from making a big change in your strategy?


Your idea, your product, your solution is a great one. It’s what everybody should be doing. It works. Just like a granny shot. But it’s not going to catch on until you figure out the thresholds of your buyers and customize your approach to meet them where they are.


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7 Essential Questions to Ask … And 1 Bonus Essential

Asking good questions is essential to an effective comprehensive needs analysis. This isn’t an all-inclusive list of questions that I ask prospects, but these are all definitely questions I won’t leave the CNA without asking.

ask_questionsAnd remember, questions don’t have to be phrased like questions. It’s not an interrogation. What you want to do is say things that invite people into a conversation.


1. Who is your ideal customer?

I don’t sell cookie-cutter packages to my clients. I provide them customized marketing plans that are designed to drive their business growth. This takes targeted precision. I’ve got to know who I’m trying to reach so that I can put together a plan to reach them effectively. I want to know about the center of my client’s bullseye so I know where to aim.


2. Talk to me about your most profitable product/service/offering.

One of the biggest advancements in leadership and productivity thought in the past several years is that people should focus on maximizing their strengths rather than eliminating their weaknesses. This principal can be applied to helping a business grow. What works best? How can we maximize that?


3. What is your capacity for growth?

If I’m going to put a strategy together to drive more people through the door or make the phone ring more often, then I’ve got to be confident that my client can handle it. This question also serves as a way for the client to evaluate their own potential in ways they haven’t thought of before.


4. If you had a magic wand that you could wave, what one problem would you fix?

I love this broad open-ended question. It gets people talking about the things that they really care about. Their passion comes through, and you need to make note of it. Address the issues that are close to their heart, ping off their passion, and you’re going to have a client for life!


5. Tell me more.

At some point in the course of a conversation, the prospect is going to say something that pricks my curiosity. Often, it’s something that is well outside of my experience. I don’t have to know anything about it to learn more. I can simply say, “Tell me more about …” People will open up like a book.


6. What does your decision-making process look like?

Two things kill salespeoples’ spirits – finding out that you’re not talking to the decision-maker and waiting forever to get an answer. I like to address both of these concerns by asking an open-ended question about their decision-making process. If I want more specifics about the who or when, I’ll ask that in a follow-up question. This question, however, helps to set my expectations by giving me a sense of how long a decision is going to take and who is involved making it. And, as added value, the prospect will often tell me about my competition without me having to ask about it directly.


7. If I were to bring you a plan that meets your goals and provides the solution you’re looking for, what would keep you from moving forward?

Always be closing, isn’t that what they say? A CNA is just a step in the journey to a sale. The goal is always a sale. It’s not too soon to get the prospect used to the idea that they’re going to buy from you. Find out what the big obstacles are and build your answers to them into your presentation.


Bonus: Be quiet and listen to their answers!

You can ask the best questions in the world, but if you don’t shut up and listen, it won’t mean a thing to helping you be successful as a salesperson. Silence can be awkward. Don’t worry about it. Sit in it. Let it be. If you want quality answers from your prospects and not cliches, they might need a minute to think. Give them that. Ask your question and be quiet. If they need you to rephrase or explain something, they’ll ask you to. Salespeople typically are good talkers, but if you talk to much, you’ll be annoying. No seriously – shut up. And, don’t be so impressed with the brilliance of your questions that you’re thinking about them instead of the answers to them. Be still and listen.


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Next week, we’ll be talking about selling strategies!


Leading Meetings Is As Easy As Riding a Bike

Many years ago, I learned an analogy from Wilson Learning about sales – sales is like riding a bike. This word picture has completely revolutionized how I think about sales and what it takes to lead a good meeting.

bikeTo ride a bike, you need to move and manage both the front and the back wheels.

In the sales analogy, back wheels are the products and services you offer. You have to know about them. You have to know the ins and outs of what your product does. Plus, there is a lot of other back wheel knowledge including internal systems and software, CRM programs, and industry insights. Like the back wheel does for a bicycle, this knowledge is the driving momentum of sales. But there is more to a bike than the back wheel. And there is more to sales than product knowledge.

In sales, the front wheel represents people knowledge. Successful sales people can read a room. They know that the first sale they’ve got to make is themselves. Buyers need to trust their salesperson, and so having good people skills is equally important as having mastery of your company’s products and services. The back wheel may drive the sale, but the front wheel sets the direction of the sale.

Here are 5 front wheel people skills salespeople need to keep things headed in the right direction:


Body Language

You set the meeting. You do your research. You’re excited about the opportunity for your prospect because you fully believe it will benefit them. You sit down in their office and jump right into your questions or presentation. But before too long, you get the nagging sense that they’re not with you. They keep checking their phone. They seem distracted. They look bored. What went wrong? Maybe you weren’t paying enough attention to their body language to begin with.

Mirroring is an important body language skill. If your prospect talks softly or slowly, modulate your verbal pattern to not overpower them. If they are sitting back and relaxed, you should do the same. Keep in mind that mirroring works both ways. Model for your prospect the posture of an engaged, interested person. Soon, they’ll be mirroring you and following your lead.

If they seem a little distracted, don’t talk louder to get their attention. Try lowering your voice. I taught 4th grade for a year. I realized very quickly that I couldn’t be louder than a room full of 4th graders. But, if I lowered my voice and kept talking more softly, they would tend to get quiet and listen. Prospects are the same way. Keep them engaged in the conversation by not talking in a monotone. You can even pause until they look at you. And once they do, be engaging.

You can also use posture to lead your meeting. When you’re about to make an important point, lean in. Be on the edge of your seat. Smile and speak with confidence so they are put at ease. Use gestures like real-life emojis, emphasizing your conversation in non-verbal ways.


Rapport Building

Small talk and chit chat are a part of the sales process. I’d like to call them a necessary evil of the sales process because I don’t like them very much, but that would be showing my own biases. Whether you like small talk or not, salespeople need to build rapport with their buyers. In my opinion, the best way to build rapport is to be genuine and authentic. Take an interest in the person you’re talking to. Demonstrate your interest by being prepared with good questions that you’ve thought about ahead of time because you’ve done your research. Don’t waste someone’s time with a bad meeting. Don’t waste their time talking about dumb things. If there are natural points of connection, capitalize on them, but don’t force it. I tend to think it’s far better to be a genuine consultant than to comment on the weather or a picture they have on their wall. Nothing builds rapport like confident authenticity.


Listening Skills

Most salespeople are good talkers. The truly successful salespeople are also good listeners. Much has been written about developing listening skills. Maybe the key one is simply being silent. When you ask a question, give the prospect a chance to answer. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t jump ahead in your mind. Stay in the moment and be present with your prospect. Reword and repeat their answers back to them to make sure you understand. And don’t just listen to what they say, listen for how they say it. What causes their voice to raise or their pace to quicken? What lights them up? What are they passionate about? In a comprehensive needs analysis with a prospect, don’t interrogate them; engage them in a conversation about their business.



What do you care about – making a sale or serving your client? If you’re desperate to make a sale, the person you’re meeting with will be able to smell it on you. You don’t want to stink!

Empathy is identifying with your client. Imagine how they might be feeling in the moment, and adjust your approach to address their concerns, especially their unspoken ones. Put yourself in their shoes. Having empathy is about developing the emotional intelligence to hear not just their words, but also their emotions. Be aware if they look stressed out or confused or worried. Once you notice something like this, try saying something like this to a stressed out prospect for instance, “I know if I was sitting on your side of the desk, I would be feeling overwhelmed by all the options and the success of your competitors. Maybe you’re worried that trying an idea like we’re talking about sounds too good to be true. Is that the case?” See where the conversation goes if you empathetically address the elephant in the room.

And, always make sure they know that their customers come first, and if you need to be interrupted so they can serve a customer, you’re more than willing to be patient.



One of the trickiest people skills to develop is the ability to decipher what motivates a person. We all have the tendency to think that what motivates me motivates everyone. But it’s simply not the case. In reality, there are two sets of motivations we need to figure out – the institutional motivations and the individual motivations. What are the priorities of the company? Are they looking to reduce their cost? Do they want to invest to increase the efficiency of their processes or the quality of their products? But maybe even more importantly, we need to determine the individual motivations of the buyer we’re dealing with. Do they want to look good to their boss? Do they long to be seen as a great team member? Do they wish to be seen as on the cutting edge? Are they a numbers cruncher who needs proof?

Imagine this scenario. You have met with a decision maker a few times and have a solution for them that you’re convinced will work for their company. You are the type of person who loves proof-of-concept, so you’ve provided case study after case study showing how what you’re offering has worked for other similar companies. You would jump at the chance to move on something that is so proven. But your buyer isn’t jumping, and you can’t figure out why. Maybe just maybe, those case studies are back-firing on you. If you had figured out that you’re buyer is motivated by being innovative, you’d realize that they don’t want to be like everyone else. They want to take risks, not follow the well-worn path taken by their competitors. Maybe you need to show your buyer how going with your plan will make them stand out as an industry leader. Maybe you haven’t made the sale because you haven’t figured out what truly motivates them.


How about you? What are the front wheel skills you need to work on? What are some people skill techniques you can begin employing today?


bowtie profile.001Join the Bow Tie Sales Guy community on Facebook. Like our page here and submit questions which will be answered in an upcoming podcast.

Tomorrow’s article is about the 7 questions you’ve absolutely got to ask in a meeting … and one bonus skill that will make your meetings successful.


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