Monday, September 12, 2011

Mike's Ah-Ha Moment

In 2008, at our then annual Customer Centric Selling Affiliate meeting, my partners and I hired Greg Alexander, founder of Sales Benchmark Index, to be our keynote speaker. As he started his presentation, Greg put up a slide with two numbers on it: 87 and 13. He told us that the 80/20 rule was no longer so. Instead, in B2B sales, after indexing 1,100 sales organizations—including many of our clients who employed thousands of salespeople we had trained—he’d found that it was now 87/13. The top 13 percent of salespeople were now responsible for 87 percent of the revenue.

At the time, I truly believed with all my heart, that both the Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling methodologies held the key to helping the bottom 80 percent, but his slide told me otherwise.

I stared at the slide. The net effect of decades of sales training hadn’t helped the great mass of salespeople. Instead, systems like Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling had made the best salespeople even better, leaving their peers even further behind. A few days later, it really hit me. Despite my best intentions, I hadn’t accomplished what I set out to do—help the bottom 80 percent pay their mortgages, send their kids to college, take vacations, provide for their families. I realized that my confidence in our methodology had turned into intellectual arrogance.

At first, I tried to cram that uncomfortable realization back into the bottle. The 87 percent must be lazy, stubborn, or resistant to change, I told myself. If they really tried,they could learn how to do it. After all, it had worked for me. And I thought I had evidence that our training wasn’t the problem. The number one complaint I heard from sales managers was that the bottom 80 percent of their salespeople quit trying to use the methodology within 10 days of the workshop, whereas the top people had an easy time putting the methodology into practice and therefore, stuck with it. It stood to reason that the few top sellers were successful because they used our methodology, while the rest underperformed because they didn’t.

At Customer Centric Selling, we prided ourselves on eating our own dog food,
so I took out a pad and ran the numbers, hoping to prove myself right. No such luck. Of approximately 40 affiliates, five of them had brought in 90 percent of our revenue—and it was the same five people every year. In theory, if all 40 were using our methodology,the revenue spread would have been a lot less disproportionate. But the real a-ha moment wasn’t that 87/13 was alive and well within my own organization. That moment came a little later when I looked under the hood at those top five Affiliates and considered what set them apart from the others. And there it was: they were the ones who had what we used to call “the mojo,” the ability to forge real emotional connections with their customers. They weren’t necessarily using the methodology they were selling. They were doing something above and beyond the methodologies to connect with their buyers.

-Mike Bosworth


  1. Thanks for including me in your updates. I have worked with and lead many sales people through the years. "Mojo" is the common theme with top producers. What does mojo mean? Some people can connect, while others cannot. The few producers distinguish themselves through meaningful stories. I look forward to learning more about how you help the many.

  2. Michael - it takes a lot of balls to admit a mistake. I remember you teaching us that rapport can't be taught. Your techniques were great technical methods that people can use - sales is a process. But for many of us, success in sales was always about connection. Personal connection is the most powerful force in the universe. I'm glad you created StoryLeaders - it is a life changing experience to go through the class. I look forward to the book that you and Ben Zoldan are about to publish.

  3. I first got in touch with Solution Selling while working at SAS (in Brazil.) They were replacing the boring and dull Strategic Selling for the fun and vibrant Solution Selling. It looked amazing to me and I firmly believed I would be sucessfull if I applied it. I've bought your book (can you make Kindle version, please?) and was delighted. Despite, it has never been so. Still today, whilst not in sales anymore, I can't shake that believe. Well, I couldn't. You are right. You get to have the mojo. The methodology is great, as Karate is great if you are apt. But no Karate will save you if you have a crimpled body. How do we teach it? How do we grow new parts in our bodies? Is that what your book is about?

  4. I'm currently halfway through the Customer Centric Selling book, a really interesting read and concurs with some of the things I did well, and some of the things I neglected to do in my former sales career. A very sensible approach is outlined in the book, I wonder how many sales organisations have the good sense to implement many of its recommendations.

    I find the 87% / 13% a little difficult to believe, from working in Sales organisations in the UK but do admit that there is a tendency for a few high flyers to bring in much of the revenue. However, this is often due to their ability to be given the high revenue opportunities in the first place which depends on their ability to influence their position internally - many of these sales books could do more to cover the reality that selling is as much about getting on top of the internal politics as focusing on the external value created for customers.

  5. Have you read Mike Bosworth's latest book "What Great Salespeople Do"?

    None of these other sales books cover the fundamental tool for success - building an emotional connection. People make decisions based on how they feel about something. I went through the Solution Selling Workshop many years ago - it is a great process for those that are already good at building rapport: Bosworth called them eagles.

    My recent experience at an electronics business confirmed the 87/13 rule - 85% of our revenues were derived from only 13% of our dealers. Close enough for me.

    This new book outlines the process for using stories through the sales cycle. But really, it offers hope for those who desire to influence change and realize their dreams.

  6. I've been a student of Michael's works over many years and it has helped me and the sales organizations I've led to focus on a meaningful and effective approach to bring the right solutions to clients. That said, while previous books were a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, the latest book on What Great Salespeople Do was a 3 or 4 at the most IMO. First of all, I think the title was not totally relevant since it only focused on Stories, Vulnerability and making an emotional connection and a better title would allow prospective readers to determine if the book was right for them. Second, you can't just throw out the value of all of the prior teachings in Solution Selling and Customer Centric selling and suggest that it was all wrong. Your latest book builds on top of our cumulative and experiential knowledge that we all gain as we go through our careers and life. Third, there is continued back references to the same stories over and over again and we get the references to how the brain works but you made your point in the early chapter so no need to overemphasize. Fourth, you make some very good observations and enlightenments but the book was probably twice as long as it could have been so much of your teachings are lost or diluted. Granted, I did not get through the entire book for all the reasons above. I would like to request a refund if that's possible. Michael, get back on track to the great work you've done in the past.