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TCV Insights

A Dogged Approach to Sales

By Rick Vohrer, TCV Growth Partner,

It does not take long for someone I meet to understand that I am big into dogs, sporting dogs that work in particular. And since I am a water-fowler, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are my fav.

I got my first dog, a beagle that I planned to chase rabbits with, at age five. I had my first sales job that same year, selling shoe shines door to door in my neighborhood using my father’s kit from the Army. Since then, there has never been a time I’ve not owned a dog nor been involved in selling.

All my dogs have been workers, 4 Beagles, 2 German Shepherds, 4 Labrador Retrievers and 5 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. And over my lengthy career in sales, I’ve come to see many direct qualities of a fine working dog and how they are like the qualities in successful salespeople.

What exactly do Salespeople and working dogs have in common? Plenty from my observations.

Studies and experience have shown that both require the right breed and extensive training to consistently be successful. A guard dog needs to have protective instincts. A search dog without a strong sense of smell will not be successful. Working dogs possess a unique set of natural traits that make them exceptional at their jobs. While all dogs possess these natural traits, not all of them possess the traits as strengths. The natural strengths are enhanced with training. The result is a dog that performs its tasks when required or asked. These traits, when applied to salespeople, can help them excel in their profession as well.

Just like different breeds of dogs are better suited for different tasks, people have different strengths that prepare them to be more successful in certain endeavors. StrengthsFinder 2.0* research and philosophy is grounded in this concept. Salespeople also need the right qualities and skills to excel in their profession. I’ve learned that these are inherent in the most successful salespeople. The inherent traits are then developed through training, just like with a working dog. In this blog post, we'll explore the ways salespeople can learn from man's best friend and how they can apply those lessons to their work.

One key trait of working dogs is their ability to listen and follow instructions. This trait is natural but is developed and enhanced through training. During training, the dog becomes confident in themselves and learns to trust their handler. Whether it's a herding dog rounding up sheep or a search and rescue dog following commands, they are focused on a task and eager to please. Similarly, salespeople need to be attentive and listen to their clients' needs to provide the best solutions. This trait enables them to build trust and establish strong relationships with their customers.

Discipline is all about setting clear goals and sticking to them. Consistency is a key in dog training and also in sales. A dog needs repeated practice to reinforce good behavior. A dog follows a training regimen. It starts with basic obedience because obedience is the foundation of everything they will learn going forward. And these basic building blocks are what the handler comes back to when things don’t go as expected. It is no different in sales. Salespeople need to have a structured approach to their work, starting with a written sales plan. They need a routine and constant training in the three legs of the Sales Triathlon, prospecting, presenting, and closing. Then when they are in a slump, and there will always be slumps, it is back to the basics. Because every athlete knows that slumps are corrected by going back to the basics to figure out what they forgot and are no longer doing. It is how you get successfully through the challenges.

When I send my Chessie to retrieve a downed bird, there are always distractions and challenges. Skim ice to break, decoys to avoid, maybe even more birds overhead, but he knows his job is to retrieve the bird he marked and block anything not related to the task. Salespeople can adopt this mindset by staying committed to their goals, consistently working towards them and not letting setbacks deter them from achieving success. They also need to be willing to listen and take directions from colleagues. Occasionally in hunting situations, there are “Blind” retrieves. A “Blind” retrieve is one where the dog did not mark or see where the bird fell. In this case, the dog is lined up by its handler and sent in the direction of the fall to find the bird. During the retrieve, the handler may blow a whistle to get the dog to stop, turn and wait for a hand signal as to the direction it should take to get to the downed bird. If the dog trusts its handler, it will follow the directions and find the prize. Salespeople have occasions like a “Blind Retrieve”, They must trust the guidance of their sales manager or coach and follow the directions given to reach the end prize - a closed sale.

All dog owners have experienced the loyalty of their fur babies. Working dogs take it to a higher level and exhibit unwavering loyalty towards their handlers. They form deep bonds and establish trust with their humans. This is accomplished through direct contact over an extended period.

Likewise, building and maintaining strong relationships with clients is key to success in sales. Successful salespeople prioritize establishing trust and rapport with their customers. They understand the importance of truly listening to their clients' needs and providing tailored solutions that address their unique challenges. By building genuine connections, successful salespeople can not only make sales but also cultivate long-term relationships that lead to repeat business and referrals. This has always been true but even more so in today’s fast-paced sales environment. The benefits of technology can also create challenges. Face to face selling is no longer the norm. Technology can create distance between you and your client. Sales people must work harder to develop relationships and loyalty.

Adaptability and agility are two critical traits that can make a significant difference in both the world of sales and dog training. Just like a well-trained dog that can adapt to different environments and quickly respond to commands, successful salespeople need to be adaptable and agile in their approach to their clients and their ever-changing needs.

In the world of sales, being adaptable means being able to adjust your strategies and tactics to fit the unique requirements of each client. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve owned 15 dogs. Each had their own unique personality and each learned differently. It was necessary to adapt my training techniques based on the breed and personality of the dog and the language and communication tools were tweaked to meet the needs of each dog. Salespeople must adapt their selling style to match the preferences and buying behavior of their customers. This may involve changing their communication style, tailoring their pitch, or adjusting their approach to problem-solving. By being adaptable, salespeople can build rapport and establish trust, which ultimately leads to more successful sales.

In summary, working dogs possess natural traits that can be applied to the world of sales. By adopting these traits, salespeople can learn from man's best friend and elevate their performance in the industry. Need help building or improving the performance of your sales team? I'm here to help - Rick Vohrer, Sales Quarterback and avid dog trainer.

*StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath - A personalized Strengths Discovery and Action-Planning Guide


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