Search This Blog

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Silence Speaks Loudly

Silence as a communications vehicle?  Has Jack gone off the deep end on us?

Think back… Mom or Dad greeted you at the door, arms crossed, standing bolt upright and silent as the granite cliffs.  You heard loud and clear that you did something and you were out of favor (to understate the obvious).  Silence communicates disappointment and anger.

How about when having an uncomfortable conversation seeking compromise or restitution on your part and the speaker drops a solution with 2 or more horrible (your view) choices and then clams up.  Without prospect of additional information or an opportunity to move the conversation to a more neutral point, the impact of the silence becomes all too apparent in a matter of seconds – pressure.  Silence communicates persuasion.

Or when being interviewed for a job and the interviewer asks an open-ended question and just listens – actively but noncommittally.  As the silence embraces you after your initial answer, you feel compelled to offer more to your answer. [You can have fun with politicians by going silent after asking a pointed question – many can’t help themselves from expanding the response beyond the usual talking points]  Silence yields more informative communications.

I was at a meeting of the Reston Leadership Breakfast yesterday – the Friday before Memorial Day and the sponsor of the meeting was given an opportunity to tell the attendees about the services offered by his firm (a benefit of sponsorship) but instead asked the group to share a moment of silence in recognition of the women and men in the service of our country who have given their life to establish and preserve our freedom.  Through this simple action of calling for silence, Mike Megless (Narrow Door Consulting), clearly communicated his sincerity and integrity while leaving the audience with a richer sense of what his firm brings to the table that is more memorable than if he had given a 30-minute presentation.  Silence communicates values.

Silence communicates thankfulness and heartfelt gratitude.

As we observe this Memorial Day holiday, please join me in offering a few minutes of silence in tribute to all the individuals serving our country in whatever capacity to protect us and guard our freedom, and in memory of the others who have perished to secure and continue our freedom. Bless you!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What I want to sell!

Bruce sent me an email outlining his ideas for upgrading his business. He had three things he wanted to sell

I have seen this before. When people are upgrading their offering, they start by focusing on what THEY want.

Two of the offerings were what he does real well. We’ve been doing it for years.

I asked if he had ever sold the third. Well…no.

So let’s start developing the descriptions of how the customers saw the value in the past. That’s the fastest and best way to describe what you want to sell next.

The customer’s experience is much closer what the prospect wants than what the salesman wants to show.

Bruce then says, “But I have a lot of good stories. Which one should I pick?”

And they called it…The Birth Of The Blog!

These posts really do get more interesting when you comment! Turn up your illumination!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s Scary to Listen to Me!

Well, not really, but sometimes it is truly amazing what comes out of someone’s mouth.

Communications can be derailed by unintended comments.

For example, picture a person in a persuasive conversation with another individual to change their mind or sell them a project; the speaker leans in – inspiring sincerity – and says “to tell the truth…” This may be used as a transition term with an intent to demonstrate trustworthiness (if any thought was given) – however now the listener is on alert, thinking – ‘if this is labeled as truth, what about all the other stuff I’ve heard.’ Flash freeze on changing a mind now.

What about someone who is telling you about the scope of services and launches into a story recounting a number of customers who deliver complex jobs at the 11th hour and want it delivered in record time? The speaker is demonstrating what?: top notch customer service, going the extra mile, working miracles? Sally Strackbein points out in her communications training “don’t talk about what you don’t want!” What does the listener take away from the Super-Services delivery: I can use these folks for last minute panic stuff. Is this the intent of the message?

How about a presenter who speaks in acronyms? Or in the slang of the industry? Or is so busy dropping names that the point of the discourse is lost? It’s pretty hard to recapture the attention of a listener who has checked out. But wait, there’s still more ways that speakers can torpedo their conversations.

Is it effective to drop the phrase ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ when speaking with the Audubon Society, or to try to sound more impressive by using unfamiliar words – e.g., ‘forget the guy! Just illiterate him from your memory’. [obliterate] At best this confuses the communications as the listener reacts to personal sensibilities.

Yogi Berra is famous for butchering the language (also for being a Hall of Fame catcher too). Folks hang on his every word, chuckling with delight when he launched another Yogi-ism. He entertains. He does not persuade or sell with his banter. Relive some of the classics: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there.” “The little things are big.” “The future ain’t what it used to be.” You’d say HUH?, smile a little, and move on. No effect on your view of Yogi’s professional activities as a catcher for the Yankees; right?

Unfortunately, as professionals, we are expected to be clear in our communications and articulate our thoughts to lead, persuade, sell, educate and direct. When we miss the mark by uttering something unintended, our goal is now harder to achieve. Communicate simply, and give care to what you are saying. We are not infallible and will make mistakes – unavoidable to be sure – but being aware will help to minimize the frequency.

Let’s give Yogi the last word on the subject:

“I really didn’t say everything I said!” Don’t we wish!!!

Does it make sense to not say wrong things? Your thoughts and stories?

More practice please!

Does most of what we do seem to be a reaction to an occurrence rather than part of a plan? Maybe it is all the revelations about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or those surrounding the recent “economic meltdown” but it seems to me that there is a lot less attention being paid to thinking ahead than I can ever remember.

One of the big benefits of my association with Dick Davies (president of Sales Lab, Incorporated) is his interest in “practicing” the sales profession. I have used his system for more than 20 years, very successfully. But having almost daily contact with him these past few months has really helped me appreciate the value of thinking through a presentation, of knowing the important points for each prospect before I arrive, and of developing the “small” elements when I have the time to consider each one.

Whether I am planning an event, a campaign, or the installation of an oil rig, thinking the enterprise through from start to finish has a lot of value. Knowing what you want before you get started on a project is an essential part of success and considering a few “what ifs” might just save you from a disaster. Fashion models practice, baseball players practice, musicians practice; shouldn’t sales professionals, government officials, and oil company executive practice as well?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Selling “Innovative”

I have had the opportunity to sell flat out, brand new, never-been-seen-before technology several times.

In each case the existing crew was killing themselves to have the prospect understand how innovative their offering was. I remember a mandatory eight hour demo that absolutely defined a “false positive.”

Nobody cared.

After some trial and much error, I learned that people with money don’t want to buy “innovative.” They want “It’s just like what you’re already using…only faster, cheaper, and better.”

That’s what they want.

Oh, and after three years, Bubba turned that eight hour demo turned into a five minute “drive-bye demo” Prospects would ask us to do it again and again as it was so short.

They bought more, too.

I’ve heard that the best readers comment. How about helping out?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What You Do IS What You Are

What you do speaks volumes about you. The adage “Actions speak louder than words” is true but does it have relevance in social settings? Do actions project information – do actions of others present information?

In the 1950’s, published as an article in The Economist (which grew into a book called “Parkinson’s Law”), C. Northcote Parkinson wrote about his observations of people and dubbed the consistent, predictable actions as Parkinson’s Law. The ‘Cocktail Formula’ is about people in a social setting. Relative importance of the attendees can be gleaned by watching them move about the room.

Here’s some of the results from a social gathering:

  • There is a clockwise flow of people around the room – when entering through the doorway, folks jump into the current by going to their left
  • This current flow is well away from the walls, but does not extend into the center of the room
  • The “most important” people will move with the flow until they reach the far right of the room (relative to the doorway) and set up camp there without moving from the current (so the flow now goes to both sides of them)
What about the rest of the people? Here’s what Parkinson says:

o All along the walls are lengthy deep conversations by the “nobodies”
o Pressing back into the corners of the room are the “timid and feeble”
o In the center of the room are the “eccentric & silly”
o The “most important” people arrive at the event once enough people are present to observe their arrival and leave early for the same effect.

Have some fun next time you are at a cocktail party and check it out.

What does this have to do with us and how can we benefit from it? Using a networking meeting (without a specific program or presentation) as an example, here’s some thoughts:

  • Arrival: Never come early (unless you are supporting the host); get there after the start time when a number of others are already present – then you have some folks to chat up (and you do not seem compulsive or needy)
  • Circulation: Have a good balance between moving around and staying in place. When you are planted for a long time, you appear to be ‘holding court’; but if you are constantly on the move, folks wanting to speak with you can’t find you easily
  • Departure: Don’t be the one turning out the lights (again – unless you are supporting the host) – leave while there are folks still around but the crowd is thinning. Leave too late and you look like you have nothing to so; leave too early and you look like a mercenary just working a room.

Do you see how you can apply these observations ‘read’ others?
Does this information have value?
Will its awareness help you avoid unintended ‘action’ communications?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hansel and Dick

I was reading the fairy tale, Hansel and Dick. You know, the one where the two guys got out of the woods because they left a trail of handouts behind them.

I have come to think that the most important part of a sale is making sure all the prospects have something in their hands to remind them of what they heard.

You think your presentation is five dimensional and requires a browser to see? Fine, give them a piece of paper with the internet address.

You think your presentation is a powerful graphic that completely explains the meaning of life from your point of view? Great! Circle each turning point on the diagram and tell the story that goes there. (See “The Dreaded Process Diagram”)

Buying is a social activity. Buyers want to check with someone else, just to make sure they are not being a complete fool.

Give your buyer the tools to repeat your presentation powerfully.

That got Hansel and Gretel out of the woods.

What’s your story?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sales Territories

A protégé called and asked for my ideas on organizing sales territories. It was a false alarm as her bosses already had a plan, and it was a lot worse than their previous setup.

Traditionally, we divide sales territories by lines of business, geography, or method of presentation (size of customer). All three methods are creating increasing liabilities in an internet connected world with public reputations.

Segregating lines of business – Every company I know is trying to reload their customers to purchase a broader range of their offerings. Upselling and cross-selling are usually less expensive than creating new accounts, and a broader reliance on our products creates a more stable customer.

Geography – Numbers runners have their own city blocks for weekly collections. That started before 1900. Concern about the cost of long distance calls and travel for multimillion dollar sales is antiquated. Today, I have customers on three continents and have had a succession of national territories. Remember that story of the prospect going to someone else because they didn’t like the rep?

Method of presentation – Let’s figure out the presentation that creates the most highest margin accounts and integrate that presentation to every channel we can. Then cannibalize it every quarter.

Key Accounts – Every time I have seen one sales representative responsible for a customer, the customer is well served when the rep is flourishing, poorly served when the rep declines. Getting key account responsibility usually marks the beginning of decline. We band together in organizations to provide better service. Why do we keep that advantage from our customers? Top competitors won’t.

The truth is, setting sales territories is an attempt to control the sales force and the customers. It is not an optimal use of time for management. I had one manager take away several million dollars in completed sales saying he was “load balancing the team.” Many of those sales were subsequently repudiated.

Setting customer responsibilities should be done by the same people responsible for purchasing from your organization – the customers.

We can’t have faceless reps any more. Each rep needs to develop a public competency that will appeal to their customers and attract prospects. That starts with knowing everyone who buys in your accounts and making it easy for your existing accounts and future accounts to find you. That might include social media, but it starts with basic sales shoe leather tradecraft. Doc Searls, who started “Markets are conversations,” a decade ago, has a brilliant post today that reputations are not brands.

The purpose of arranging sales responsibilities is to maximize sales and margins. That means delivering the best experience to customers and prospects. When it is done right, it is blatantly obvious to everyone who cares.

Can I get an Amen?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three Sales Models

We use “models” to simplify, understand, and use situations which are too complex to directly understand and engage successfully. Models allow useful focus.

The biggest problem with a model is when we forget it is just a model and think it is the reality. A model often stops working and needs to be adjusted. Reality just grinds on.

I have been thinking about the three models that impact salesmen and how they don’t seem to intersect or strengthen each other. Einstein spent the second half of his life looking for a unified field theory. I would think relating these three models would be somewhat easier.

The Sales Model What a salesman does to sell. The disciplines that get results.

The Social Media Model How do you use social media to leverage your selling? What can be sold profitably on the internet and what can’t is a distinction that eludes most managers and marketers. There is a fantasy that the salesman can be replaced by the browser. The good news is it can, the bad news is probably not with your offering.

The Sales Reporting Model “Take an hour a week and let me know what you are doing…Nope, that’s not what I want.” Once, I was trying to get some value from it, when Axon the Druid, my technology guide, explained it to me thusly, “Dude, sales management software has two management functions in the name. Who paid for it? What did you expect?”

Good salesmen spend the most time using the sales model, should spend the next most time on the social media model. I think sales managers should spend more time defining the sales reporting model so it might become more than a source of disappointing surprises.

On our Sales Model, spend around 80% of your time on face-to-face, phone/web, and events. That’s what creates the sales. Everybody seems to have enough time for presenting and closing, which is where that other work is rewarded.

Social Media is relatively new. Here are the best guidelines of my social media model. A blog post is ten sentences, five paragraphs. Post twice a week. Thoughtfully answer every comment that is not spam. Finally, do you want to control the platform or the conversation?

Sales Reporting - I once spent 120 days redefining key activities in the sales process for a company’s sales reporting process and proved that they had been looking at the wrong actions since the system was installed a decade previously. After that, production began increasing monthly. Sales reporting should change as the market and offering changes.

Your thoughts?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A perfect goal?

Defining goals is an important element of good management. Many want to set lofty targets and have a “no limits” attitude. Often we strive to be perfect and I am here to question whether perfectionism is the best goal.

Former minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst has written the best “baseball book” to come along in decades, The Bullpen Gospels. In it, he talks about perfectionism: “Perfectionism is a funny thing. It won’t allow you to cut yourself even the tiniest bit of slack. It will insult you when you fail to achieve it and berate and belittle you until until you’re your own worst enemy, an enemy you can never defeat. It’ll make you mad at those who try to tell you positive things. It’ll push people away. In the end, what was once a strong drive to do your best is now a wicked master who’s never satisfied."

Most people will tell you to “get over it” when confronted with perfectionism that has fallen short, and Hayhurst is no exception: “...we all fall short of our mark from time to time. Its how we handle that fall that makes us the players we are. It’s not all about accomplishments, but how we soldier through disappointments...winning and loosing doesn’t make us heroes or failures."

Sports is a good analogy for the importance of the right angle of approach in other walks of life. We have all watched great athletes fail in some important competition and often we attribute this to “the mental game.” But, as Hayhurst says: “...imperfections are part of this game. Beating yourself up doesn’t make you any better at this sport. It just drains you, and sooner or later you start to believe the voice telling you how bad you are.”

I witnessed a good reconciliation of this in an interview with Ryan Zimmerman after the Nationals beat the Braves yesterday. In that game, Zimmerman made two errors (unusual for him) and a reporter asked him about it. He affirmed that he wants to be an aggressive player and that he wants to go all out on every play. To him mistakes are part of the game, “I am not going to change the way I play ball.”

The question I am asking is are we hindering our chances for success by trying to achieve ultimate perfection? Are there better goals than perfection?