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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CUSTOMERS - What Do They Want????!!!

Have customers changed since the downturn in our economy? You bet!

What's different? Plenty but mostly it comes back to lack of confidence in what's ahead (as in predicting what will happen during the next 90 days or so) and hunkering down in response to recent events (like investment loss and non-availability of funds).

The organizations that are successful are the ones which are asking their customers and clients what they want and need, then providing it. Others are doing 'business as usual' in these unusual times - seems like an oxymoron to me - and wondering why sales are lagging (or missing).

'What can I do to help' is a productive start to a conversation that can end in a sale - sure is better than 'we're here when you are ready to buy.'

So as leaders, what how do we proceed?

    * Realize it is NOT business as usual, but that the fundamentals continue to be valid;

    * Initiate conversation about what is wanted and what is needed (may be different);

    * Be open and flexible and adaptive to new approaches and ideas, BUT also take counsel from your 'gut' and experience;

    * Keep in clear focus that the desired outcome is a successful result -- do not let ego or saving face frustrate achieving it; and

    * Know that in a service business, you are providing service - and its effectiveness is in the eyes of the recipient, not in the energy or activity expended.

If we apply these elements to addressing our customers' needs, will we be overwhelmed with success and business lined up at the door?  Well, there is no magic here, but it will yield far better results than pretending that the world and its markets are the same as they were.

What can you add to the discussion?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Model Customers

I am seeing that service providers get some funny ideas about the people they serve. In many industries, I have observed that continuing exposure creates a callous attitude, or familiarity breeds contempt.

Yesterday I received an email from a sales trainer I have never met, saying my problem was fear and then gave me a couple of options of what I was afraid of. While I am grateful for the insight, I haven’t figured out if it matters. I can’t recall meeting people with their elevator speech celebrating “fear.”

Well, maybe one. A retired NAVY pilot was making the useful distinction that if what was coming at you couldn’t blow you out of the sky, it probably wasn’t very scary.

In the evening, I met a new consultant. I was interested, so I asked what his practice area was? “I travel across the country and tell people to get their head out of their ass.” Fair enough. However, I don’t often see the classic rectal-cranial inversion in nature. Maybe it’s a niche market.

Seth Godin made a great point a few months ago that sales “prospects” don’t identify themselves as “prospects.”

That goes along with the fact that no one has ever come up to me and identified themselves at a “high net worth individual.” I do see a lot of people who say they are looking for them, however.

Seth wrote that the term “prospect” was made up by the marketers, and that perhaps a term the prospects would better identify with would be “citizens.”

How would a more positive model of the people you serve improve your business?

Monday, September 20th, 6:30 pm to 8:30, we are presenting Four Steps To Sure-Fire Sales Success at a meeting of Incite International, which will be held at Intelligent Office, Alexandria. Details and reservations at 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Recommendations – Honor & Obligation

The other day a long-time friend and professional colleague ask if I would arrange an introduction to one of my clients and give a recommendation of him as well. Two assignments easily done, as I know and respect the skills and abilities of the individual.

With this fresh in mind, I did some thinking about recommendations – they carry both honor and obligation for both parties.

For the person asked to offer the recommendation, it is an honor to be considered someone whose opinion carries weight and credibility with others; a person recognized as accomplished, knowledgeable, and trustworthy to speak in real terms about the subject person. For the requester, the honor is a notable person stands up for you and speak to the accomplishments and skills you possess.

There is also a dual obligation associated with a recommendation. For the requester follow-through is very important – if a recommendation has been offered you must follow-up promptly – sounds obvious doesn't it?. To ignore the individual, perhaps changing your mind about their relevance after being recommended to them, does damage at some level to the relationship between your recommender and the individual – 'you said that Sam is a good guy and wanted to speak with me about an idea – what happened?' No follow-through is likely to have a negative effect on your relations with your champion as well – after all, she had to expend some effort and time to offer up the recommendation and lack of action simply negates that time investment.

There is a concept in Eastern philosophy that if you save someone's life you are then responsible for them. There is a similar axiom in business and human relations – if I stand up for someone, my reputation and credibility are on the line, based on the actions of that individual. Obviously, you are not a surrogate in her place, but if you said 'Nancy is a wiz with spreadsheets and analysis' and she can't boot a computer, you appear foolish! Once you have offered a recommendation you retain some responsibility for the actions of that individual – at least initially AND your reputation is on the line too.

As the recommender, give some thought to who you recommend and the scope of your comments. Keep in mind that at least some of the goodwill and credibility you've earned is in play when you offer a recommendation – do not take it lightly. When writing a letter to an individual, you are thinking about how the reader will receive the information and how they will view you for recommending the person. However, who you recommend is also a consideration when writing a Linked In recommendation as well – while this may seem more indirect, like a passing nod to the individual (or a shout-out at a rally), IT IS NOT. These recommendations will be seen by many people, not just one, and will hang around forever. Give it the same care as you would a letter to a specific individual.

Harvey Mackay (I like him a lot and have followed him for decades) tells a story in his book We Got Fired about a referral/recommendation this father made for him when he was a teenager and Harvey got a summer job at a men's store. Shortly after he started to make sales, he would 'trim' time from the day by coming in late, leaving early – and quickly developed a reputation as unreliable (and unlikable by employees covering for his absences). When he asked for a day off to play golf, the owner called his father saying Harvey had to go! As he tells the story, Mr. Mackay had a discussion at top volume with Harvey that evening and the wayward son learned an important life lesson – he had failed to live up to the recommendation to the store owner and both Harvey's and his Dad's reputations suffered as a result!

Recommendations are an honor and an obligation for both parties – however discretion and diligence are required.

Any life lessons about recommendations and referrals you'd like to share?

Our next programs are Wednesday, September 15th, How To Get More Value From Your Existing Resources, Mount Vernon – Lee Chamber of Commerce - Alexandria, Virginia, and Thursday September 16th, Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets, Intelligent Office - Rockville, Maryland. Details and reservations at

New Customers

Many businesses are looking for new customers. They observe buyers are squeezing margins, new competitors are taking accounts.

Yesterday, I was asked if a federal government reverse auction was “fair?” Fair? Google went public with a reverse auction. It’s not about fair, the question is does it work?

Much of the new competition comes from disintermediation, “taking out the middleman.”

When Intel began their “Intel Inside” campaign, I didn’t understand why they would bother. They wanted to make sure they had as much traction as possible with their whole supply chain, not just the companies who directly bought from them. As the way we buy computers has changed, that campaign has helped Intel.

New buyers and sellers have to learn how to work together to make a successful transaction. Dana Blankenhorn wrote a great post about his concerns for the Veterans Administration purchasing open source software. VA has expertise buying enterprise software, and the process of being an open source customer is quite different. On balance, it is an improvement, but that is not by luck.

Each step of a supply chain should create value. If an alternative can provide more value to the buyers, the supply chain changes.

Right now I am about to buy a new car. I do that every decade or so. I am meeting a lot of people who think their job is to get as much money as they can for impeding the transaction. Let’s see, they get 10% of whatever traife  they can sell me. That’s a lot of inefficiency. Did I mention I change cars as infrequently as possible?

This time I am also meeting sources who can save me between 20% and 35% of the cost of a new car. That is the value I am looking for in a car salesman. They tend to appear on my browser. I have even met one in-person salesman who significantly cut the cost of acquisition for an in-law's new car. That salesman is doing very well.

When you are looking for new customers, consider what they need to have a successful purchase. Could you already have the resources to become their high value supplier?

What has been your experience of applying better value to your supply chain? 

Noon, Wednesday, September 15th, we are offering a free presentation of How To Get More Value From Your Existing Resources, Mount Vernon – Lee Chamber, Alexandria, Virginia. Details and reservations at

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's Different...But...The Same

I was talking with Joe Corini, of CMA, the other day about the current state of the economy and business in general and he said “you know, Jack, no matter how things have changed or what is happening with the economy, it still begins with the sale!  Sale first, then delivery, followed by servicing the client – but it IS harder to get that sale.”

At the time, this comment hit home and certainly describes what we are facing today.  However, the brilliance of the comment did not strike me until the next day.  A common topic today is – what are your doing differently because of the business climate? – and there is much being said about new and creative approaches.  With all this attention on how we must change, are we are missing the obvious…and are we missing sales as a result?

Creativity and innovation are important and have always been the fuel for change: new design; greater functionality; simpler operation; shorter process duration – for example.  But underlying what’s new is a firm and strong foundation – the unchanging core of the business process.  The fundamentals of - ‘nothing happens until you make the sale,’ which then is followed by delivering what has been promised (or even exceeding it), and servicing the client – this has NOT changed nor has it diminished in importance.

We spend so much time on new ways of getting the word out through new media and writing blogs or tweets, among the many things we can now use as tools, that we may have missed the obvious truth that the underlying elements in the simplest form remain virtually unchanged and constant.  Fancy, techie, glitzy, and cool are great, but nothing happens until the sale…sell > deliver > service.

Joe nailed it that day – no matter what the changes – it all begins with the sale AND it takes more work to get the sale.  The conversations about change are as additions to, rather than instead of, what we have always been doing.  Thanks, Joe!

How does that strike you?

Next program is Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets on September 16th.  Details at 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets

We are seeing our customers admonished to “do more with less,” “find a way or your replacement will!” and other, similar encouragement. We have gone from downward advice to “form a careful plan” to “I don’t care how…just get it done now!”

Heat isn’t generating much light. After a while, firing capable people for failing to do the impossible just weakens morale and the organization.

Yet in all the craziness, we are seeing some wins from our customers. Here is what we expect walking into a new situation.

  1. Everyone is working a full capacity. We are past the point of increasing output. Something has to give. 
  2. When someone is doing something that appears crazy, there is a good reason for it. Recreational worrying has paid off in the past.  
  3. Saying something doesn’t make you credible. I haven’t seen a winning organization where the leadership hasn’t earned and kept credibility.
So how do you create a successful organization in a badly constrained circumstance, where the customers aren’t paying, forecasts are collapsing, and you are getting (dispensing?) a lethal dose of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?

Moving Forward
If everyone is working at full capacity, obviously we are going to have to stop doing some things if we are going to do different things.

We usually make a first analysis of what should we stop doing? Take a breath. Regroup. Put the inexplicable on hold until we’re sure we need it.

Think of balance, before you can start something new, you have to get rid of something that doesn’t support it.

Next, we communicate what we want to accomplish. That is usually just a sentence, something that can be measured as either done or not done.

We are not believed at first, but we aren’t looking to be believed. We just keep repeating our goal and celebrating the results.

It’s too hard to start firing people. Fire somebody and it’s hard to get budget to refill the position. Better to upgrade internal existing knowledge.

When we get help, we acknowledge it. We ignore the people who are not on board.

If we don’t define who’s “agin” us, it’s easier for them to join up when we start winning.

Work on the small things, like civility, learning from the troops, investing in improved skills  and food to build loyalty.

The “New” Program
Even as we are earning loyalty, we are doing a careful customer and industry analysis.

Research and Development is often asking your ten most important stakeholders what they think.

Write down whatever they say.

Figure out what is happening in your world outside your customer environment. Use that internet, and copy the best things you find.

Share what you are learning with your stakeholders. Teach them that adding key facts earns praise, even if you aren’t sure of the specific value when you first hear it.

Develop short projects that can be completed and evaluated in a week or two, projects that could lead to a solution of new offerings, new features, better installation, new customers.

If cost for a prototype is an issue, find a way to do something for free, as long as you get market knowledge that can help you.

Make frequent heroes of your team members, and explain again and again the specifics of what they did right.

Demonstrate how you want people to behave under disabling pressure.

Review forward progress and set new goals, daily or at least weekly. Find a better meeting model that is more fun.

Out The Ditch and Staggering Ahead
Following this process, you are operating two simultaneous strategies.

First, you are making incremental changes to keep your team and customers’ interest.

Second, you are creating an organization to identify and use breakthrough opportunities.

On a monthly basis look for low value practices. If someone has others collecting static information to complete their job, have them offer value for other people’s work. If the collector can’t find the value find out why.

Publicly reward people for producing expected results, for initiating new attempts. Let everyone see the value of their coworkers results.

Encourage teaming that gets better results.

Communicate that better top line results gives the organization more room to experiment and succeed.

Lead by example.

What can you add to the discussion?

 On Thursday, September 16th, 7:15 am,we are offering a free presentation of Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets at Intelligent Office, Rockville MD. Details at

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Original Third Tuesday

We are honored to introduce the new and original website for the wildly successful monthly networking event The Original Third Tuesday.  Each month on the third Tuesday 300+ people gather at Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville for several hours of conversation and networking - seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

This month, on August 17th, The Original Third Tuesday is celebrating its one year anniversary - twelve consecutive months of holding this event, so it will be even more of a party than usual.  For an invitation and more details about the event, go to their invitation.

The two founders, Angie Segal of ActionCoach and Ron Dobransky of Rockville Printing, are there to warmly greet people as they arrive and Ron Robbins GM of Clyde's Tower Oaks is the gracious host of these events.

We had a ball working with Ron and Angie to develop this website - - and they are planning several future enhancements to serve the attendees of the events even better.  Check it out.  It's developed using the Google Website App, which as you will see is robust and flexible - and permits us non-programmers to do some very sophisticated stuff.

As with many things in business, this all came about from a casual conversation and a comment about wanting to have a website for interested folks to go to for useful information and to link to the monthly invitations.  The comment blossomed into a concept and from that into an action plan - all with a target of having a robust site up by the anniversary meeting.  Happy to say that all was accomplished as desired.

We presented a program at the Leadership Breakfast of Maryland on Building Your Social Media Platform - What Is It? - How Do I Do It? Is It For Me?,  which road-mapped this process and got people thinking about adding or enhancing their presence on the Web.

So take a look at the site to see what can be done quickly with just a small investment of your time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Web 2.0 Changes The Sales Process

The first time I met a local turnaround exec, I was introducing myself when she said, “Oh, I know you, Dick. I read your blogs. I’m a lurker.”

Here was someone I didn’t know, who knew a lot about me and what I do. Our conversation quickly went to what I could do for her. She already had ideas.

Contrast that with a typical sale. The first meeting is to create interest. And when I meet other people in the prospect organization, each subsequent first meeting is to create interest and verify “yup, I’m THAT guy.”

When people ask for a presentation to their team, they have already made an emotional investment in taking action. Assembling a group for a presentation is a substantial investment of resources.

Having an effective Web 2.0 program means that I spend more time with people who aren’t looking to be convinced about my value, they are trying very hard to see how my value might work in their organization, fit their needs.

Are you known before you get there? What differences does that make for you? 

On Wednesday, August 18th, Sales Lab is presenting How To Scale Your Organization…Build, Borrow, or Buy? 7:15 am, in Rockville, and Front End Selling at noon for the Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce, Alexandria. Both events are free. Details and registration are available at

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Differentiating LinkedIn and Facebook

At  the Social Media Engagement Forum at the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce last month, I got a new distinction differentiating Facebook and LinkedIn.

I have been learning about social media for business use and operate a syndication model  using LinkedIn, Ning, and LinkedIn Groups.

I devote time to understanding Facebook, and have a potential use for it coming in the fall. One of the best Facebook tutorials I have attended came from Peter Corbett.

The best post about our evolving social instrumentation came from John Battelle reviewing Paul Adams slide deck. (Read the slides, too!)

The “Aha!” from the MV-L CofC was that people in Business to Consumer (B2C) operations, retail, real estate, Fort Belvoir, were doing well with Facebook, and people with Business to Business (B2B) operations were using LinkedIn.

New distinction – At that meeting, B2C was using Facebook, B2B was using LinkedIn.

What useful distinctions are you using for social media?

The next meeting of the Mount Vernon- Lee Chamber of Commerce Internet Engagement Forum is August 10th, 7:30 am.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


In deflecting a compliment from someone who claimed that I was the best salesperson within a particular group, I modestly (false modesty is great fun) said, “I don’t know that you’re right, but I do sell differently. Actually I sell backwards.”

What is selling backwards? Instead of assuming that the buyer involved will be so taken with the item/service available once the virtues are laid out, it could be better to ask them what they need and how they accomplish their business goals. They may offer a roadmap to the desired sale, rather than having to use a shotgun approach hoping to hit upon the magic word. It can also reduce wasted time, not everyone is a prospect. Interested prospects would like you to spend more time with them.

[Below is what I took out because it started becoming too much]

Well, first let’s describe selling forward. I know what my widget does and why it is so great, so I want to tell you and in doing so you will be so smitten that you’ll buy it. Or you won’t! It may not be what you need or you may not make the connection. So selling forward is taking all the attributes of my widget and throwing them at you, knowing that there can’t be any earthly reason not to buy something so great. If you don’t want to buy it that is termed an objection. An objection is something to be overcome, because the customer doesn’t want to do what the salesperson wants them to do, namely buy. So in selling forward I explain what is so good about my widget and if I don’t get a positive reaction it is the buyer not understanding how much they need what I have. I now have an objection and my job is to plow over it regardless of its validity. My widget is so necessary to all that any objection is groundless.

Then what is selling backward?

First consider the way products and services are brought out to be sold. They are developed by someone, maybe a project manager. Boy do I LOVE what I create, don’t you! Maybe too much. I know all the things that are better and fit me perfectly about whatever I made and think anyone who doesn’t see what I see must be blind. Someone needs to tell them what is so great about my stuff so that they’ll want it. If they can’t convince them then there must be something wrong with them.