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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Simplicity of Listening

Many years ago, when I first went into sales, I thought that it might be a good idea to ask someone who had achieved some success in sales for advice. Luckily for me at that time I was the smallest investor with one of the largest brokers in the country. He was successful for a very good reason, he really had a knack for dealing with people and I wanted to find out from him the secret of his success.

This source of knowledge was Marvin McIntyre of Morgan Stanley, who was a tennis friend of mine, as I had been a Tennis Professional for 20+ years. “Marvin, what would be your advice to me, since I’m going to be in sales?” I asked. “Listen” was his reply. “Learn to listen to the person that you’re dealing with and they will tell you what they want or need.”

Man, that’s it!! I go to him for advice and he gives me this simple answer? I know that already. No, I didn’t!! It’s one thing to have a normal conversation and interrupt and push your own points across without really hearing the other person. It’s quite another to have the patience to wait until they let you know what it is they really want. Luckily, I took his advice more than it would seem from my initial reaction and learned to be a better listener. Seems simple, but as in executing anything the idea of doing a simple thing well is anything but easy.

I have been through extensive sales training from a number of companies and from companies that specialize in training sales people, but I have never received any advice or training that has been as important or helped me to become successful as the first advice that I was given. Many times people have given me the blueprint to become their salesperson just because I listened. Thank you Marvin, it was the best career advice I ever received.

Talk Your Business coming October 4th at 40 Plus!

New Opportunities

Seth Godin has a new post with a novel idea, “The Forever Recession”  that there is a cyclical recession that is ending, and a recession that is the end of the industrial age. This answers, “Why don’t I feel the recovery?”

Last week I realized we are seeing two groups of prospects.

Companies that want more sales. Maybe they can be helped.

A more interesting group are the companies overwhelmed by new business, who are asking for better ways to deploy their resources.

Both are out there in plenty. I choose the second. It’s like dating rich women. More good things can happen.

Which group are you designing your business to serve? Comment here!

Talk Your Business coming October 4th at 40 Plus!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Defenders – Leadership Training?

Last night I watched a new show - “The Defenders” - about a couple of Las Vegas attorneys who are part Robin Hood and part con artist. The show was quite entertaining, but led me to think about its role as a leadership lab for us viewers to learn from.

Here's the four themes running through the first episode:

Nick & Pete interacting – two rather cynical guys practicing law together. Informal leadership bounces between them freely, although Nick is the senior partner. They freely debate what to do but back the other's play once an action is decided. There's a mixture of unimpressive and wiz-bang – transportation is an old classic auto – like a Chevy II convertible however they advertise the firm (and the two of them) on a huge billboard using a vinyl sign (new technology).

Nick and his wife – they are separated but it is clear - they would both like to be back together AND they can't figure out how...and make things worse. This bitter-sweet relationship is entertaining only because you can quickly see how the conversation will turn out even in its early stages.

Pete and the junior associate – he bamboozles the new junior associate into covering an arraignment, and then abandons her to do it. Later they talk (she was yelling) and he shares a story of his first day and how he was thrown to the lions – but also was victorious. While she was skeptical, he continued with how this proved to be a strong foundation for a successful practice and pointed out that she was successful in her first assignment and cataloged how far she had come. Was he sincere or was he 'spinning a tale'? The new associate came away with confidence in her ability and led her to suggest what became a break in their case.

Gutsy approach to case resolution – the two of them pull all the stops to get the outcome they want. Their client was in a jury trial for murder and the jury asked for guidance from the judge, who was going to give instruction on a lesser charge, but Nick got the judge so mad at him that he ended up refusing to give the instruction and their client was found not guilty.

Each of these themes is pretty simple but should give rich material for the season. After all, the Star Trek programs in the different iterations and movies went on for 30+ years on a very simple premise: Gene Roddenberry had a social conscience and incorporated various issues in the programs around the constant tension between the need for humans to meddle and the Prime Directive which prohibited meddling.

Both shows are useful for leadership labs to see how situations develop and what we can learn from them, And with The Defenders, some entertainment for Wednesday evenings.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sales Lab Seminars

Several readers have had questions about the seminar announcements at the bottom of our blog posts. We have a strong lineup for October so here is some explanation.

Ken Kropkowski of The Ken Group told me a seminar is a group of interested individuals gathering to discuss an announced topic.

The Sales Lab Irregulars, Dick, Joe, Jack, and Bruce, also write the Sales Lab Posts, and develop these seminars. We keep an updated list of our public seminars above a list of over 30 topics.

On October 4, we are presenting Talk Your Business – How to make more and better sales right away! at 40 Plus of Greater Washington. This is the best known Sales Lab presentation. Bill Van Dyke of Paradigm Mortgage says, “Talk Your Business is the best Economic Stimulus package Washington has seen. It has inspired new business startups, led companies to unprecedented growth, and re-educates the unemployed.”
We have been working with 40Plus for years and like their mission.

October 12th is the Social Media Engagement Forum at the Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce. For the past year, Joe Shumard has been getting top area professionals to share how they are using social media tools to grow their businesses. Joe is also running a new member campaign at the Chamber this month, so please come for the information and consider joining.

On October 19th, we are presenting How To Get More Value From Your Existing Resources at Intelligent Office in Rockville. This is a way to consistently take up to 80% of the time and cost out of your common processes, while improving accuracy and morale. 

Jonathan Layne is our host at Intelligent Office, Rockville and Matt Whitaker is our host at Intelligent Office, Alexandria. Between them, they provide telephone, reception, office, and conference services for over 400 companies, providing a public presence, making appointments, answering questions, connecting customers to field personnel, and providing first level technical support. As businesses get more focused, Intelligent Office has specialized to provide cost effective, results driven, front end services.

October 20th we are presenting Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets, a compilation of some of the best new management tools we are seeing in the marketplace, at the Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce. For over 25 years, we have been providing explosive growth with abundant cash flow (as defined by a customer, long ago), and we have seen that isn’t what businesses are focused on in the current economy. They just want a better margin, or to maintain a margin from what they have been doing. This seminar has many good ideas how to do that.

Come join us at any of these seminars for new ideas you can use right away.

Comments - What would you like to see?

"Talk Your Business" coming October 4th at 40 Plus!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beacon or Gadabout - What's the Board Done This Time?

Have you ever watched ants?  Industrious little creatures in reaching their goal (how can they get into that sealed container?), the 'ant-path' to arrive there is fascinating.  As singles and in small groups, the ant-path is halting and confused - sometime this way, sometimes that way, sometimes back the way they came ... helter skelter with no clear path or rationale.  When in a group, the ant-path is never a straight line to the goal, but a march in a wavering column - meandering single file in a general direction.  No shortest distance from A to B for these guys.

This week Alan Weiss wrote his thoughts about Hewlett-Packard’s Board being human - excusing them for serial mistakes which have taken the firm, known for innovative and superior products, such as calculators (still have my 12C bought in early 1980's) and printers, on a confusing get & purge spree that has driven the stock price to almost nothing.

To me this is a good reminder that boards have a group dynamic going on which can make them drift from the vision and mission into some pretty rough turf for no apparent gain.  The HP Board is mimicking an 'ant-path' approach to moving the company forward, which puts HP in play and can allow Oracle to swoop in to get EDS for a song and finance it by selling off the other HP units to eager buyers. Of course there are plenty of examples of boardroom miscalculations which have crippled or sunk organizations. 

We as leaders, whether in a board capacity or as a key player in our firm, can learn from such examples and determine how an action (and its inherent risks) supports the vision and mission - or why the vision and mission needs an update or overhaul to support it.  A beacon sheds light and offers direction, while a gadabout is founded on whimsey and offers confusion - which leads to a brighter future?

Have you been faced with the question: 'What's the Board Done This Time?'

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 Our next programs are Wednesday, September 15th, Noon How To Get More Value From Your Existing Resources, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, and Thursday, September 16th, 7:15am to 8:30,Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets,  Intelligent Office, Rockville,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Tale Of Two Architects

Over the weekend, I heard a story from a builder. He has two multi-unit residential projects going up in the same town, which were both penalized by the local building inspector taking a progressive interpretation of the building regulations.

He has a different architect for each project, from different out-of-towns. He called each architect to ask for help with the problem.

The first one said, “Let’s go see the building inspector and find out how we can fix this.” 

The second one said, “Let me work up a price for what this is going to cost you.”

The builder raised his eyebrow and asked me, “Who do you think is getting the next project?”


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

Monday, September 6, 2010

Last One In Wins!

I attended a sales seminar where the presenter and the audience were agreeing that being called in to give a buyer “three bids" was a bad thing, a waste of time.

I musta had a depraved upbringing, because I always found a high percentage of those calls resulted in transactions.

The way I see it, the buying organization has already done some of the work to make a purchase. I figure they want outside  justification that they are doing the right thing. Like when I see a dog turning around three times, I say, “Lie down,” and everyone thinks I am the dog whisperer.

The key is to have a discussion where the buyer further develops her thinking while I am sitting there. I can’t tell her what to think, but I can offer some facts that give her an improved idea of what she wants to buy. At that point, everyone who came before me is no longer qualified to provide the new solution, and the sheer effort of asking for updated responses can become too much effort.

That doesn’t always work, but it happens better than three out of ten.

The best one I ever saw was a mentor who went into a BAFO (Best And Final Offer session…supposed to be a haircut) at $30 million and came out with a contract at $60 million. In the course of being questioned, he mentioned a contiguous technology that would greatly increase the value of what they already wanted.

When they quizzed  him for details he had a page about the technology and a page about how to get the best price, with copies for everyone in the room. Since he was an integrator, he didn’t care whether they did one or both, but rightly figured bigger was better.

When someone finally gets ready to buy something, sometimes the last one in (with a better solution) wins.

Can you give a supporting anecdote?

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