Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Trying too hardWhy is this the hardest lesson?

It is never about being right.  It is always about being liked. It’s always about fitting in. I need to write that 1000 times until my hand falls off.

What is it about human nature that makes us want to prove that we are right? It never works!

I recently spent some time checking out The Art of Charm.

First, it’s a great name, very catchy. Second, I agree with the concepts of Approachability, Attractiveness and Dominance, as it relates to making strong first impressions. I also don’t Scowl, Slouch nor Stare, so those aren’t the issue.

But there’s more to cultural fit than doing these right things.  It’s knowing when to stop. It’s controlling an overactive enthusiasm that makes you take one step too far.  That lizard brain reactiveness when you have a niggling feeling about whether or not to do something, then you ignore it and do it anyway.

I’ve been working for over 30 years and I still make this mistake. It’s like I’ve got some kind of blind self belief – that’s both the driving force behind much of my success – and also the Achilles heel that holds me back.

If I’m proving I’m right, I must be doing something wrong. I guess it’s like that adage – it’s not who you know, rather who knows you. It’s about a passive strategy, not an offense.  Maybe that’s why that’s called “offensive.”

  • Read the room.
  • Never assume where the partnerships exist.
  • Lead by listening.
  • Less is usually more when speaking.
  • If you’re investing energy in telling someone that you’re right, chances are, you are losing a different battle.




Give Me the Reason, Or Gimme 5

FiveQ: What’s your valid business reason for seeking my time and attention?

A: You’d better be able to answer this clearly and concisely before you ask.

The valid business reason will only sound as good as you believe it to be. For a time, I worked as a commission only appointment setter.  I became skilled at establishing a valid business reason to take a meeting and being able to communicate that very quickly, over the phone, to the C suite. Those skills have served me well since then, now that I’m selling long term, high ticket solutions to upper management types.

The art of converting ambiguity to substance is worth a lot. You only get a maximum of 1 chance to make a bad first impression by delivering a wasteful meeting experience.

But what happens in order to secure that meeting is critical first. Of the many ways that come to mind, here are FIVE:

Know your prospect. Do the research. Prepare a written brief if you have to. Take the time. Search them online in general and in social media specifically.

Don’t small talk. Last night I got a call from an unknown number to my cell. It was the blood care folks asking me to donate. After getting me to pick up an unknown caller, then asking me how I am, the caller then asked me about the weather. I wanted to hang up, except that I actually was interested in donating blood. Please know when to stop.

Reference a success with another customer. Recently, a project of mine got some media coverage.  Boy was it easy to get meetings after that happened. All I had to do was reference the story verbally or forward the article via email. Instant meeting closed.

Use a trigger. Is there a deadline approaching for them or for you? A new product release? A change in personnel that might invite a training opportunity or simply a cause for change? Where are we in the budget year – does it need to be spent before lost? Have they had a competitive change or a change of market position?

Always know your value. If you truly have the BEST, or the ONLY, or the MOST efficient solution, make it known upfront concisely enough to hook a distracted mind. Is this the only chance for the customer to get an audience with your upper management, in turn, a direct line of communication to a higher level decision maker at your organization?

These suggestions tend to work for me.


Selling is a 7 Layer Dip

7-layer-dip-recipe-combo-69-pI’ve heard it said that it takes an average of 7 interactions, or contact attempts might be a better description, to make a sale.  Obviously, this varies widely depending on many variables – length of sales cycle, transactional vs. solution oriented, ticket size, etc.

But in the context of this estimate of the 7 touch points rule, I’ve also heard it said that most sellers give up after only 2 unsuccessful attempts. Those that hang in for longer are separated from the masses. They are above the norm in persistence, thus, one significant reason for their success.

I’ve learned this to be true first hand. It takes a layering approach to break through someone’s habits and attention span.  It takes more layering to isolate the need and yet more layering to establish the value to respond to that need.

The universe has become far more fragmented, along with the channels of communication. I try to employ several of them – land line, cell, email, text, social media, blogging – to increase my likelihood of adding another touch point, possibly even while I’m sleeping.  Hey, I don’t decide when you get online.

With the 7 point rule in mind, here’s a list I came across years ago that I keep taped to my monitor where I see it every day. Not sure where I got it, nor who wrote it, but you can adjust to your own situation as needed.  It helps me having a methodical approach.  I like roadmaps.

  • Day 1 – Start by sending an email and attach a testimonial or case study. Mention that you will call at a specific date and time.
  • Day 3 – Call at the time you said you would call and be prepared to leave a voicemail. Follow up by sending your personal marketing resume.
  • Day 6 – Make another call and this time have some research ready to share.
  • Day 7 – Send a letter and restate your valid business reason to meet.
  • Day 11 – Send another email and this time speak to the process you follow to help people to get results.
  • Day 12 – Call again and let the prospect know that if you don’t hear from them soon, you will need to bring your ideas to others.
  • Day 16 – Send one last email.  Give them a few times they can reach out to you.

What is described above in roughly 2 weeks would play out over possibly 2 years in my world, but you get the gist. Personally, I wouldn’t do the Day 12 suggestion, but here’s something that did work for me recently…

A prospect that had ignored my attempts over a 2 year period finally responded to me.  The only thing I did differently was to tell her that it would be my final attempt to seek a meeting with her.  It worked.

How to Present Your Message – 7 Tips

Preso XBA month ago, I had the opportunity to speak before a large group at an internal sales conference.  I was nervous, as I knew less than half of those in the room and there was quite a bit riding on my ability to make a good impression before my boss, his boss, that guy’s boss and scores of other executives across business units. Last week, I finally received the video of the presentation and I’m pleased with how it actually transpired.

Here’s what I learned.

Take care of yourself first. I had about a month to prepare for my talk, but about a week prior, I was sent specific corporate guidelines detailing what the visual presentation needed to look like with sample templates in a 16 page document.  There were specifically suggested graphics to choose from, company sanctioned icons, none of which appeared to match my message nor my vision of how I intended to present. Since I missed the whole “tech” thing in college because it hadn’t been discovered yet, this pretty much threw me into a tailspin at a time that I should have been feeling great about the honor of being chosen to represent.

I was prepared. I had notes online and on notecards. I rehearsed plenty. But, by the time the presentation was approaching, I was exhausted and functioning on little sleep.  I checked out of conference programming for the afternoon and took a nap.  That was the timeout my mind and body both needed to come out on stage, before a ballroom full of colleagues, and appear fresh, rested and on point.

If you think you fit in, you fit in. I was chosen to sit on a panel with 4 other colleagues. The day before the talk, I discovered I was the only panelist over the age of 25.   I’m significantly over the age of 25. My daughter will see 25 before too long. At first, I was slightly mortified.  But, that quickly turned to pride, as I knew I was there because I belonged there. I had something of great value to share and that’s why I was chosen to present.

One of my fellow panelists said that her greatest takeaway from her success story is that you don’t need to have a big title to have a big win. The context was that, about a year ago, she was a college student, and now she’s presenting a case study of her successful sale before a large group of colleagues at all levels. When I heard her remarks, it occurred to me, in the context of my relative age on the panel, you don’t have to be considered young in order to do fresh things in fresh ways.

Smile and breathe. Always helps to build credibility. Nothing sells like confidence. Nothing comes close.

Control your body language. If you are sitting on a panel, sit up straight and don’t swivel if you’re in a swivel chair. Your message to the audience will be lost in that motion.  You also won’t like how it looks if you have the chance to view it again on video.

Water and lozenges within reach are useful. Plan ahead. Have them on hand.

Have a conversation. Don’t talk at the audience. Have a conversation with them. It’s a practiced thing, but no one likes being talked at, while most everyone enjoys a good conversation. Statements like, “I’m going to tell you guys something and it is SO simple” or “You know, we really saw dollar signs when we got to this part of the project” or “Just start somewhere and here’s what you are looking for” are some conversational ways to share your ideas.

Isolate only 1-2 points. There’s something magical about narrowing the focus to only 1 or 2 key takeaways. It helps the speaker focus; it helps the audience absorb and retain. Use this as a guide, when you can, for your prepared remarks.  And for Q&A afterward, minimize your response to an open ended question by choosing the 1-2 key things that come to mind as soon as you hear that question. A laundry list would send both speaker and audience into the black hole.


Rate Integrity or Greed?

My employer has an unpopular business model.  It includes asking for and getting automatic annual escalators in rate. As you may imagine, it earns us more enemies than friends, on the surface.

However, sales success depends upon the ability to deliver value. If you aren’t able to help a customer solve a problem, you won’t keep that customer for long.

Delivering value requires a relationship of trust and exchange of information. You must be able to extract the right insights from a customer in order to impart effective solutions to them.

I help my customers make money. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t remain my customers. While most of them actually do like me, that’s not the reason they buy me. They buy me because my services give them solutions to important business needs of theirs.

I’ve spent an entire career selling an intangible. This requires the ability to demonstrate value.

Here are 2 reasons a provider can easily justify a rate increase:

  1. They invest in their service offering in order to provide increased value to customers
  2. They preserve rate integrity, which can help to preserve value within the industry

Stagnation is death in business. I’d challenge anyone who tells me that their business, regardless of vertical, hasn’t changed significantly in the past 5 years. And, if it hasn’t, surely the environment around them has changed.

The need to stay current and evolve in business is constant and expensive. Research and development into new technologies, consumer habits, competitive threats, greater efficiencies, automation where feasible – these all cost money. But they enable businesses to provide better and more effective solutions to their customers. Someone has to pay for that.

As to the other concept – preserving value within an industry category – this one is far less tangible. Some people aren’t going to agree with me on this one. Much has been written about the members of the radio industry being their own worst enemy. Fear of change, increased consumer choice, increased competition, new delivery systems for entertainment, ever more consolidation, and reduced transactional business inflowing all contribute to this phenomenon. Not to mention, the pervasive small minded approach that the radio competitor down the street is the enemy, rather than, say, the growth of digital media. This thinking prevents operators in my industry to collaborate rather than take a divided-we-fall approach.

This same narrow thinking contributes to a pattern to lower the floor on price. That’s a slippery slope. Where exactly does that lead?

Just like you can’t cut your way to growth, as it relates to controlling costs, you cannot grow revenues while continuing to lower your rates. It’s a risk you take to raise your rate, but when ever was a solution sale a One Size Fits All? It’s not and never was.


Pain is Weakness Leaving The Body

Intellectual growth is a most humbling experience. In order to grow, you must push yourself beyond your comfort level.

It’s easy to repeat what you already know. It’s satisfying to be the expert. But, to be the rookie is humbling.

Careers are crumbling among my peers. What seemed a long term plan yesterday, is gone today. Things like reward for loyalty, insurance benefits and administrative support are no longer realities for a lot of people I know. Automation, cheaper and younger workforce and entrepreneurialism have replaced those perks.

If you’ve been doing the same thing for the past 10+ years, earning about the same, with a similar degree of stress, please hire me. I want what you have, but you are probably a figment.

More likely, you are working harder, earning less and pining for yesterday. If that sounds familiar, get over it. We all can relate.

Here are 5 ways to improve your job security starting today-

Tell your customers “I don’t know, but will ask ” more than “its not done that way”. Because, before you know it, someone else will do it “that way.”

Stretch yourself to perform beyond your former benchmark. That means set quantifiable goals and evaluate yourself at set intervals for accomplishing them. This doesn’t have to be directly tied to your work. It can be physical achievement, a challenging hobby, or any marketable skill. Take a tech skills class. Learn a new language.

Read the signs around you. If your job responsibilities have shrunk as others have taken on some of your former work after a restructure, don’t sit back and congratulate yourself on your good fortune. Karma is real.

Consider the job that no one else wants. I don’t mean the grunt job that’s unappealing because there’s little reward. I mean the job that’s too hard or too scary or too inconvenient, but, because of these reasons, the reward is available to be earned. There’s little that’s more secure than the job that no one else wants.

Finally, just work hard. You know when you are and when you’re not. The reward for a hard day’s work is tangible. If you don’t know exactly how to make yourself more useful, then ask. I promise you there’s someone looking at your gig and thinking, I could do that and I’d be willing to work harder, earn less, be more likeable, etc.

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

DJ Hughley said, “I love the idea of pushing people past the point where they’re comfortable.”

This is something that I’ve always done naturally and it is a major weakness of mine. Clearly, DJ Hughley can get away with it. I cannot.

First, I’m not paid to be a comedian. Second, I don’t have his talent. Third, and most importantly, I’m not self employed. But I do believe that making a dent in the universe is critical to success and happiness. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does to me.

Like Mathew Dixon describes in, The Challenger Sale, you need to get people thinking about something in a way they didn’t before you joined the conversation. If you can do this, it buys you time to proceed. Then, if you have a viable solution to the challenge you instigated, then you have more than just a foot in the door.

Comfort is perhaps the biggest obstacle I face in making a sale. People are comfortable with status quo. Change is scarey and risky. No one wants to be the guy that tried something new that didn’t deliver ROI. And I don’t want to be the vendor that sold it.

I often get asked to quantify the results my services will deliver. I can demonstrate the utility of my offer. But, I will tell my customers, just like you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink. My services are as valueable as water is for nourishment, but I cannot force you to maximize the utility. However, I do promise to facilitate in all ways that I control. This is how I pushback to a customer who asks me to accept full responsibility for his success, when in reality, that can only be shared by both parties.

Effective selling, just like all relationships, requires open communication, respect and trust. This should never be a one way street, but rather a give and take. To reach this point with a customer requires demonstration of value, knowledge and integrity. It should feel mutual.

THE LESSON: If you can push people beyond the point at which they are comfortable, and retain them as friends or clients, they are telling you they know you’ve got their back. And once you reach this point, you will be successful in the relationship.