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Are You Defying Gravity? Newton’s Law for Salespeople

November 4th, 2014

“Gravity. It Isn’t Just a Good Idea. It’s the Law.”

Gerry Mooney coined this tagline in 1977 and immortalized it on his cult-classic poster of an apple bouncing off Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

The law of gravity applies to sales just as much as it does to apples falling from a tree. Like gravity, an effective sales approach is a force of attraction – it draws prospects to your product or service. Unless you defy the law. Here’s an example from a mail piece I received recently.

The letter was from a financial advisor I don’t know. Inside the envelope was an informational piece about asset allocation in a financial portfolio. The advisor’s photo and contact information were printed on the piece, and next to his photo the advisor had written: “Congratulations on your award. I thought this article might interest you. I will follow up next week.”

This advisor deserves credit for proactively seeking out prospects, but his approach failed. In sales, as in physics, you can’t defy gravity: it’s the law. Here are three simple adjustments to turn a gravity-defying attempt at prospecting into a force of attraction.

Have a Clear Purpose: A handwritten note of congratulations is a considerate touch and an effective opener. The advisor’s note just didn’t have any connection to the asset allocation piece, and the piece had no connection to me. The communication lost its force of attraction. A simple card or separate note of congratulations would have been more effective as an initial approach.

Be Helpful: The advisor doesn’t know me or anything about my interests. What made him think the asset allocation piece would interest me? Do your homework and find out about the prospect and his/her company, and don’t push too much information too soon. A relationship-building approach might be, “As you explore financial options as a business owner, I’d be happy to be an information resource for you.”

Communicate a Meaningful Follow-up Plan: The advisor’s note said, “I will follow up next week.” Follow up on what? Open the door to getting acquainted with a local prospect by requesting a time to introduce yourself informally and in person. If your prospect is involved in a local chamber of commerce, professional association or civic group, suggest meeting and introducing yourself to your prospect at an upcoming meeting. It’s a low-key way to establish a connection.

Gravity always pulls; it never pushes. If your sales approach is pushy, you’re defying gravity. Use the law to your advantage, then watch the impact it has on your sales.

Find a Way to Win: Focus on the Preferences that Matter

October 15th, 2014

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas made two stellar catches in game three of the American League Championship Series, including a deep dive into the dugout suite. In a post-game interview, Moustakas was asked about the team’s strategy for game four. “Just find a way to win,” he simply said.

His “find a way” attitude reminded me of a business owner who did. A few years ago, I frequented a Vietnamese restaurant near a client’s office. My client and I met there so often that we had a regular table, a standing order and Tuan, the owner, greeted us by name.

The restaurant had opened about a year earlier and I came to see it as a midday haven from multitasking. No adrenaline rush here. We and the handful of other regular diners found ourselves speaking almost in whispers, not wanting to disrupt the peaceful environment. 

My client and I left Tuan’s place after each lunch with the same reflections: how much we liked the restaurant and Tuan, how worried we were that if his business didn’t pick up we might be looking for a new lunch spot, what a shame that would be. 

One day during lunch at Tuan’s, I noticed that the restaurant’s vibe seemed different. The décor and food were unchanged but the dining areas were buzzing.

Nearly every booth and table was occupied. The clientele was a mix of hip young professionals, students and seasoned business types engaged in audible, animated conversation.

I noticed that Tuan had made two changes in his operation. He had installed a fixed-price noodle bar which was constantly ringed with diners. Gone was the Vietnamese background music, replaced with Anglo rock. Those relatively minor changes had clearly made a big difference in his results.

I was happy for Tuan that business was good although part of me missed the way things used to be. When he stopped at our table to thank us for coming in, I congratulated him. He didn’t seem like the rock music type and so I asked him if he missed his Vietnamese music. Palms up, he shrugged and smiled his gracious smile. “Same one, same the other,” he said. “People like it, so I changed.”

Spoken like a true entrepreneur. Determined to thrive, Tuan took his cues from his customers and made two plays that increased his lunch business. The original restaurant culture he had created was familiar and comfortable for him, but when it didn’t work for his customers, he took the dive and adapted.

Being humble and open are attributes of both successful sports teams and successful businesses. Business owners can become so focused on their personal preferences that they overlook their customer’s preferences. Tuan found a way to win: be flexible and focus on the preferences that matter – your customer’s.

Would You Hire This Person?

October 2nd, 2014

I recently led a whiteboard session at Summit Technology Academy. This forward-thinking high school accelerator is a national model for providing pre-professional, college-level coursework for students interested in science and technology-related careers.

The session was like many productive whiteboard sessions – a sometimes messy, muddy, process. Getting to clear outcomes requires asking crystal-clear questions – and answering those questions with honesty.

During a break in the session, I took a walk through the hallways to incubate my questions. As I turned around a corner, I came face to face with myself.

A full-length mirror was mounted on the wall. Above it was the question: Would you hire this person?

Well, there’s a crystal-clear question. Most of us have thought about that question when it pertains to someone else. The students that call the Academy home pass by that mirror on a daily basis, and are challenged to answer it for themselves. How would you look at yourself from an external point of view and answer that question from an internal point of view?

It’s about more than just what you’re wearing. It’s the intangibles that the mirror challenges you to confront. Do you project the confidence and determination to do what it takes? Does that show in your expression? Your demeanor?  Can you look yourself in the eye and honestly answer, “Yes, I would hire myself?”  If you honestly answer no, what could you change? How could you develop those intangibles? 

Beyond the job interview, every business interaction is an opportunity to be hired. Lunch with a colleague, a sales presentation, informal networking over coffee or a department meeting – all of these interactions give everyone you meet a full view of what you bring to the table. If you take an honest, full- view look at yourself and challenge yourself to answer “yes,” you just might bring more to the table and get better results.

Take a look in your mirror today and ask yourself: “Would you hire this person?

 

Strategy: What the Greeks Knew

September 19th, 2014

The Greeks knew it. The Trojans learned the hard way. From its political and military origins thousands of years ago through the current business climate, strategy – how to develop it, execute it, out-position your competition with it, achieve results with it – is essential to business success. Results matter more than ever to business owners and company leaders, who expect more from the strategy development process than a plan in a binder.

Ask yourself or your team about strategy, and you’re likely to uncover long-held assumptions about the process. Here are two of them:

Assumption #1:  Strategic planning is a logical, intellectual exercise. True, the strategy development process is partly logic-driven, and it’s also very much colored by emotions. Strategic planning involves people – individuals and teams who have a stake in the outcomes. Some may initially see the process in terms of an evaluation of their performance, as a challenge to the ways they’ve become accustomed to working, or as a change that alters how their value to the company is perceived.

The variations on these perceptions are as numerous as the people who hold them. When emotion-based perceptions are not acknowledged, the collaborative benefits and outcomes of strategic planning suffer. Participants can become defensive and competitive. The process can be compromised by hidden agenda, or take on a tone of risk management. These unintended consequences are avoidable. Leaders that recognize and accept strategic planning as a non-linear, often emotional process can make a significant difference in the outcomes.

Assumption #2:  Classic strategic planning is the only valid approach. Classic strategic planning emerged in the 1950’s. Assessment and analytical tools such as SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) evolved during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The classic approach can be effective. It’s also one of many approaches. I sat down recently with a company president to discuss his company’s upcoming planning retreat.  When I suggested that the company could consider a range of options in addition to a classic approach, he visibly relaxed and commented, “I didn’t realize we could do this in other ways.” 

The optimal approach and tools for your company depend upon a range of factors – your current business situation and market position, the personalities involved and your expected outcomes from the process. Exploring a range of approaches to strategy development can be energizing, especially if you aren’t aware that you have options. You do.

Strategic planning is big thinking about the big picture. And it’s only part of the story. Developing and implementing strategy also takes continual refocusing on the intended outcomes. Refocusing doesn’t end with the retreat, the whiteboard diagrams and the carefully bound document. It’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process. As the Greeks knew.

Risk the Simple Question

July 31st, 2014

What every company should ask customers – and themselves.

Ask a friend what makes you different from another friend, and he or she can probably tell you in insightful detail.

Ask a business colleague what makes one co-worker distinct from another and you’ll probably get an equally complete comparison.

Now think about one of your company’s competitors. What would happen if you asked a customer or prospect what makes your company different from your competitor? What answer would you get?

Most business owners only risk this question, if at all, with people and companies with whom they have a positive relationship. Yet the greatest benefit often comes from asking the customers and prospects who have the most difficulty answering the question. The people to whom you have revealed little of yourself and your company are the ones who don’t know you and can’t answer.

Everyone and every company stands for something, whether they have consciously decided to make what they stand for important, or whether they stand for something by default.

Asking your customers and prospects what makes you different from your competitors involves more than the risk of hearing what you may not want to acknowledge. It also involves asking yourself first, with clarity and candor, what you and your company stand for. The answers to these questions unlock the potential to create business relationships based on knowing, liking and trusting.

Yes, asking involves risk. But if risk-taking didn’t involve some risk, as rock vocalist Tim McMahon observed, “It would be called sure thing-taking.”

What do you stand for? Are you willing to risk the simple question?

Easy on the “I’s”

July 21st, 2014

How to create a relevant sales conversation

Recently I attended a corporate sales meeting. On the surface, the salespeople seemed to be having good conversations, punctuated with jokes and loud laughter. But their subtexts revealed more. They often interrupted each other in mid-sentence. Some people seemed not to be listening at all, scanning the room for other people. Others impatiently watched for a pause in the conversation to take back the floor. Most of what everyone had to say started with the word “I”. 

That meeting made me think about my first business trip to Japan.

I was in Tokyo to negotiate the terms of a strategic alliance, travelling with a Japanese-American liaison and translator. For our first night in Tokyo we stayed in the home of his cousin. A single woman in her forties, Takayo was a realtor in Tokyo who spoke some English and had studied French. My Japanese was limited to polite phrases that were useful for small talk but not so useful for a true conversation: comments about the weather; yes I liked Japanese food. Takayo and I managed to a mix of deconstructed English with some French thrown in and a little Japanese here and there, spiced with unintentional humor. 

After dinner I thought about our conversation and realized that she rarely used the word “I” in speaking to me. It was as if she had held up a mirror to our conversation. Instead of admiring herself in the mirror, she reflected back everything she said in terms of its relevance to me and what I had said. 

We were using the same words but we weren’t really speaking the same language. I was speaking “I to You” and she was speaking “You to You.” 

“You to You” communication is part of Japanese culture and it taught me an important lesson early in my sales career: relevance is a business relationship essential, regardless of the culture.

In business dialogues – whether they are with partners, prospective customers or social media audiences that influence perceptions of our brands – responding is much more than making your point. It’s listening first and then expressing your views in a way that reflects and incorporates the viewpoints of those on the receiving end. That’s “You to You.” And that’s as relevant a business skill in Texas or the digital world as it is in Tokyo.

 

Going Portfolio

July 1st, 2014

Reinvent your work and career before someone else does

In his book “Great Work, Great Career,” Stephen Covey describes Charles Handy, the Irish oil executive-turned-academic-turned-social and organizational philosopher and author, waking  up one morning and deciding to Go Portfolio. That pivotal morning marked the moment when Handy’s full-time professional attention was no longer devoted to one prescribed job using one defined set of skills in one organization. That day, Handy himself became the professional he describes in his books and lectures: the portfolio careerist.

Consultants are arguably the ultimate portfolio professionals. The best adapt broad experience and deep skills to a wide range of companies, business situations and buyer communities. They are not alone. From consultants and entrepreneurs to corporate managers and functional specialists, all professionals are part of an increasingly portfolio-based business environment. Going Portfolio is not a luxury or an option. It’s a requirement for thriving in any business, whether it’s a business of one or a global corporation of one million.

Deciding to Go Portfolio is only the first step. The greatest gains come from managing your portfolio once you’ve gone there. When a business unit identifies a previously undefined niche market, it’s on the path to Going Portfolio. The sales team who understands that they need to reinvent their business development strategy and their sales skills is beginning to manage its portfolio. When you take a chance to develop new skills or apply your skills in new situations, you are Going Portfolio. When you learn to adapt your skills and experience in response to your business environment, you are actively managing your portfolio for both business results and personal satisfaction.

Intentionally or not, we are all going portfolio because our world demands it. The companies, customers and communities we serve with them are constantly fluctuating, and so it the value they seek from each of us. You have to be willing to continually adapt the skills you use and the experience you rely on to add value, right here and right now.

That’s Going Portfolio.  What’s in yours?

Elizabeth Usovicz is principal of WhiteSpace Consulting®, specializing in top-line revenue and business strategies for high-growth companies, new ventures and business units within established companies; keynote speaking and strategy session facilitation. She can be reached at elizabeth@whitespacerevenue.com or (913) 638-8693.

 

Working Hard on The Smart Stuff

June 20th, 2014

Work smarter, not harder.

We’ve all heard the mantra. And when you read it or hear it after a long day, you may wonder if there’s a shortcut or workaround you’ve missed. Is there a cadre of smart people out there that manage to do in three hours what others need eight, or ten, or twelve hours to complete? Is there a silver bullet that they know about?

Working smart or working hard is more than simply working long hours. The smartest business professionals are those who take the time to figure out what their smart work is, and then work hard at the smart work. 

One of the best “smart workers” I’ve ever known was a former boss who had laser focus on his goals. All of Tom’s activity was centered on two things:  Producing results that grew the company, and building positive relationships with the people he interacted with while producing those results.

Tom taught me and everyone else in our business unit to ask ourselves questions. How will this activity produce results for the company? With whom do I need to collaborate or communicate? What effect will this activity have on our customers? My colleagues? Our partners and stakeholders?  Is this the best use of my time right now?

I worked hard during those years I spent in Tom’s business unit – and I’m grateful for all that hard work. I learned to work smarter because I learned to benchmark the value of my activity.

Smarter, harder. It’s not a question of being busy or working less. The return you get on your time is measured in results and relationships. It’s working hard on the smart stuff.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

– Carl Sandburg

Slow, The New Fast

June 10th, 2014

What happened to that white-hot prospect?

Every business owner and sales person has asked this question. You had their attention and mobile number. They had a need; your product or service practically sold itself. You had rapport, and then –

Silence. 

You replay the conversations in your mind and retrace your steps from your notes. Did you miss something?

Perhaps. But maybe it’s not what you think you missed.

Maybe what your prospect took was a break. Some time away from a business pace and information intake that is increasingly head-spinning and demands an increasingly rapid response.  

A business owner I know unplugs once a month, reserving a day to think through all of his pending business decisions and related information. Many executives can’t or don’t schedule intentional “think time,” and they temporarily escape by postponing decisions. Your prospect’s balancing-act response to an overload of information, decision-making and the need for speed? Slow, the new fast. 

Before the next hot prospect turns into a whiff of smoke, consider your prospect’s capacity for information, rapid change and rapid response. Integrate the following questions into your interactions with them:

  • What are you getting from me that is most helpful?
  • What am I doing that is not helpful to you?
  • What could I be doing to be more helpful?  How does that help?

Information overload affects all business professionals and their activities, including you and  your prospects. Think through your sales cycle and build in time for your prospect to gain perspective on their future use of your product or service. It’s one of the routes to yes in slow, the new fast.

What’s Behind Your Sales Pitch?

March 5th, 2014

I recently reconnected with a business acquaintance, the founder and CEO of a successful company, at a networking event. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months and exchanged news on our respective businesses and mutual acquaintances. 

John mentioned that Derek, an inveterate pitchman we both knew, had contacted him. Derek was involved in yet another business and made another pitch to John. “Did you consider it?”  I asked.  John shook his head. “Why not?” 

John stammered something about the services not being a fit for his company, and being too busy. Then he shrugged, palms up, and sighed, “Because there’s no there, there.”

John had articulated a hard truth about the difference between a shallow pitch and a meaningful business dialogue.

This kind of candor doesn’t often surface in casual conversations, and the fact that it did set me to thinking. What does it mean to have there, there?

No there means you’re not here.  If a prospective client, customer or business partner thinks that you have no there, it means they’re not willing to invest the time, energy and ultimately their hard-earned cash to work with you. 

It’s often said that every business relationship involves give and take. I prefer to think of it as an exchange. If your exchange isn’t a blend of substance, character, and space for the prospect’s point of view, there’s no there behind your pitch. And no chance to develop the mutual trust that transforms an exchange into a sale.

Yes, it’s important to craft a short, compelling value proposition and use it skillfully in conversations with prospects, clients and customers. But when a prospect starts to feel like Dorothy wishing for a little dog to pull back the Great Oz’s curtain and reveal the person behind it, perhaps it’s time look behind your pitch for deeper substance. 

Where’s your there?