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The Suspense is Killing You (And Your Deal)

June 27th, 2013

Willy Wonka’s eyes gleam as he watches a boy wedged in a pipeline for chocolate and quips, “The suspense is killing me – I hope it lasts!” 

 Gene Wilder’s line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is relevant for sales people and business owners who sell. Suspense can kill you, and it can also kill your sale if it lasts. 

 In sales, stress can be reduced by managing the source of the stress. That isn’t the case with all vocations, according to CareerCast.com. The career portal annually researches and rates the top 10 most stressful and least stressful jobs (www.careercast.com/jobs-rated). The most stressful jobs in 2013? Soldier. Military General. Firefighter. Sales didn’t even make the Top 10 list. True, sales didn’t make the Top 10 list of least stressful jobs, either. It’s somewhere in between, and where it falls on the scale for you depends on how you deal with the stress. Here’s an example.

 While attending a trade show, I struck up a conversation with the CEO of a small company that was exhibiting at the show. He had arranged several sales meetings in advance of the show, but he focused on complaining that his prospects at a large company that was also exhibiting had not responded to his requests to meet. “They know where my booth is,” he groused. “They can come find me, and if they don’t, I’ll go over there and give them a piece of my mind.”

 Focusing on what others were not doing added suspense and negativity to the sales equation, not only for the CEO but also for his young sales team at the booth. When you’re in a similar situation, you can create suspense and spiral down with the stress, or you can manage it and use it to make progress with a few key questions:

  • What is the worst that can happen with this situation if I do nothing to change it?
  • What’s the best that can happen if I take action?
  • What are the options for action?
  • Which options can bring me closer to the best that can happen?

The CEO didn’t ask me for my opinion. If he had, I would have suggested stopping by the large company’s booth on the last day for an informal conversation with his prospects. During the initial small talk, the CEO would likely be asked, “Did you have a good show?”  The answer could get the CEO his meeting: “We had a great show. We had several meetings onsite that we arranged in advance, and those meetings went really well.  I am sorry that you and I couldn’t get our schedules to coordinate before the show. Let’s figure out how to make that happen.”

 Back to the three most stressful jobs: all of them involve fighting something—like other human beings or the elements. That’s why they’re stressful. Sales is not war. The prospect is not your enemy unless you think of him or her in that way. 

Sales is a team sport, with the objective of bringing both you and your prospect onto the same playing field. Finding options that put both of you on the same playing field are a lot more rewarding than letting the suspense kill you and your deal. Unless you own a chocolate factory.

 

Master the Art of Asking

February 8th, 2013

Asking- it’s the essence of good business relationships and successful business development. And like all business skills, it’s part are, part science. For a brief read and insights on asking the right questions at the right time in the sales cycle, here’s a link to my recent article on The Art of the Ask:

http://www.ithinkbigger.com/january-2013/item/3826-master-the-art-of-asking

Enjoy the read, and thank you for reading.

Easy on the “I’s”

November 10th, 2009

Recently I attended a corporate meeting and in the dozens of conversations that took place over two days, I took some time to observe the participants. On the surface, they seemed to be having good conversations, with lots of jokes and loud laughter. But their subtexts revealed more. Often they interrupted each other in mid-sentence. Some people seemed not to be listening at all but rather prowling for the small pause that would allow them to take back the floor.  And most of what everyone had to say started with the word I.  They behaved like normal people – like most of us would in a similar situation. Intent on communicating, they never really saw one another’s points of view.

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

I was in Tokyo to negotiate the terms of a strategic alliance. I was travelling with a Japanese-American consultant to my organization, who functioned as a 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 in passing interactions but not so useful for a true conversation: comments about the weather, where I would be travelling, how long I’d been in Tokyo, yes I liked Japanese food.  We managed to speak a hybrid language of our own over dinner, a mix of deconstructed English with some French thrown in and a little Japanese here and there, spiced with unintentional humor. 

After dinner I reflected on our conversation. And as I thought about what Takayo had told me about herself and asked about me, I realized that rarely had she used the word “I” in speaking to me.  It was as if she had held up a mirror to our conversation.  Only 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 career: relevance is a business essential, regardless of the culture.

Through her interaction with me, Takayo demonstrated that in forming business relationships – whether they are with partners, prospective customers or the Web 2.0 audience that influences perceptions of our brands – responding is more than expressing our own views. It’s listening first and then expressing our 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 in Texas or the digital world as it is in Tokyo.

If You Wanna Be a Cowboy…

August 23rd, 2009

James Owens’ book, Cowboy Ethics, (www.cowboyethics.com) points out that cowboys seem to be an undisciplined bunch, but for more than a century they have lived by an immutable set of guidelines – the Code of the West.  If you want to be a cowboy, you have to live by the Code. The Code includes “riding for the brand” – in Owens’ terms, “giving allegiance and respect to the brand, where they are deserved and returned.” Owens, a 35-year Wall Street veteran, points out that what’s good for the cowboy is applicable to Wall Street – and to other industries as well.

Like many of us, I frequently give and get business referrals and I recently saw how Owens’ perspectives apply to all of us.  A business colleague mentioned a service provider to his company that could be helpful to mine.  He specifically mentioned a young associate with the provider and so I asked for the associate’s contact information.  I sent the associate an email, mentioning our common business contact and asking if the two of us could set up a meeting to discuss my business need.  I got an email back that basically said, “I’m really busy, but you can try to call my cell phone if you want.”

Okay then. I was a warm lead – a referral, interested enough to initiate contact and my business was within the target profile for the associate’s company. Did this service provider have enough business, or was this particular associate just too busy to care? Or was it something else?  

The next morning, I received an invitation to connect on a social networking site from this same associate. Part of me admired his outlaw audacity.  Here was a guy who was too busy to talk to me about my business need.  Yet he had time to ask for my connections to people that I trust and respect without showing me either.

So what?  This scenario happens daily.  Most of us move on from a less than satisfactory experience and do business with someone else.  Or we may tell others about our experience and reinforce the negative perception of the offender’s brand.  But what if we saw situations like these as opportunities for us to ride for our own brand – ourselves and our company?

Respect and trust are fundamental – part of my code for doing business. So I sent back a reply email:  Jake, I received your invitation to connect online; thanks very much.  I hope you understand that since we haven’t met or spoken yet, I’ll defer acceptance until after we’ve gotten to know one another. If you’d like to do business with me, you’re welcome to give me a call this afternoon.

I got a call that afternoon, an apology – and great service. He’s gained a new mindset and a customer that he treats with respect; I’ve gained yet another business connection that speaks well of me and my company in the marketplace. Like cowboys who honor the Code and ride for their brands, we need to ride for ours, even and maybe especially when others don’t.  When we do, what might have been rough terrain can become fertile grazing.