Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 30, 2013

Guest Article: “Do You Have Skin In Your Game?” by Babette Ten Haken

Filed under: business — Paul McCord @ 11:41 am
Tags: , ,

Do You Have Skin In Your Game?
By Babette Ten Haken

How comfortable are you at the helm of your entrepreneurial start-up? Is this what you expected when you decided to become the CEO of your new venture? Entrepreneurial fantasy gets a huge wake-up call with reality once mentors, advisors, and funders become involved in the collaborative process.

Your comfort level is directly correlated with how much skin you have in your own game.

Your comfort level stems from how well you understand all of the facets of your company that contribute to line items on your financials.

Your comfort level is fueled by how familiar you are with your industry trending and buyer personae.

Your comfort level is a fashion statement based on your ability to wear all of the hats in your organization, simultaneously at times.

Your comfort level is based on your ability to articulate your knowledge to your mentors, advisors, and funders and receive, in turn, their insights about perceived gaps in your business model, market opportunities, and financials.

While we all dream of the silver bullet, bulls-eye, instant success of entrepreneurship, the reality of start-ups is that failure is more frequent than success.

It all depends, however, on how you as the CEO respond to the small failures which, when scrutinized, can contribute to the enduring viability of your venture. Because nobody gets it “right” from the start, continuing throughout the entire entrepreneurial process, 100% of the time.

That is simply wishful thinking.

If you have skin in your own game, you understand the interrelationship between your value proposition, your marketplace, your business model, and your financials.

If you have skin in your own game, you can articulate your value proposition to investors and customers alike – because you “wear” your value proposition like a second skin. And so do all of your employees. You all are on the same page, with the same vision, the same message. You have all “bought in” to the same idea.

If you have skin in your own game, your fingers are constantly on the pulse of your marketplace and the decision makers inhabiting your marketplace. You take responsibility for engaging your customers directly, instead of leaving it up to hired-gun sales and marketing folks. These professionals may have had established track records in some other industry but have no skin in your particular game other than generating their own compensation.

If you have skin in your own game, you revisit your business model continuously, as you attempt to remain nimble within and responsive to the marketplace. Your network of mentors, advisors, funders, and employees (even if you are the sole employee) generate the information which you collectively synthesize and re-apply to your dynamic business model. Unlike established companies, the hallmark of entrepreneurship and start-ups is the dynamic aspect of value proposition-market knowledge-business modeling-financials.

If you have skin in your own game, you understand that you are at the helm of a living, breathing ecosystem that is your business model canvas. Entrepreneurship is organic, responsive, evolving.

If you have skin in your own game, you are overwhelmed at times. There is no limit to the constant knowledge and greater depth of understanding you can glean about the position of your venture within the marketplace.

Babette Ten Haken provides technical and sales people and other sellers, like C-level entrepreneurs, a solid strategy for how to explain a product, its benefits, and its value in ways that buyers and investors can easily understand and sellers can comfortably present.  Find her at Sales Aerobics for Engineers Blog

March 1, 2013

Book Review: Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul

principled-selling-cover-191x300Ethics.

Honesty.

Integrity.

Principles. 

All of these terms are on the tip of virtually every seller’s tongue.  We sellers talk about them, we proclaim we exhibit them in our personal and professional life, and we bombard our prospects and clients with the claim that we epitomize them and they can, thus, trust us without reserve.

To a great extent prospects have heard these claims so often and so loudly that the integrity and ethics of salespeople are a running joke.  For many as soon as a seller says they can be trusted the prospect expects to get screwed.

To top it off many sellers work for companies that preach integrity and ethics and then turn around and practice the worst possible business practices.

Many sellers are working hard to be the ethical, disciplined seller they claim to be.

Nevertheless, the question can legitimately be asked if it is possible to sell with integrity.  Can we as sellers be principled and succeed or is selling by its very nature an endeavor that demands a bit of larceny, manipulation and deception?

David Tovey has addressed the issue in Principled Selling: How to win more business without selling your soul (Kogan Page:  2012).

Tovey argues that it is in fact possible—and not only possible but profitable—to with integrity than to sell using manipulation, deception, or by stretching the truth and trying to be all things to all people.

Principled Selling sets forth a comprehensive look at the sales process—both how it has been practiced in the past and how it should be practiced in today’s rapidly changing sales environment. 

The heart of Principled Selling is the five principles of selling:

Principle 1: selling is about motivation not manipulation

Principle 2: profitable relationships require investment

Principle 3: there must be congruency throughout the business development process

Principle 4: long-term relationships depend on being authentic

Principle 5: being human gets results

From those five principles Tovey constructs a process and shows in detail how to find and attract prospects and then turn them into clients. 

Unlike many books that start out and stay in the ivory tower of sales theory, Principled Selling gets down to the real world through the use of case studies and fleshing out the skills and attitudes necessary to successfully sell with full integrity.

If you’re struggling with how to become a fully transparent and ethical seller or if you’d simply like to learn more trust based skills, pick up a copy of Principled Selling—you really can sell more without selling your soul.

February 25, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Pt 3: You Don’t Need Referrals, You Need Introductions

How often as a B2B seller have you been advised to ask your client for referrals?  If your experience is typical then you’ve heard that advice just about every time you turn around.

Most of us have had it pounded into our heads that we need to ask for referrals after the sale has been completed. We just need to do a good job for our client and then, after the sale, ask them if they know of anyone who could benefit from our products or services and we’ll easily and rapidly grow our business.

Depending upon the seller you ask, that referral question can take many different forms, such as:

“Ms. Client, who do you know that could use my products or services?”

“Mr. Client, who do you know that I should be talking to?”

“Mr. Client, who else do you know that I could help?”

“Ms. Client, if you happen to run across anyone else that I might be able to help, would you give them one of my cards?”

But no matter the specific language of the question we’ve been taught to ask, almost all of them have the same root problem that results in our receiving few high quality referrals: all of the questions most of us have been taught to ask require our client to do our work for us.

In virtually every case we are asking our client to come up with the name of someone they know who they believe could use our services—even though our client really doesn’t know who is a really strong prospect for us; even though our client doesn’t know all of our capabilities; and we’ve put them on the spot asking them to come up with a great referral for us with only a few seconds to think about it.

Not surprisingly most of the “referrals” we get—usually nothing more than the name and phone number—prove to be no more qualified than if we had thrown darts at the phonebook and are, thus, nothing more than time wasters.  Certainly one here and there turns into a client—but for most of us the pickings are pretty slim.

So if asking your client for a referral to someone they know who might need your products or services doesn’t work very well, is it possible to get a large number of high quality referrals from clients?

Yes, absolutely it is.

But instead of asking a weak question like “who do you know that might be able to use my products or services,” it makes far more sense for us to do the hard work of finding out who our client can refer by figuring out who our client knows that we know is a great prospect for us and then asking for a direct introduction to that person.

This method demands more than simply popping off a question at the end of the sale trying to get your client to do your work, but it is powerful because:

  • You are making it so easy for your client to give a great referral that all they have to do is say “yes”
  • You have relieved your client of an uncomfortable and often unwanted burden
  • You are far more likely to get a positive response from your client because instead of asking them to rummage around their mental file cabinet trying to figure out who to refer, you’re asking for a specific and easy to fulfill action—an introduction to someone they know
  • The introduction you get will be to a quality prospect because it will be to a prospect that you pick and that you know you want to be introduced to
  • You will have a much greater chance of setting an appointment with the prospect by being personally introduced by your client than if you just get their name and phone number and call them out of the blue
  • Over time, you can get multiple high quality introductions from each client. They become a never ending source of quality referrals by simply asking for additional specific introductions as you earn them

By investing the time and effort to do the detective work necessary to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to you are not only taking the burden off your client, you’re making it so easy for your client to give you a great referral that the only thing they have to do is say “yes” when you ask.

Instead of relying on your client to come up with a top referral you’re insuring that the introduction you receive is one that you want to receive.

The primary issue now becomes how to discover who your client knows that you know you want to be referred to.  That issue demands developing some detective talents such as keen observation, listening, and analytical skills—skills that will be covered in part 4 of this series on referrals.

In addition to being able to uncover great introductions that your client can give you, the question you ask naturally changes.  Instead of asking your client to come up with a name and phone number, your question will now be geared toward confirming that the client knows your intended prospect and then moves on to asking for the introduction.

Depending upon the circumstances the request could look very much like this:

You: “Don, I’ve been trying to reach Janet Smith over at XYZ Company for some time and haven’t been able to connect and it occurred to me that you might know her.  Do you know Janet?”  (Of course since you’ve done your homework you have good reason to believe he knows her.)

Client: “Sure, I know Janet. Why?”

You:  “Great.  Would you be comfortable introducing me to her?”

If you have done your job well and earned your client’s trust and respect, there is an extremely high probability your client will readily agree to introduce you to Janet.  Instead of asking your client to do your work for you all he has had to do was say “yes.”

Although this process is most easily implemented by B2B sellers, it also works well for B2C sellers in situations where the seller has the opportunity to know their client very well.

Rather than asking your client to rack their brain and do your prospecting for you—something they are ill prepared to do—take the time and put in the effort to do the work for your client and you’ll turn introductions from clients into a major source of your new business.

Referrals—rather direct introductions–can be the cornerstone of your sales business if you learn to do a little detective work and make it easy for your clients to give the great referrals you’ve always wanted.

February 21, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Pt. 2: Asking for Referrals is Bad Practice

OK, I know, you’ve been told your entire life as a salesperson that you have to ask for referrals and that if you don’t you’ll fail.  But if you’re like most sellers you’ve asked and on occasion get a name and phone number of someone that turns into a new client, but most of the time the names and numbers you get are about as targeted as taking a dart and throwing blindly at the phone book.

The above situation is so common that a great many sellers simply stop asking, thinking that referrals are nothing more than sales mythology, while others, thinking they are the cause of the failure to generate significant numbers of quality referrals, continue to ask with little success and a growing sense of frustration and failure.

The reality isn’t that generating quality referrals are nothing more than a myth or that the seller himself is the root cause of referral generation failure.

Referral generation fails primarily because of the way most sellers have been taught to seek referrals.  The seller isn’t the problem; the strategy they’ve been taught is at fault.

How have most of us been taught to get referrals? 

For the most part out referral training consists of nothing more than “do a good job for your client and ask for referrals with a question such as, ‘Mr. Prospect, do you know anyone else who I might be able to help as I’ve helped you,’ or ‘Ms. Prospect, do you know of anyone who might benefit from my products or services?’

Certainly on occasion the training may be a bit more in-depth—one trainer might encourage sellers to ask the question early in the sale while another stresses the need to ask only after the sale has been completed, or one trainer might use slightly different phraseology or might encourage the seller to ask for a specific number of referrals, but the essence of the training is the same—do a good job and ask for referrals.

The problem is the process taught causes more problems than it solves.

First, the good news—the traditional referral training solves a major problem—it encourages the seller to seek referrals.  Although the success ratio is typically very low, it does produce the occasional prospect that turns into a client. 

Now the bad news—it fritters away one of the most valuable business generation resources a seller has—the potential quality referrals from a satisfied client.

Let’s take a look at the primary problems the traditional referral “method” creates:

  • The Referral Question Comes Out of the Blue:  Most clients are not comfortable when put on the spot to give referrals.  When we ask for a referral we may be thinking that we’re asking a small favor but most clients take the request far more seriously.  When a client gives a referral they believe they are putting their reputation on the line, something most don’t do lightly.  Clients need time to become comfortable with the idea of giving referrals.  If we really want quality referrals, we have to allow our client the time to become comfortable with the idea of giving us referrals before we ask.
  • We Don’t Give Our Client the Opportunity to Give Quality Referrals:  When we follow the traditional training of “do a good job and ask for referrals” we literally stand in front of our client (or are holding on the phone) expecting them to pop off the names of great prospects for us.  We are asking them to go through their mental file cabinet and come up with great referrals in the course of 10 or 15 seconds.  That is simply an unrealistic expectation on our part and we usually get what we deserve when we put a client in that position—little to nothing of value.
  • Our Client Doesn’t Know Who a Great Prospect for Us Is:  Not only do we expect our client to be able to give great referrals just off the top of their head, we expect them to know exactly who we can help when much of the time our client hasn’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate what we’ve done for them, much less know what all of our capabilities are and who is really a top prospect for us.  We’re asking our client to do the impossible—know our business as well as we know it.
  • It Ignores Human Nature:  The traditional referral request is one-sided and offers the client no reason to give referrals.  There are, obviously, clients who will give referrals even when there is nothing in it for them, but human nature being what it is, the referral request can be far more successful if it can be shown that it benefits the client as well as the seller.
  • It Makes the Client do the Work:  Rather than making it easy for our clients to give us great referrals, we make it as difficult as possible by asking them to do something they are ill prepared–and often not inclined–to do.  Giving high quality referrals should be so easy for our client that literally all they have to do is say “yes.”

Although referral generation as traditionally taught is laden with self-defeating issues, referral generation when practiced properly can be a highly successful business generation tool—one that can literally be the cornerstone of a successful business.

February 19, 2013

Building Your Business on Referrals Part 1: Understanding the 4 Pillars of a Successful Referral

At first glance, a referral is a pretty simple thing.  For most sellers, managers, and trainers, a referral is just a name and phone number that a client has given once the seller has completed the sale, has done a good job for the client, and then asks a general question such as, “do you know of anyone else that I might be able to help?,” or, “do you know of anyone else that might benefit from my products and services?”.

Once a seller has received a referral, contacting the referred party is just as simple.  The seller will call the referred party mentioning to him or her that the client, which the prospect knows, referred the seller to them, or on occasion they will ask the client to write a referral letter to the prospect and then the seller will call the prospect after they have received the letter.  A very simple, straightforward process.

Unfortunately, this “do a good job and ask for a referral” process is totally and completely wrong, and has been proven by millions of sellers to not work worth a darn.  Nevertheless, this is what is taught in almost every sales course that mentions referrals.  And not only is it a waste of time and effort, it deceives the seller who don’t succeed when using it into believing that the fault lies with him or her, not with a “system” that doesn’t work.

Generating a large number of high quality referrals requires far more than “doing a good job and asking for a referral.”

If you want to generate a large number of high quality referrals from your clients, you must understand what creates a quality referral.

A high quality referral is built on a foundation that has four solid pillars—and as the seller; you have control over three of them:

  1. Your relationship with your client:  Most clients don’t give referrals because they like you or even because you did a good job.  Certainly there are a few clients that will give referrals at the drop of a hat, but most clients hate to give referrals and unless they have a deep trust that you will not embarrass them and that you’ll deal honestly and competently with the prospect they refer, they won’t be willing to give quality referrals.Most clients believe that when they give a referral they’re not just suggesting that someone they know speak to the person they are referring, they believe that they are endorsing the seller, in essence telling the person they refer to the seller that they don’t need to do any research because the referrer has already done it and this person they’re referring is the best choice.  To get clients to take this step doesn’t come without having built a strong bond of trust.
  2. Your client’s purchasing experience: Discover what your client’s purchasing expectations and priorities are, then meet and, hopefully, exceed them.Few sellers ever exceed their client’s expectations because even though they think they know what the client’s expectations are, they never really try to find out, they never ask.  You cannot afford to guess or “think” you know what your client’s expectations are–you must know exactly, and you can only do that by discussing them with your client and then making sure you meet or exceed them–nothing less will do.If you don’t specifically ask your client what their expectations are, the best you can do is meet or exceed what you think your client’s expectations should be.Clients assume that anyone they refer you to will have a similar or WORSE purchasing experience than they had.  The further away from their desired purchasing experience they have, the less likely they will be to give a quality referral.
  3. The relationship between your client and the prospect:  This is the one pillar you have no control over.  Clients will refer you to people they have very strong, positive relationships with–and people they have very negative relationships with.  If the prospect trusts and respects your client, some of that trust and respect will be automatically imbued to you and you start your relationship with them from a position of strength.  On the other hand, if the prospect distrusts or doesn’t respect your client, some of that distrust or disrespect will also be imbued to you and you will start your relationship with them from a position of weakness.  Your job is to find out exactly what the relationship between client and prospect is and then plan you introduction approach to them accordingly.
  4. Your initial contact with the prospect:  To this point you’ve invested a great deal time and effort in establishing your relationship with your client, making sure they have exactly the purchasing experience they want, and finding out what the relationship is between your client and the prospect they are referring.  After investing so much time and attention to get this far, the last thing you want is just a name and phone number.  Instead of getting a traditional “referral” consisting of the name and phone number of the prospect and permission to use your client’s name, get a direct introduction from your client to the prospect.There are three primary methods of getting a direct introduction:

    Letter of introduction from your client to the prospect:  Ask your client to write a letter introducing you to the prospect.  However, once you’ve asked your client to write the letter, let them know that you know how busy they are and then offer to take the burden off of them by writing the letter for their signature.  If you allow them to write the letter it won’t communicate a reason for the prospect to meet with you and it will be written on their schedule—which could be never.The letter you write should give a brief overview of what you’ve done for your client and why the client believes it would be beneficial for the prospect to meet with you, as well as the time and date to expect a call from you.  Have your client sign it. Phone the prospect at the exact time your client indicated you’d be calling.

    Introductory phone call from your client to the prospect:  An even stronger introduction is a phone call from your client to the prospect to introduce you.  This method puts additional pressure on the prospect to agree to set an appointment with you as it is difficult for the prospect to say “no” to your meeting request when they know that their friend, co-worker, or associate is standing next to you when you ask.The downside to a phone call is it gives the prospect the opportunity to ask questions of your client. If there were aspects to the sale that didn’t go well there is a good chance they will surface during the phone call.

    Lunch meeting with your client, the prospect, and yourself:  A tremendously strong introduction method.  Have your client invite the prospect to lunch or coffee with the three of you. Encourage your client to let the prospect know this is NOT a sales meeting, just an opportunity for the two of you to meet one another.

    One of the strange things that often happens during the meeting is the client ends up being your salesperson and you are there simply as the consultant.  And, again, it is very difficult for the prospect to say “no” when you request a meeting.

As seen above, you have control of the majority of the pillars upon which a referral is based.  If any of the above is weak, your likelihood of generating quality referrals will decline and the weakness must be made up elsewhere.  In actuality, if one of the first two segments is weak, you will not be getting quality referrals–period.  However, you can mitigate the third one by using a strong method of introduction.

Generating a large number of quality sales isn’t done by chance or luck, and neither is generating a large number of high quality referrals.   Just as you need a well thought out process to consistently sell, you need a well thought out process to generate quality referrals.  You can significantly increase the volume and the success of your referrals if you understand the dynamics that generate quality referrals and then control those dynamics.

January 31, 2013

The Myth of the Nobility of Failure

I’m a failure.  I’ve had two failed businesses in the past.  I agonized over them.  I lost lots of money trying to build and eventually save them.  I lost sleep over them.  I lost self respect over them.  My failure hurt other people—people who worked for me or whose business my business helped support. 

I learned a great deal from those experiences—although my initial lessons learned were false lessons.

Friends, family, acquaintances, and business “gurus” assured me that my efforts to build something were quite noble and that I really hadn’t failed, I simply came up a bit short of my goal.

I was told that I should take pride in my effort as I was one of the few who had the courage to take the risk–and that itself was a magnificent reward.

I was told that failure wasn’t my fault—I was a victim of the marketplace, seeking to compete against a system that was stacked against the little guy where I could only succeed through luck.

I was told to shrug it off as simply a learning experience; that the only failure was failure to learn.

At the time, I bought into that BS.  Because I wanted to believe it.  Because I didn’t want to admit that I had failed. 

Because I wanted—needed—reassurance that I still had value, that I wasn’t worthless. 

Over time I came to realize a painful truth, one that to some extent is still a bit difficult to admit—I failed.

And there’s nothing noble about failing.

There’s no magnificent reward in failure.

I wasn’t a victim of the system—I failed because I didn’t do the right things.

My failure wasn’t someone else’s fault or the economy’s fault or the “man’s” fault or my employee’s fault.  It rested completely and totally on my shoulders.

While buying into all of the excuses provided me for failing, I believed I had learned a good deal from those failures.

It wasn’t until after I came to the realization that all of those supposed reasons for my failure were nothing other than feel good excuses did I really learn some valuable lessons from my failures.

Only after I was willing to take responsibility for what happened and recognize how I was the architect of my failure did I learn the real lessons to be learned.

We live in an era where there’s a great deal of excuse making for failure.  When you fail there are people everywhere willing to give you a reason why it wasn’t your fault.  In today’s culture—even our business culture—everyone is given the victim excuse.

When you fail—and you will, whether it be big or small—don’t allow yourself the luxury of being fooled by family, friends, and supposed gurus.  They’ll try to make you feel better by letting you off the hook.  It’s an attractive but deceptive lie.  It’s a lie that will prevent you from learning the real lessons to be learned from failure.  It’s a lie that will set you up for further failure.

Rather than falling for the kind lie, face up to the harsh truth of your responsibility for your failure. 

There is no nobility in failure.

You weren’t a victim of anything other than yourself.

Failure isn’t a reward in itself.

Yes, it’s much harder than the alternative.

The weight of that realization is far greater than when others try to lift the weight of failure through their lies.

But the lessons learned will serve you well—and most importantly, wage war against future failure.

 

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November 5, 2012

We’re Sellers, We Are The Hollow Men

Filed under: business,Client Relationships,selling,small business,trust — Paul McCord @ 10:26 am
Tags: , ,

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

(from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot)

Over the past few months as we in the US have been in the middle of an election season I’ve read numerous articles from sales experts exhorting sellers to refrain from discussing politics with prospects and clients even if they have reason to believe the prospect or client has the same opinions as the seller or if the prospect or client initiates the conversation.

We are the Hollow Men.

Oh, Seller, they argue, to voice an opinion on such a touchy subject as politics or religion or various aspects of culture that might be controversial is to be avoided at all costs for voicing an opinion might cost a sale.

We are the Hollow Men.

By all means, they say, feel free to take sides with your favorite football or baseball team, go ahead and state your opinion of who should win American Idol, and don’t be afraid to take a strong stand on who the Bachelorette should pick.

We are the Hollow Men.

But when actual issues of life are presented, be nothingness, be hollow, be stuffed with straw, be nothing more than a chalk outline of a human drawn on the sidewalk.

We are the Hollow Men.

Should we initiate political or religious conversations?  Should we be starting conversations on controversial topics?  No.  But that doesn’t mean we avoid them when they come up. Rather we converse with our prospects and clients as humans, not as checkbooks.  Heaven forbid we even disagree with them at times as real humans are wont to do.

Again, Seller, they argue, don’t be seen as being political or religious.   Take all measures to not offend.  Take that political sticker off your car; get rid of that Knights of Columbus lapel pin; don’t listen to that radio station within hearing range of a prospect, God forbid you express an opinion on Social Medi that someone might actually see.  Be nothingness, be hollow, be a stuffed shell of a human—but at all costs don’t be honest.

We are the Hollow Men.

Then we tell our prospects and clients that we’re honest, trustworthy, transparent.

We are the Hollow Men.


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October 19, 2012

A Critical Lesson in Relationship Selling From Mr. B.J.

Mr. B.J. (that’s him in the photo) is one of the best sellers I’ve ever seen in action.  In fact, I’ve discussed how he and his sister Chloe sell and produce an incredible close ratio.  But just as Mr. B.J. is an exceptional seller and can teach us a great deal about selling, he can teach us one of the primary lessons about relationship building.

In my years as a sales leader and trainer I’ve had the opportunity to go on thousands of sales calls with sellers.  During these calls I’ve observed how the sellers interact with their prospect, their questioning and presentation style, and how they handle objections and difficult questions.  I’ve also noticed how they deal with the other people they encounter during these calls.

It often isn’t pretty. 

When we sellers encounter people such as receptionists, personal assistants, non-decision makers attending the sales meeting, and others that we tend to think of as ancellary during our sales calls, we often have a tendency to give them slight attention, or, worse, completely ignore them without giving the slightest thought to what message that is sending to them or how that impacts their view of us.  Our attention is fixed upon the prize, not on the potted plants sitting at the reception desk or to the side of the decision maker.

So, back to Mr. B.J.

When anyone—friend, family, stranger, or Debbie and I when we get home from being gone from the house—enters our home, they are greeted by our three dogs.  Although all three dogs are excited, Lola and Chloe are willing to be ignored if you choose to ignore them. 

Not so with B.J. 

If you come into our house Mr. B.J. demands that you look at him, speak to him, and bend down and pet him.  He only demands a few seconds of your time, but you will acknowledge and greet him or you’ll pay the consequences.

And what are the consequences?

If you choose to ignore him he will follow you around the house, hopping on your leg and barking at you until you acknowledge him. 

I’ve seen—and heard—him demanding to be paid attention to for up to 15 minutes straight. 

He wants to be a part of the action. 

He demands to be acknowledged. 

Unlike Chloe and Lola who will accept being ignored, B.J. won’t let you get away with it.

All of our family and friends have learned to greet B.J. at the door just as they greet Debbie or I.

But even though Lola and Chloe accept being ignored, they get even more excited and get a great deal of pleasure when acknowledged and greeted.  If you choose to ignore them they’ll slink off, feelings hurt.

What does Mr. B.J. have to do with relationships and selling?

If being acknowledged and greeted is that important to a dog, what can we conclude about the human beings we encounter?  Do we think they are less aware of how we treat them than Mr. B.J. is?  Hardly.

Stop thinking of the non-decision makers you meet as obstacles or potted plants to be ignored, and realize that not only do they have feelings but that they influence the very people you’re trying to influence–and they just might have a lot more influence with those people than you do.

Take a lesson from Mr. B.J.—people want to be acknowledged and greeted.  Most won’t be like B.J. and demand that you acknowledge them, instead most will be like Lola and Chloe and go away without ever letting you know that you blew it, but they just might let the decision make know what they think of you.

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September 1, 2012

May the Seller Beware

Filed under: business,Culture,sales,selling,small business — Paul McCord @ 10:34 am
Tags: ,

Once upon a time, long, long ago in a land that once was the envy of the rest of the world, there was a well known and honored piece of advice that was critical for success in the marketplace for anyone making a purchase.  That advice—caveat emptor or buyer beware—carried the implied and very real responsibility the buyer had to make sure they were buying the right product, at the right price.  If the product didn’t perform as the buyer hoped or if the buyer paid too much, the responsibility laid at their feet.  If, however, the seller knew the product had defects or made material misrepresentations about the product, the seller could be held responsible in a court of law.

When caveat emptor reigned, commerce responsibility was a two way street.  Each party assumed responsibility for their part of the transaction.  The buyer was responsible for researching the product, the company he or she was dealing with, and comparing prices amongst providers and comparable products or services, while the seller was responsible for providing a safe and reliable product—or at least one they believed to be safe and reliable—and representing it honestly to the buyer.

Those good ‘ol days are gone forever.  Over the past decades the government has determined that buyers are not capable of successfully navigating the marketplace and thus must be protected from themselves by shifting virtually 100% of the responsibility in the transaction to the seller.

No longer may a seller offer a product or service in the consumer marketplace expecting the buyer to make reasonable decisions about whether or not the product will meet his or her needs.  No longer can a seller confidently price their product or service without the fear that some government official or agency will seek to force them to justify the price or lower it.  No longer can a seller offer a product or service free of the fear that government won’t demonize it and possibly even ban its sale by fiat. 

In the past few years government on all levels has become much more proactive at going after businesses who have sold a product or service to a consumer who then determined it didn’t meet their needs.  Government at all levels is becoming much more proactive at trying to influence how businesses price their goods and services.

In the consumer market buyer beware has now been replaced with seller beware.

Worse, these same issues are now being felt more in the business-to-business marketplace than in the past.

Even worse, in some cases even the salespeople involved in transactions are being held personally accountable.  These aren’t instances of the salesperson lying or misrepresenting the product or service.  These aren’t cases of price gouging.  These are instances of a salesperson selling their company’s product or service in good faith with adequate disclosure but where the buyer bought a product that didn’t perform fully to their expectations or where the product or service caused harm due to buyer misuse.  In some cases the buyer’s expectations were unrealistic; in others they simply chose to purchase a product that wasn’t quite right for their needs, and in others they were simply too stupid to use the product to begin with.

In this environment how can we salespeople protect ourselves from potential litigation?  According to an attorney I was speaking with, the single best defense a seller can have is to keep thorough notes on each transaction. 

It is sad that our society has come to be a CYA society, but it has. 

Equally sad is to see it degenerate into a nanny state where consumers, whether individuals or businesses, no longer need accept responsibility for their decisions.

The reality is it will probably only get worse for sellers, not better.

Whether you keep written, oral or video notes on each of your transactions, now is the time to make sure that you document them, for you never know when some bureaucrat or attorney might come knocking on your door.

 

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July 13, 2012

Guest Article: Reputation Recovery, by Charles H. Green

Reputation Recovery
by Charles H. Green

When you are more virtuous than your reputation would suggest, you have a communications problem.

When your reputation for virtue exceeds the facts on the ground, you have a ticking business problem.

When Image and Reality Part Ways

When you have a communications problem, the communications team should hire a PR firm. Most firms do this.

But in the second case – where the reputation is better than the truth – most firms do not do what they should. They don’t even thank their lucky stars for having a better reputation than they deserve.

Instead, they begin to believe the hype.

Then one day, It Happens. The subsidiary defaults. The pipeline springs a leak. Animal byproducts show up in the food. Someone comes forward to testify.

Let’s be clear. These things just kind of seem to happen more often to the non-virtuous than to the virtuous firm. If the event truly is an anomaly, it doesn’t last on the front page. Acts of god don’t make good news for long.

But what about the non-virtuous firm?

When Disclosures Accelerate

When it turns out the smoke really did indicate fire, the non-virtuous firm all too often behaves predictably. Having believed their undeserved hype about being virtuous, they then do what the virtuous firms did – they hire a PR firm.

Which is all too often the wrong thing to do – and hardly ever the main thing to do.

In an interesting display of PR sensitivity, BP chose to hire Dick Cheney’s former campaign press secretary as head of PR, and a Wall Street PR firm as outside advisors.

Of course, there is a role for communications experts even in a crisis. With multiple constitutencies and tons of experience at keeping things secret, perhaps it made sense for Penn State to hire two outside PR firms.

But most non-virtuous firms aren’t looking for technical expertise; they’re looking to follow the lead of Muammar Gadaffi in seeking spin.

PR: a Delicate Balance

It cannot be an easy thing to tell clients seeking spin that the solution is to become virtuous. Clients want virtue now, and backdated if possible, thank you very much.

In such a milieu, the temptation for ambulance chasing is high. How can you keep on teaching virtue when the clients are paying you to shut up and stop the pain?

Yet that is what must be done. Arthur Page, the poster child for “good” public relations, had it right. He had a list of seven principles, the first of which was “tell the truth.” What a concept.

He also said that public relations is 90% doing and 10% talking about it. In other words, if you are virtuous, you’re not going to have much of a problem explaining crises.

Recovering Virtue

The fallen firm wants to know what they can do now to recover. After all, they always sought fast fixes in the past, and they worked. But there simply is no fast route to virtue recovery if you’re coming from a history of un-virtuous behavior.

At a personal level, it’s conceivable that someone could have an instant conversion and become virtuous, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it – most conversions I have seen have come through pain and hard work.

And at a corporate level? Fuggedabout it. The fastest route to serious change is to change all the top leadership, and even then you’ve got habits, policies and cultures to change. Minimum 6-12 months, and I can’t off-hand think of an example where change has happened that fast.

Non-virtuous leaders who’ve been caught with their pants down don’t want to hear it, but the best way to handle crises is to prevent them happening in the first place. The best way to be trusted is to be trustworthy.

Spin is not the solution; spin is the problem.

You may not be able to change by tomorrow, but you can always start the journey today.

Charles H. Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates LLC; read more about Charlie at http://trustedadvisor.com/cgreen/You can follow him on twitter @CharlesHGreen

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