Are We Ready To Sell And Make Big Money

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My heart sank the other day. When I heard that exact phrase of this post’s title.

It was in a restaurant.

A touristy kind of place for casual yet slightly upmarket dining, in a location to die for, fairly unencumbered by competition.

In the area behind me, an impromptu staff meeting took place.

The shift manager clearly not happy with ‘performance’ so far during the day.

His main beef seemed to be the apparent absence of upselling.

Many (most) of the menu options allow to add extras, at a price.

He wanted them to always ask if any extras were required.

A classic selling situation you might think.

Yet consider the circumstances.

Imagine how you’d feel if every single time an order was placed, the waitron went on to ask about an extra.

It wouldn’t take long before it grates. Badly.

The manager then urged his staff that the more they did this, then the more they’d earn in tips. People would leave a percentage of the whole meal. Not tot up the bill less extras, you see.

There’s plenty wrong with this.

Putting money before achievement is always (A-L-W-A-Y-S) the wrong way round.

Leads before ‘conversation’, anyone?

Then there’s the obvious 101 #fail monotony of “d’you want fries with that?”

There are so many different and more effective ways to introduce and refine upselling than this.

My time in said establishment suggested that they value their operations over client experience.

A tragedy.

Especially galling as my meal was pretty decent.

Come to think of it, you still hear today sales conference perorations deploy this very phrasing (and flawed framing).

Who would buy from anyone who’s mantra was ‘are we ready to sell and make big money’?

Especially when compared to those thinking, ‘are we ready to get every order spot on and deliver an outstanding meal out’.


What’s Their Saga In Just 200 Words

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Fake News outlets are still in a right old tizz, I see.

“It’s the story that has dominated Donald Trump’s presidency, but it’s complicated.”

So ‘reports’ the BBC.

I forced myself to battle through the tut-tuts and click on.

Driven not by the draw of this particular media outfit’s calibre of journalism (all too often embarrassingly partial) but the headline and construct; The Trump-Russia saga in 200 words.

I half-expected to see them use the line, ‘despite Russia, Trump passed tax rate cuts…’

Compelled to check electronically, their piece clocked in at 199 words. Including intro and sub-headings. (Excluding headline.)

Let’s look at those five compartments. Each having a single paragraph follow, apart from the middle one, which had two;

In summary
Any evidence?
What meetings?
Who else is involved?
And the president?

Let’s leave aside the blatant fact that the actual text given is clunky, misleading and far from a clinically balanced insight.

Unlike the writing, the structure is a clear winner.

There’s many Sales facets to this. Not least the difficulty in pulling off this kind of feat.

Remember the (1657?) adage, “I didn’t have the time to write you a short letter, so wrote a long one instead“? I wish this was applied to many a piece of sales correspondence. The strictures of social media messaging alone are not helping in this vital business skill.

This also brought to mind ideas on getting your point across in a succinct one hundred words. As suggested by Margaret Thatcher and a Reader’s Digest story competition (where I notice the one cited from Lynne Truss was 534 characters in length, almost double the recently expanded tweet capacity).

Then there’s the classic 5 Whys treatment.

Anything that prevents waffling and promotes precision when pitching is to be pursued.

Imagine that you’re trying to generate that all-important empathy and understanding. How do you summarise the prospect plight back to them? The one for which you have the ultimate solution, but haven’t yet earned the unique right to describe, let alone have it accepted.

Can you sum up their saga situation in 200 words, split in just five sections?

Can you craft a one-sentence ‘it’s complicated’ intro, followed by such as; In Summary, Any Evidence, What Specifics, Who’s Involved & The Big Play … ?

What a Prop, first meeting report or workshop ‘opener’ that would make.


Rounding On Exactitudinal Sleights

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Here’s precise wording around a financial amount I was recently privy to on a message group;

…they gave an exact figure like 1,813,459 to make it look properly thought out

Followed by a dismissive assessment of the reality of such accurate workings actually having taken place.

A note duly chimed with me. Early on I was always taught to be ’rounded’ with initial, rough prices. Then go minutely specific with eventual official quotes.

Chiefly because any number not ending with strings of zeroes holds the appearance of careful calculation and so less open to significant challenge.

The writer of the above line seems to have learned similar from their experience.

Which caused me to pause for a moment of reflection.

Is such a figure still truly more believable? Does such asymmetry and more jagged, less clean lines really make for a salesperson’s friend? Are corporate buyers ever frustrated at a potential bill ending in the equivalent of the retail tag of 99?

Well. if you’ve got your justification nailed on, then the answer must be to avoid the obvious looking round numbers.

Even b2b on-demand web services are seldom, say, a flat, straight million bucks a year dead on.

Any subsequent discount dance, spec swaps or quasi-contractual ‘errors & omissions’ may change the landscape anyway.

So why not politely click shut that perhaps ajar door. Offer up first pricing that demonstrates proper thought and effort has gone into your prospect’s precious solution. Don’t start off by using ‘simple’, ‘nice rounded’ numbers.


Nail Your Point Format

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So I was talking through mnemonics with someone.

POINT arose.

Preparation – One page only – Interesting – Newsworthy – Three

I remembered it fondly.

I then riffed on how this kind of thing can really sing and dance when re-designed onto a specific business setting.

In our case, you get a salesteam to make their own version, they own it, and it flies.

As an example, my first stab to adapt this for your own pitch began with;

Practice One I Number Takeaway

What I tried to cover with this quintet was the need to rehearse (P), focus only on a single sharp angle (O), ensure you frame the classic WIIFM (I), use a memorable figure (N), and stress what you want the listener to be able to recollect afterwards (T).

Vexed slightly that the middle ‘I’ (as in capital ‘i’) could be confused with ‘one’, I set about further iterations of these initial-letter triggers. I soon swapped in Integer for Number. In turn, I fashioned a further sample five;

Poetry Ownership Intrigue Newness Topical

It doesn’t matter what words you use, so long as they properly instruct your sales efforts and (crucially) make a large and consistent impact in your potential customer’s eyes.

A third and forth option quickly flowed;

Proof Open Isolate Novel Testimony

Profit Original Individual Nurture Trap

Each designed to house all that is essential for a new product pitch to a key target individual.

Anything that evokes what the hook is for your prospect, truly framed from their perspective, is a winner.

Work out five key elements to your pitch to strongly make your point.


Is The Rotterdam Effect Skewing Your Sales Plan?

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Thankfully the land of my birth have moved on from the annoying and unhelpful Hard/Soft textural prefixes when trying to sum up two opposing options.

Yet I fear we’re heading somewhere equally misleading when I hear countries as the fashion for labels. Norway or Switzerland this weekend made way for Canada-plus-plus-plus.

Which all combined to remind me of the power or drain of a misleading reason code.

The Rotterdam Effect being apposite right now.

As the largest seaport hub on the continent, goods can often by counted as trade with the Dutch, when in fact they are being in essence mis-counted before a final journey onwards.

So you think a figure is one thing. When in fact it is significantly clouded.

Sales has a classic reason code. Why did you win or lose a deal?

lost; product rubbish, price too high

won; took them on a jolly and laughed at all my jokes

I’ve had senior sales management tell me this is not the case when incontrovertible evidence patently exists within their domain to the contrary. ‘Yes, mate, buyers only select solely based on the scores of a tech spec checklist’. Really.

In part, sales reporting design must bear some of the blame. Think how we are blighted anytime we wish to end a retail contract and suffer the computer-says-no barriers with call centres trying to frustrate our cessation intention. Yet reason code confusion in selling stems from multiple blurs.

Where was our prospect’s deal birthed? What do they value above all else in any chosen solution? Who has final say? Why now? How will they decide overall?

With the calendar year-end fast approaching, perhaps we’re able to plan a moment when an audit of our own may well pay dividends?


Early Dotcommer’s Contrarian Interview Qu

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My recent posts on interviewing reminded me a small piece I’d read on the inc.com columns. There one scribe suggests his most revealing interview question as;

“Tell me about your friends.”

The well-known quote sprang to mind that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” of which I blogged a few years back.

This coincided with a number of other random ‘best interview question’ blogging I’d come across lately. Indeed, I singled out a quartet from a software exec, one from a web streamer and a further from an ops techie over the past.

I normally avoid such nonsense. I’ve trained Management – both Line & Senior – on the rigours of interviewing salespeople. They always seem to want a quick cheeky checklist of amazingly revealing questions. If only it were that simple. Yet these very types of content sail perilously close to such doldrums.

So when I happened across another such morsel my eyes naturally began to roll.

This time courtesy of a dotcom hero. Peter Thiel once helped found PayPal, invested early in Facebook and latterly has taught a module at Stanford.

In the book of his course’s lecture notes, From Zero To One, he opens with what he terms his contrarian question. Guaranteed to show the real courage and genius of the thinker.

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

He lists a trio of useless answers he’s received before stating his own;

“most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more”

Baffling. On many levels. I don’t know anyone that believes globalisation is today’s big driver. Maybe it says more about Silicon Valley than those who behind true cause rally.

Still, his construct is a winner though. I’m further reminded of the devilish question like

“Do you think the quality of our menswear products are as high as our home department products?”
(Asked at Marks & Spencer, to Technologist candidate, London)

The ‘contrarian’ works because there’s no hiding place. Whilst a little broad for Sales, you might tweak it by specifically examining a “selling truth” rather. Even if I suspect our Pete might rail against this as it is the apparent breadth that is its deceptive weapon.

What might salespeople suggest?

2.0 is not the next selling nirvana? Value trumps price? Process is the only platform?’

Whichever, whatever. It is still a worthy addition to your interrogations.


Fresh Coat Of Paint Applied To Un-Pink Indelible Red Lines

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Redlines. That Millennial expression so beloved of people nowadays to state where their position cannot move beyond.

♪♬ I’m dreaming of a right Brexmas, just like the one I voted for ♫

Yes, it’s that seemingly perennial favourite, Brexit. And a nation can rejoice. Or breath a sigh of relief.

First phase talks around “divorce” got signed-off today. (“progress snatched from the jaws of stalemate“)

When nail-bitingly close or distant from agreement earlier in the week, down-to-the-wire merchants had a field day. Apparently there are some so well schooled in taking such dialogues to their absolute limits, that they themselves are mighty proud of their unnerving tactics; “This is a battle of who blinks first, and we’ve cut off our eyelids”. O-oh. (hat-tip; The Sun newspaper).

This particular stage appears to have hit its quicksandish sticking point around the choice of one word from three; alignment*, convergence, equivalence. How finely balanced such deliberations can be. (* the ‘winner’, with adjective ‘full’ as its conjoined prefix.)

Elsewhere, the media’s darling Brexiteer has enjoyed a well covered couple of days. Here’s his two main duly reported soundbites from Parliament across the week;

“Is it not essential that the red lines on maintaining the United Kingdom and on regulatory divergence whence the benefits of leaving come are indelible red lines?”

“Before my Right Honourable Friend next goes Brussels, will she apply a new coat of paint to her red lines because I fear on Monday they were beginning to look a little bit pink.”

Indelible. New Coat Of Paint. A Little Bit Pink.

These are indeed tremendous ripostes to have at your disposal during a negotiation.

In fact, any mix of red and your diluting colour of choice can be suitably swapped in for ‘pink’.

When we solution sellers are allowed (expected, sometimes) to conduct our own deal finalities, the redlines which bound us are fairly standard. Minimum margins, immovable timescales, protected products.

So the ability to defend, and defend well, becomes crucial.

This week’s London exchanges also brought to mind my time living and working in Africa. There a concept is ingrained. The indaba. This term pretty much extends to any big meeting. Yet it made global headlines back in 2015 when a particular tactic of them was widely credited as achieving the previously thought near-impossible agreement of 195 countries to sign an environmental deal.

Instead of repeating stated positions, each party is encouraged to speak personally and state their “red lines”, which are thresholds that they don’t want to cross. But while telling others their hard limits, they are also asked to provide solutions to find a common ground.

My indaba experience is not as glowing as that famed example. Sides can overstate their redlines and provide as the solution that the other party caves. Still, this style of “position” starting point does seem to be gaining traction.

“Indabas were first introduced in climate negotiation talks in Durban in 2011. In the last minutes of the meeting, negotiators reached a deadlock. To prevent talks from collapsing, the South African presidency asked representatives from the main countries to form a standing circle and speak directly to each other.”

We may not be able to go to quite this level of indaba-do, yet the upfront explicit redline reveal does have the feel of a win-win about it. Can it apply to one of your tricky stalled closing talks?


Your Reducer To Halt Opposition Attack

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Another happy find from Football punditry. This time via a chopper centre-half that used to revel in pinching the lovehandles of opposing strikers.

He referred to the importance of putting in a “reducer”. To him, this is a tackle you make that stops the opposition mounting an attack. It’s preferably made in the opponent’s half. The more niggly the better.

What you seek to do is stop any momentum and flow building. And make it look innocent so that you avoid the yellow card sanction of a caution.

It offered intriguing insight.

The glory of the web provides an interesting general definition for ‘reducer’;

To bring down, as in extent, amount, or degree; diminish

Then I discovered there is also a recognised engineering application;

reducer is the component in a pipeline that reduces the pipe size from a larger to a smaller bore (inner diameter). The length of the reduction is usually equal to the average of the larger and smaller pipe diameters. There are two main types of reducer: concentric and eccentric reducers.

And of course, the slang footie version doesn’t escape internet illumination;

Football term, by where a player (usually of lesser ability) will attempt to tackle an opposition player (usually of superior abiliy) in a grossly unfair and extremely violent manner, so as to let the opposition player know that if he values his family jewels then today might be a good day to have an “off day”. The reducer is often aimed at knee height of the opposition player (or in extreme cases, the testicles), and will usually take place in the first few minutes of the game.

That last one gets quite harsh.

In each case, the idea of slowing something down is one that tickled my Sales sensibility.

We’ve all been there. The tornado of the competitive force seems to be spinning us out of contention. Whether it be due to an entrenched or panicked incumbent, the regressive stubborn status quo, or indeed a sparky shiny alternative. There are times when we’re not getting the hearing we deserve.

This is where a ready-made reducer can come in very handy.

What can halt their charge? Make the prospect take stock. Investigate in a fashion favourable to you. Shift the ground slightly our way.

When selling (as I invariably tend to) against a vocally cheaper bid, a winner is often the age old on-cost versus day-one-cost comparison.

Anything that gets the prospect onto your turf works. Delivery, future-proofing, strategy matching, compatibility, problem eradication.

Then there’s the lever you pull to set the tracks on this path. Level-selling to the chief exec is a textbook steer. Yet a groundswell from the (maybe only) one party that is on-side can be brought to bear too.

In any event, reducers can certainly sway the balance your way. What’s yours…?


Want To Know How A Nudge Helps You Sell More?

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Libertarian paternalism. That’s the fancy name for nudging. The science behind helping people make better decisions. Whether it be the famous example of a fly tattooed onto Schipol airport urinals to keep gents toilets cleaner, or the auto-enrolment into pension schemes providing precious extra retirement benefit, positive stories abound extolling the pleasures of this concept.

I listened to the head of Number Ten’s behavioural insight team – nicknamed the Nudge Unit – talk of the constant trialling they do.

Results were fascinating. He gave three examples of successful ideas. Each can have an allied selling message for us in the field.

More than a third of the UK’s homes have insufficient loft insulation. Rather than hand out environmental-based fines, offering a loft clearing service saw an increase in energy and cost saving insulation take-up of between 3- and 5-fold.

Plastering a fact on top of tax paperwork meant nearly everyone submits their forms before the deadline. That fact was ‘9 out of 10 people pay their taxes on time’.

Sweeping the streets when people are out and about to bear witness, rather than when traditionally done in the small or unsocial hours, drastically reduced littering.

Cass Sunstein, the American ex-law professor who coined this movement also contributed winners. Such as one of my favourites, the calorie labelling regulations for chain restaurants in the US. These heralded huge impact in both product reformulation and personal consumption reduction.

So how can these be adapted in our solution sales world?

The loft insulation is a classic wherever you sell services alongside your main product. Implementation, maintenance, consultancy, training. Each may have a barrier to purchase. Where is there a hassle clientside that may be holding you back? In my own career I remember the uplift to new BI module sales when we removed the trauma of dealing with messy product file data spat out by aloof erp systems. All happily done by willing trainee resource back at base.

The tax strapline is also a cracker where you want people to follow a significant herd. We love to know what our neighbour does and are happy to do likewise. The age-old header would have been ‘you better pay up by the end of the year else there’s a nasty fine coming your way’. I’ve longed bemoaned the usual marketeer trick here. “We sell one of these every minute”. All me-me-me. Much better to say something like, ‘ someone buys one of these every [whenever]’ followed by a phrase beginning with the word ‘to’ or ‘because’ which directly alludes to the glory they duly attain. Particularly useful where you have a good seller, promoted to those that have not yet seen its light.

Street cleaning in full view is a handy reminder to develop a live demonstration of absolutely any and every benefit you provide. Let the potential customer play with the toy too if possible.

Finally, calorie watching almost became an addiction for me the first time I encountered this when working in New York. Any product listing you show customers in a menu style (usually but thankfully not exclusively also with prices) is ripe for this treatment. What’s the key numerical joy that each item can bring? It needn’t be a definitive figure. A guideline range would do. Any costs or time savings would be neat. If you provide products to sell on, then their typical re-order frequency, overall stockturn or propensity to elicit add-on orders could feature.

There’s plenty of fuel for ideas in this field.

Footnote 1: mp3 stream/download from 30min BBC Radio 4 Analysis show 25 March 2013, also with transcript pdf.

Footnote 2: I realise I’ve blogged on Nudge a few times over the years. Including 2010, 2009 November and July & 2008 August and July. The nudge authors’ site itself as I blog here was last updated Oct 2011.


To Bespoke Or Not Bespoke

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Here’s a header box that greeted me as I opened out a menu at one of central Cape Town’s new trendy spots on the rapidly improving Bree Street.

I instantly thought menu engineers would explode seeing this.

Talk about how to put your clients’ backs up. They haven’t even started and you’re placing restrictions on them. You design everything else around their experience to be brushed with boutique specialness. But then hit them square between the eyes with the approach of a fastfood chain.

I wondered what changes could possibly cause such upheaval. Swap sausage for bacon? Take onions out the salad? Rye bread instead?

Every single independent deli-cafe-restaurant faces such ‘changes or substitutes’. They are near constant.

I then pondered whether a waitron training issue was perhaps the true cause of operational discomfort. As opposed to intransigent cooking staff. Or maybe owner insistence. After all, think of the havoc changing flows in the just-in-time stock system may wreak.

No chance of a pick ‘n mix Full English then?

For balance, let’s not forget though, the occasional unreasonableness of a customer.

Switching items plainly without parity of price cannot be ‘fair’. Crafting a brand-new menu from scraps of what or might not already be available does not make you sound like a Michelin reviewer. Who is so “spesh” that they must have their steak-frites with mash?

An item can be prepared in advance of final cooking as ‘one’, rendering change not possible. I once bore witness to a request for a Dhansak curry to be served “without the lentils”, although thankfully we all laughed along together.

We sometimes suffer this onslaught. Account Managers can live under a barrage of “change order requests”.  New Business field regular spec amendments.

Gone are the days of Henry Ford’s “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”.

Yet there is a problematic shift here. There used to be two polar options; Bespoke, Off-The-Peg.

The former clearly commanding pricing higher than the latter.

Today, these boundaries have not so much blurred as become flattened. To the extent that buyers might even take great offence if their precious solution was not in fact completely and uniquely tailored to them.

Be strong.

I never work with the cheapest player in a sector.

So yes, I am possibly biased.

Yet I stick to my guns. You have a product that is different. Do not be afraid to charge for that difference. Nor for any extra difference the eventual client may quite like. It has value. To you and your prospect.

Do not participate in our Solution world’s own Race To The Bottom.

But don’t say you can’t be flexible from the off. Leave that to the commoditising, margin-losing, firefighting competition.