Archives: May 2012

Ideational Perseveration

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This can misleadingly sound like a daunting phrase to get your head around. Don’t fret it;

You have one specific idea.

And you relentlessly persevere with it.

You continually pursue the thoughts, ambitions, dreams of that idea.

I learned this at around 6.30am in a San Francisco hotel room, listening to English radio at about 3 in their afternoon today.

The inspiring woman who taught me this (also my age, why am I not meeting girls like her?!) is Kate Spicer. Her younger brother, Tom has what I think she described as ‘autism on steroids’, the learning disability Fragile X Syndrome.

He became obsessed (Kate’s word) on thrash band Metallica. And over time, especially with their drummer (and if you’ve seen the at times painful fly on the walls about their making of albums, wannabe group leader), Lars Ulrich.

Tom kept asking if he could meet Lars. Then kept asking. And asking. And asking.

This is a kind of ideational perseveration.

So Kate thought “everyone deserves one adventure in their life” and off to meet Lars they went. And it was all filmed for Mission To Lars.

Even without knowing the denouement, one happy outcome was the emboldened Tom. The joy Kate felt came through on the other side of the world. My eyes are welling up once more just typing about it now…

So, mine here is a blog for the aspirant sales-CEO. Naturally ideation preseveration got me thinking.

Yesterday I actually talked with a CEO about one entertaining school of management, where whenever someone comes into your office and asks you for something, you must always instinctively say ‘no’. The theory goes that most people then disappear back out the door, tail between legs, never to mention it again. They only come back if they really believe in it.

I don’t buy that. Still, imagine such scenario plays out regularly.

Tom’s persistence started his journey.

If you have an idea in which you truly believe, then stick at it. In selling, this often means something akin to ‘always be closing’. Ignore the compulsion to follow this confusing parallel. Better, take a customer idea. One that you can uniquely resolve. And bang away at it.

Perhaps not with the singular intensity showed by Tom, tweak the pitch along the way, but if you constantly chip away, eventually people might just stand beside you.


Back-Fill Banish Bulge

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Here’s a funny thing I learned the other day.

One global sales company I know standardised on salesforce.com.

They originally only paid commission when a deal was properly reported on in their chosen system.

Yet reps would do the expected, and only fill-in screens once the deal had been done.

So commission triggers were altered.

Now, any deal where back-filling had been done would not be paid out on.

Date-added flags were used to identify offenders.

Overnight, many more “opportunities” appeared that bulged the pipeline.

To such an extent that the value of the funnel increased dramatically.

In fact, by a whopping three times.


Zones Of Antagonism

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The strangely entertaining (for a foreigner) New York Times Close Up slot features as its host the accomplished yet bizarrely expressionless Sam Roberts. On NY1 this weekend featured an English author’s new book.

Peter Pringle in Experiment Eleven (reviews on this Amazon link) documents the subterfuge and politics surrounding the birth of the pharma industry by way of a key antibiotic discovery.

He prefaced the intrigue by explaining the experimental process. Scientists went into a field, took a handful of soil back to the lab, separated out all the bacteria they found, then pitted pairs against each other in a petri dish. Their aim was to distinguish good bacteria from the harmful, then see which good defeated what bad.

Success came when a ‘clear zone’ appeared, where the good had prevented the bad from spreading. These are apparently termed Zones of Antagonism.

The word antagonism, for me, represents a sort of winding someone up by taking an opposing stance. And you can be antagonistic towards anything.

A quick web search, highlights a definition more insightful in this context;

inhibition of or interference with the action of a substance or organism by another

This of course has an interesting Sales parallel.

Shall we amusingly equate a less than enamoured person with us at a prospect to potentially harmful bacteria? Their negative vibes can damagingly spread, infecting those more disposed to our proposal so that their enthusiasm begins to ebb away, perhaps even to the point it becomes smothered and dies.

Well, with a simple piece of political mapping you can isolate such people. Once you’ve found them, you can then plan how to create your own ‘zone of antagonism’ to nullify their progess.

If we take our lead from these pioneering biologists, then where are your good bacteria that can make this happen for you?


Thinking Report

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Being five hours behind in New York, I caught an item on BBC Radio 5 I would never normally catch. Su Chang eloquently dissected how Beijing Uni is sending students for internet cessation classes.

By pure fluke, the package on Radio 4 at the same time was discussing how ‘addiction’ can often be better re-labeled ‘compulsion’.

Su railed against the authorities having to send five learners to these correctional classes, regardless of how many may or may not require them. And went into detail about centrally mandated expectations.

One fascinating area she uncovered was the thinking report.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, she herself suffered the glare of the authorities. Every day she had to write her own thinking report, showing how she had thought hard about what she did and demonstrated how she now realised she’d been in the wrong to support democracy protests.

She said that even now, all communist party officials had to submit their own thinking reports. Each week. Showing how they were on-message. What would Orwell make of that?

There’s an equivalent in Sales isn’t there?

Now, I’m not likening the ideal selling environment to a police state where freedom of expression and self-determination are outlawed (although you might know one or two where that is the case!), yet we demand periodic reports too.

The forecast.

Normally, we print off the standard columns from whatever crm or spreadsheet we must use. Deal size, close date, prospect name. Maybe some form of guesswork, like a probability of winning. That’s about it.

Yet how does this help us in either knowing how each salesperson is really working, or where to apply coaching in any key areas required?

Most forecast routines can be easily amended here. Highlight the elements of the process – and I don’t mean the chronological funnel stuff but the boxes you tick off on every won deal – pull out activity on key (new) products and bring in measures on how the hopper is being readied to fill the pipeline.


How You Play The Ball

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As England put the circuit’s current comedy side, the Windies, to the sword in the first test, professional Yorkshireman Geoff Boycott analysed the unorthodox technique of present world number one batsman Chanderpaul.

He stands almost front-on to the bowler, rather than more traditional side-on stances. Yet he is an immovable object in the long form, and quick scorer in the shorters.

“Firey” Boycs commented on TMS how much coaching he has done across the globe since retirement in the early 80s. He never gets concerned with how people stand at the crease.

“it’s how you play the ball”

He went on.

“It’s not how you pick up the bat or stand.

Bradman used to pick it up towards gully!”

His incredulity at how the greatest ever batsman could prosper with such an anti-text book approach was clear. He talked next about the “rotary movement of the shoulders”.

His point is a cracker when related to Sales.

There are so many tips and tricks around the edges, yet so many miss the main aim.

Do you come across as out for yourself, or out for your prospect?

How you play the ball is surely all about how you put yourself in the potential client’s shoes and how this genuinely comes over through everything you do.


Premier League Awards

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One for sales management. The climax of the English top flight football league was astonishing. A double-strike inside five added minutes of stoppage time earned Manchester City the title in the very last match.

One newspaper review of the season made me think of many a sales conference hoo-rah I’ve been to.

When it comes to doling out the champers, the prizes often lack any fizz of their own. Anyone over quota (rightly) gets a gong of course, with the numero uno a special mention. But that’s about it. Yet there’s so much more to enliven proceedings. And crucially, also improve motivation.

The categories of accolades I read were as follows;

best player, manager, goal, match, signing & pundit

worst flop, biggest gripe, change for next season & is the league stlil the world’s best?

There’s a lot to take from these I fancy. What about ideas from this bunch;

best deal, most improved rep, ideal win, best upsell, shortest winning campaign, best first-meeting to deal ratio, best competitive unseat, most new product sold & perfect process addition

And you can easily add in a few comedy ones of your own for a moment of levity too.


Learning Enthusiast

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I learnt about the latest education buzzword the other day. From an aspirant Asst Head no less.

At a recent conference, English school bosses were derided for coining the phrase ‘teachability‘. Its context; do teachers want to learn?

They also talked about wanting to promote ‘learning enthusiasts’.

Apparently, teachers in this camp exhibit three traits;

  • constant discussion and sharing of best-practice
  • working in all areas throughout the school, not just their own dept
  • out-of-hours involvement

I instantly thought of Sales teams. How many reps show up in any, let alone all, of these three?

When it comes to best-practice improvements, can those performing be defined by two poles; the quiet lone wanderer or the gregarious altruist? With by far the largest group being the former? How many salespeople genuinely indulge in any two-way debate around best-practice?

What about the number of reps that communicate with departments where the typical person does not have an expense account?

And how much do they put in outside the nine-to-five?

A couple of years ago, I was running a brief session at a client’s sales conference. A time-filler really, but one aligned with a key initiative. I’m often asked to do this kind of spontaneous event.

At one point, I asked the assembled twitch of reps (anxious to head bar-wards no doubt) how many were currently reading a sales book.

Not a single soul put up their hands.

Any kind of businessy book then? Still nothing. One guy was wading through some well-known nonsense American self-help bible. That was it.

Where are all the sales learning enthusiasts? Surely if you are one, you will easily out-perform and out-earn your peers.


Aimless Elevator Advice

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I do love it when the Harvard Business Review publishes a Sales piece. Yet this recent one is a shocker. Not even the crimson crackerjacks get it right every time.

They sought to inform us of what constitutes the perfect elevator pitch. That’s ‘lift’, in proper English. So, here’s the nugget, Instead of stumbling when asked, “What does your company do?” […]

Prepare an effective pitch that outlines win-win goals and launches a deeper relationship.

Grab the listeners’ attention with a smart hook, and then convince them of the mutual benefits you cold [sic] provide.

End by suggesting a follow-up and converting a chance meeting into an opportunity.

Speak in terms your audience can relate to.

And communicate with the passion that comes from knowing that this opportunity may never come again.”

Well. I make that seven pointers. Insipid. Vacuous. Off the top of my head, here’s five elements. Write a single sentence on each. Deliver in 30 seconds.

  1. state a key problem you resolve
  2. say why you want to change the world
  3. give a real-life example for proof
  4. rattle off a list of actual names that like you
  5. suggest a plan of action

Still, it could be worse. The HBR’s advice is almost trumped by where the wikipedia page on this directs you…


Webform Spam

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Here’s exact text I came across as posted through a corporate comment box. The kind that hopes for random contact from a cold prospect. It was headed “Thought regarding your website“, and subheaded “google“;

I’ve helped hundreds of companies increase their traffic and I’d love to show you what my service can do for you. I don’t promise the world, I’m straight forward and to the point … I deliver rankings. My rates are completely affordable and I don’t want to oversell you either, I start small and have my clients begging for more. I won’t take on your site unless I know I can deliver rankings. Reply to this e-mail if you have the slightest interest … you’ll never see rankings the same way again.

Remarkable. In a bad way.

Whether it be direct mail, unsolicited email or a web-posting, this kind of approach is sadly all so familiar. I hope you don’t do it this way.

It is so obviously spam. The final sentence even still begs ‘reply to this email’, bizarre as there is no email of course.

The pronoun “I” features a staggering ten times in these just five sentences. The word “my” a further three.

Given that the sender must have been on the website to fill in the comment box in the first place, it is incredible that not a single mention of what the target company does is made. Not even a glimmer of how a match to potential business issues could exist.

Think of your last cold(-ish) pitch. Could it have come across like this too?


The Hour Between Dog And Wolf

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Here’s a book written by a former Wall St trader who retrained as a neuroscientist. The title apparently refers to a french phrase for twilight.

On Radio 4 Thursday, I heard him explain more. Here’s a taster of his publisher’s blurb;

[it] reveals the biology of bubbles and crashes; and how stress in the workplace can affect our risk-taking

His stand-out conclusion is;

morning testosterone predicts a trader’s afternoon profits

His study began with the question of whether the winner effect, observed across several species, also rang true for humans. Namely,

statistically, if an animal has just won a fight, then they are more likely to win the next

Whilst he was careful to say he found it hard to make solid prescriptions for business leaders, he did discover that testosterone levels in men followed this. In the immediate aftermath of a ‘victory’, traders were way more aggressive and took more risks. And it appears, were more likely to follow-up with another ‘win’.

For sales people this offers a potentially brilliant insight. I often cite this tale as a major influence on my career. In my cubrep days, a senior salesrep landed a whale. So big in fact, that just three weeks into the financial year, he’d hit his target. When he came into the office, inked order in hand, congratulations rained on him. When the drenching stopped, he simply sat back down at this desk. Picked up the phone. And started making cold calls.

That doesn’t quite conform to the more aggression/risk finding, but does show a similar theme. (Can it really be true that the top winners take more risks?)

He was hot. And when are you ever going to be hotter? So he decided to make hay.

This winner effect has further possible consequences too. Throughout any sales campaign, you earn little victories. Whether it be a first-time appointment booked, on a shortlist with your timetable being followed, or negotiations beginning. What do you do after these types of progress occur? And how can you make them happen more often?