The Wisdom of Worst-Practices

“I’ve often felt there might be more to be gained by studying business failures than business successes. In my business, we try to study where people go astray and why things don’t work.” -Warren Buffet, 1991

With the end of January approaching, I suspect I will be the very last person to wish you a Happy New Year in 2012. While I hope this will be a great year for all of you, let’s not close the door on 2011 without some collective reflection – which brings me to an interesting observation.

In work, like life, the essence of adaptive change is learning, and the most useful and transformative learning stems from the recognition and analysis of our failures.
While success has lessons to teach, we have the ability to learn far more from those unpleasant moments when we’ve inadvertently lost the plot.

As salespeople, we often interact with individuals and corporations who wish to benchmark themselves and their organizations against world-class firms and apply those new found best practices to their own set of circumstances.  I have been asked to discuss emerging trends and best practices more times than I can possibly remember. However, in 20 years, I’ve never had one single interaction when someone asked me to share my thoughts on worst-practices. Continue reading

Books, Fascination, and Even a Love Boat Reference

I read constantly. It is one of the great passions in my life.  I’m a Bibliophile. I collect books and to the chagrin of all who travel with me, am known to spend hours in book stores.   The Strand on Broadway and 12th;  The Tattered Cover in Denver;  Powells in Portland; City Lights in San Francisco;  Foyles in London – I’ve spent days of my life in each. I even own my personal Holy Grail of books – a signed and inscribed first edition of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. If not a collectible, I like to abuse my books. I highlight them, write in the margins, fold pages, take notes in a separate notebook and never travel with less than three different books. On the flip side, the statistical probability stemming from the sheer volume of the books I consume ensures that I also encounter the profoundly craptacular. Therefore, when I recommend a book to my inner circle, they usually take note.

One of the most enjoyable business books I’ve read this past year is Fascinate by Sally Hogshead.  This very cool book looks at the seven universal triggers of fascination and shows how people and companies not only understand themselves better, but also how they are viewed by others and subsequently how to put these triggers to use. When I took the simple Fascination test (also found at www.sallyhogshead.com) my primary trigger turns out to be Rebellion, (which my sixth grade teacher Sister Ruth from Rev. George A. Brown Grammar School in Sparta, New Jersey would clearly attest to.)   My secondary trigger was Power.  (Oh Yea.)

The Rebellion score indicating that I’m:

  • Innovative
  • Independent
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Edgy
  • Unpredictable (Yes indeed. That sounds like me.)

While the Power score indicates:

  • Confidence
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Influential (Once again, spooky-accurate.)

Some well-known Rebellion trigger Leaders include:  Andy Warhol, Stephen Colbert, Eminem, Anais Nin, David Bowie, Charles Darwin.   (This brought great hilarity to our household as I have more in common with Isaac the Bartender from The Love Boat, than I do with Eminem.) Continue reading

Two Tips to Sell More Without Working Harder

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  -Ray Kroc

I love that quote. On one hand, the well-known words of McDonald’s legendary founder have never been more timely or applicable. On the other, Sales as a collective profession has never had to work harder or more intelligently in order to secure or maintain business. With the intensity of Q4 upon us, I sometimes wonder what more can we possibly do in an effort to generate incremental success. If the answer to the age old question was to simply work harder, then there would be a direct correlation between hours logged and quota attainment. If only it was that easy, we’d all be working around the clock and retiring early.

Obviously all consistently successful sales people are persistent and determined. Favorable impressions are created and competitive advantages are derived by outworking, outthinking and outmaneuvering your industry. However, knowing that work harder is not a helpful directive, what are some simple things we can do to ensure greater probability of professional success? I have a few suggestions.

1. Manage your energy, a.ka. “Be Here Now”

The first tip is simple and deals with state of mind. Long ago I realized that time in the business day context is a zero-sum game. Conversely, the energy we bring to each and every engagement throughout that same day is potentially boundless. Managing one’s energy correctly and effectively is far more important to personal and professional success than simply managing one’s time. Before anyone suggests I’m dismissing time-management, I’m not. However, effectively filling your calendar or allocating time for projects becomes completely meaningless if you can’t manage the focus and level of engagement you bring to each situation.

Whenever I’m about to participate on a client call or enter into a face-to-face meeting, I think of the famous words of the 1960’s acid-tripping, Harvard psychiatrist Ram Dass: “Be Here Now.” While these three words are the only words of Ram Dass’ extensive canon that I’m actually familiar with, the simple phrase has become a powerful and a familiar mantra for me and those who know me best. I suspect I repeat those words to myself five times a day. I also find myself saying the phrase to my daughters every time we hike our favorite trails in Montana, do homework or even sit down to have dinner. It has become a reminder to focus attention and to honor the people we are with or the situation we are in. The reward is significant because often we will see or hear things most others tend to miss. Whether it is the thrill of watching the girls spot a lone elk sitting quietly under a Montana Larch, or when I seize onto a seemingly irrelevant comment that eventually becomes the foundation of a business fit, the phrase “Be Here Now” has become a catalyst to easing into a receptive mind set. Engage then completely focus and you will have a far greater chance of discovering something remarkable in the otherwise seemingly mundane. Continue reading

Yes, Successful Selling IS About Relationships

As the sales leader of a company that empowers both organizations and professionals to enhance their relational capital, my jaw dropped recently when I read the title of very interesting HBR Blog post: Selling Is Not About Relationships. Judging by how quickly the blog approached 200 comments, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson clearly struck not just my nerve by challenging the role of relationship-building in successful selling.

However, upon review of the article we are a lot closer to agreement than the provocative headline would ever suggest.

Each week I speak with a handful of Sales VPs, as well as multiple C-Level executives across the Fortune 500.  A common denominator of those discussions is the importance of establishing meaningful connections both within an organization itself, and of course externally with influential professionals across an entire value chain – clients, prospects, suppliers. Whether analyzing a new-hire’s speed to efficacy during the onboarding process, long-term employee retention, or the quantifiable impact on a sales person’s job performance, one’s ability to establish meaningful relationships translates into success.

So what to make of this study? Having examined 100 companies and 6,000 reps, Dixon and Adamson conclude that every sales professional falls into one of five distinct profiles and is characterized by a specific set of skills and behaviors that highlights the rep’s primary mode of interacting with customers. Those falling into the Challenger category dominated the list of high performers while Relationship Builders came in last.

And it is right at this point that my position actually aligns with theirs. Relationship Builders as defined are those who “focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization.” While Challengers “use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views…” Continue reading

Strategic Selling: You Don’t Earn Trust with a Powerpoint

Will Petruski is the Vice President of Sales for myGreenlight, overseeing all B2B and channel activities for the organization.

First, an introduction: I’ve been the Vice President of Sales at myGreenlight for 5 months, arriving by way of several well-respected organizations such as SkillSoft, The Economist, The New York Institute of Finance, and a high-profile Chicago-based start-up that was notable for having been cofounded by three Nobel Prize winners. Unfortunately, the closest I ever got to meaningful interaction with any of them was the time one said hello, before kindly asking me to fetch him a cup of coffee.  (And yes, he used the word “fetch.”)  My goal with my monthly post is to create a go-to sales forum for proud members of our elite tribe. Let’s face it, we’re different than most.  We are the wealth-creators for our companies and with that comes challenges and pressures that only someone “on the inside” can relate to.

With Q4 looming, it is a perfect time to consider the strength and depth of our client relationships and more importantly, how to elevate them.  Effective selling is not a singular event, but rather the result of an ongoing process of building trust. While it has always been the responsibility of strategic salespeople to illuminate the interlock between your company’s products/services and your clients’ business imperatives, the seller/buyer relationship has also become a personal journey of far greater complexity.

Most would agree, in this economy, very few sizable deals are struck without complete trust having been established between provider and client.  This level of trust goes far beyond being perceived as reliable. Consider what it would feel like to put your own professional reputation and career trajectory at risk with a large-scale purchase. What level of personal trust would you require before making your decision?

In a compelling article from November 2010, the Harvard Business Publishing blogger Michael Schrage posed a simple challenge, in writing about the impact of information asymmetry. He asked readers to consider which clients were most profitable – “not the biggest, not the best, not the most satisfied: the most profitable.”   Are the most profitable clients the ones who operate as savvy, informed partners who deeply understand and appreciate (and scrutinize) the service you’re providing, therefore maximizing the value of the partnership, or are they simply the ones who have overpaid?

What a great exercise for all sales professionals.    Hopefully your results are not too disturbing.  However, that introduces an even more important question:  As salespeople, how can we  ensure that more of our clients fall into the category of those maximizing the value of the partnership?
Continue reading