Category Archives: Sales
“I think I just sold every available waking hour that I have, for the foreseeable future,” said the Consultant, sighing wearily at having his prayer answered perhaps a bit too well.
What he didn’t realize was that, on a certain level, there was nothing new or different about this state of affairs for him, or anyone else.
As the fiscal year end fast approaches, I hear more and more people talking about how jammed their schedules are. They say things like, “I’ve got such-and-such to do before end of <insert applicable fiscal year end date>.” As a person with clients who use May or June as their budget year end date, I feel their pain/pleasure. This is a good-problem-to-have for professional service providers: Getting fully booked, well into the after-hours, for your time.
It’s good because it means a steady stream of (hopefully) rewarding work.
It’s a problem because there’s more to life than work.
Also, even if you’re the kind of person whose whose life and work are heavily blended together, in order to maintain your productive edge (and health… and soul), you need a non-productive, creative space to explore, reflect, grow, “sharpen your saw,” and make room for unexpected opportunities.
Here’s the thing: In a way we are all caught in the above-described Consultant’s condition, no matter what job title we give ourselves, and no matter how “busy” our “work” is. Our future hours have already been “sold.” Those hours are going to take place at their normal pace no matter what we do,* so the thing to do is figure out how happy we are with the current pricing and cancellation terms that we’ve tacitly agreed to.
(* NOTE: This statement assumes the subject continues to live within the confines of a single space-time continuum, with a margin of error allowing for creative hacking of the International Dateline and caffeine-induced time dilation effects.)
- How much are you getting paid for your time, and in what forms of currency?
- What is the scope of work and quality criteria that you are committing to?
- What are the likelihoods and consequences for any changes, deviations or cancellations to the current version of the plan?
Depending on how you’re feeling about the terms of your contract, you can start re-negotiating with the Client… and yes, you probably figured it out already: In this sales agreement, you’re not only the Client, but the Consultant President.
Paulie: “You like her?”
Rocky: “Sure, I like her.”
Paulie: “What’s the attraction?”
Rocky: “I dunno… she fills gaps.”
Paulie: “What’s ‘gaps’?”
Rocky: “I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”
– Rocky, 1976 (ht Noah A)
During a break at a sales training program, an older gentleman made the following comment about his romantic life:
“The problem with dating in a big city like New York,” he said, “is that everyone is a Buyer.”
I asked him to explain further, which he did: “When it’s Buyer versus Buyer, Procurement versus Procurement, List of Requirements versus List of Requirements, then it’s hard to get a deal going… and even if you get a deal going, it fizzles pretty quickly.”
There’s a tendency in the world of direct sales to conflate the world of business with the world of romance –i.e., to make an analogy between the activities of selling and dating.
While this analogy provides some interesting insights to the activity of selling, it often does so at the expense of trivializing or demeaning dating for those who have the intent of seeking an exclusive life partner, because so much of selling is transactional, short-term and almost certainly non-monogamous.
For some salespeople, however, the dating-selling analogy extends beyond the initial relationship phase of wooing / seduction: So-called “high touch” salespeople approach the task at hand with a passion that goes beyond the immediate term.
In the world of sales training for professional services we often wax poetic about terms like “relationship building,” “trusted advisor,” “consultative selling” and “partnering with clients.”
No doubt, the nature of selling professional services lends itself to a longer term, relationship-based model, where building trust and providing advice to (and sometimes, also critiquing/challenging) the client is part of the job.
However, while there is a fair bit of consultative selling — where the salesperson must provide consultation as a part of solving some complex issue — there is, in fact, very little true “partnering” going on out there in the world of sales.
The word “partnering” is a buzzword used by (well-meaning) people (like me) who look at the client-service provider relationship and see an opportunity for greater collaboration. That’s right, I don’t like being called a “vendor” (cf., The ‘V’ Word).
Collaboration is a good start… and certainly better than the Procurement-versus-Procurement approach.
But if it’s going to be a partnership, it needs to be more than just collaboration.
A salesperson does NOT “partner” with their buyer unless there is a two-way exchange of resources, a mutual sharing of risk, an exploration of how both parties can structure a business activity that is designed to fill complementary needs.
Or as Rocky would put it, “fill gaps.”
Developing a good business relationship (and for that matter, developing a good non-business relationship) with people (including ourselves) is largely a matter of playing a game of hide and seek.
We hide our true needs from others, and sometimes even ourselves.
These needs are hidden in a thicket of complex (and often conflicting) beliefs, values and motivators.
The experienced player is able to intuit and satisfy those needs, without necessarily announcing out loud the hiding place.
In other words, the experienced player plays well, and doesn’t ruin the game.
The Golden Rule states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It may also lead us to assume that treating them that way will lead to a helpful outcome.
Jim Cathcart, author of Relationship Selling, suggests something a bit better than the Golden Rule, for people who have to deal with people (i.e., all of you people):
The Platinum Rule states, “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.”
This makes it clearer the need to be externally-focused… cause it ain’t all about you. As with the Golden Rule, however, there is still the issue of, “what if the way they want to be treated is a really bad idea?”
Well, let’s kick it up a level, then: I propose a “Diamond Rule,” which will make it even clearer and more explicit that what we’re asking of ourselves is empathy… while also allowing for situations where we’re looking to lead towards a more helpful outcome:
The Diamond Rule: “Imagine being them, before doing unto them.”
In this TED Talk, Beau Lotto explains why context is everything, when it comes to how we see the world:
The idea in a nutshell is this: What we see does not have an inherent meaning — we give it that meaning. The meaning we give what we see is based on what we’ve learned, which is to say, we see things the way we do because it was useful for us to see it that way in the past.
Sometimes we see things the way we do because it was useful for someone else to have us see it that way — that is to say, someone else who had the power to manipulate the background (or context) within which we are perceiving things.
In every group of individuals — families, organizations, sub-cultures, societies, etc. — there are factors outside an individual’s control that determine how things are seen and understood… especially how they view people who are not members of the group.
Here in another TED Talk, we see one of Beau’s optical illusions employed by Dan Ariely, who uses it as an illustration of the power of context on our perception and ultimately, our decisions:
(note the use of the Principle of Contrast, during the first 2 minutes of his presentation)
As Ariely notes, it’s very easy for us to make mistakes based on a distorted perception… and really hard for us to see the mistake, even after it’s been pointed out to us.
The art of effective living is to really — no, really — assess whether the way we see something is truly in our own best present and future interests.