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Finding a Romantic Partner in Sales

rocky-adrianPaulie: “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.”

The Secret Bench of Knowledge by Lea Vivot

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.”

brooklyn dancers-640-216


Negotiation Skill: Leaving Some Value on the Table, or, Why Facebook’s IPO Failed

In any negotiation where parties must continue to interact and maintain a relationship, there is a hard cost to being overly competitive.

When you squeeze out every bit of potential value for yourself and leave as little as possible on the table for the other party, as Facebook did with the public, you shoot yourself in the foot.

Measured in reputational costs, brand value, and now, actual legal costs, the “smartest-guys-in-the-room” approach of the FB team backfired.

This is not a question of perfect hindsight: More than enough pixels and ink have been spilled over the FB IPO already. There are probably books and documentaries currently in the making about it. I only include it here in this blog (where I try to avoid being yet-another-armchair-quarterback on current events), because this is a worthwhile lesson to consider for a topic that I facilitate training in: Negotiation Skills.

Bottom line: $38/share and a boost in the initial offering size, done at the last moment, was a greedy move.

As the old saying goes,

“Pigs get fatter, hogs get slaughtered.”

Yes, I think FB could become the next Amazon rebound-and-quadruple story, from a stock pricing perspective, once the revenue generating potential of its platform is unleashed (FB Travel? FB Banking? FB Healthcare? FB University?)… and yes, there is a ton of liquidity out there searching for even a modest return on capital. Nevertheless, the FB guys outsmarted themselves. Some of the lead investors made out like bandits, but now the company as a whole has to deal with the costs… and that’s a double whammy for the holder of FB shares.

So another point to be gleaned from this:

Be aware of any misalignment between the people who are DOING the negotiating, and the people FOR WHOM they are negotiating.

As with anything, only time will tell for sure how things work out, but for now, there’s blood in the water.

Train the Trainers

Built to Last

There’s an old business parable about The Time Teller vs. The Clock Builder that influenced me early on in my career as an entrepreneur and business owner, and it’s had a big impact as well on my work as a consultant.  Recently I had the pleasure of working with a long-standing client and living that parable at a whole new level.

Jim Collins included the Time Teller / Clock Builder parable in the book he co-authored with Jerry Porras in 1994, Built to Last… I have a later edition, dog-eared paperback copy of that somewhere… here’s a short summary from an article Collins wrote for Inc. magazine :

Imagine that you met a remarkable person who could look at the sun or the stars and, amazingly, state the exact time and date.

Wouldn’t it be even more amazing still if, instead of telling the time, that person built a clock that could tell the time forever, even after he or she were dead and gone?

Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is “time telling;” building a company that can prosper far beyond the tenure of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is “clock building.”

Those who build visionary companies tend to be clock builders. Their primary accomplishment is not the implementation of a great idea, the expression of a charismatic personality, or the accumulation of wealth. It is the company itself and what it stands for.

Generally speaking, as a “business architect,” I lean much more heavily towards Clock Building than Time Telling… although where I’m at on that spectrum does vary by situation, by project and by client.

Home Brewed

This client, since day one, has treated me like a member of their family. These are folks for whom I’m always willing and happy to go the extra mile as a consultant; they don’t see me an “just another vendor” and I don’t see them as “just another customer.”  It’s a lucky thing when things align like that.

Over the past four years I’ve gotten to know the members of their leadership team, group managers and individual team members across multiple functional areas, with special emphasis on sales and service support… and I’ve watched them all – every single one of them – develop as professionals, as managers, and as leaders.

One of the most satisfying aspects of our relationship, though, isn’t just the mutual respect, warm fuzzies and the raucous good times:  From a professional standpoint – as a learning and business performance consultant – I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this client’s talent development process and have my role as their Clock Builder (as opposed to mere Time Teller) evolve to the point of being the Builder-of-Clock-Builders… aka, an instructor of instructors.

Although I believe very strongly that all adult learners ultimately teach themselves – my job is simply to facilitate that process – it’s particularly dramatic when I can start handing over the keys of facilitation to participants, step back, and get more “meta” is my job as consultant.

What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Always Stay in Vegas

This month completed a really fun and effective sales training day in Las Vegas where my job at the event itself was less as a trainer and more as the emcee / circus ringleader. All the specific training content sessions were facilitated by participants themselves.  Feedback from this event ranged from “Woo-hoo!” to “Best training ever.”

One guy joked, “So Dan, now all you do is sit back and point at the light bulbs that need to be changed?”  


At the beginning of the relationship, four years ago, my colleagues and I were helping this client identify their talent development goals and then execute on those goals through direct interventions (training, business performance processes). Now at this stage of the relationship, we’re helping them execute their goals through the creation of a self-sustaining learning organization – an environment that is more conducive for the team members to build themselves and each other.

So – *ahem* – yes, perhaps I’m now just sitting back and pointing out which light bulbs need to be changed… metaphorically.  But if we’re going to say that, then we should at least include the rest of the electrical plan. That is to say, I’m working with them on their wiring plan, switches, sockets, ballasts… and maybe even helping install some timers and clocks around the room, too.

Learning the ABCs of Success, Social Media Style

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Danny Silverman writes,

Success = Ambition * Selling Skills.  


Okay, let’s discuss.  What do you mean, Danny?

I know people with (competency and determination) but they can’t sell it… and so they fail.  That’s my thought of the day.  “Everyone lives by selling something.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Yes… and..?

For any career, whether you craft violins, collect garbage, write law or heal people, if you can’t sell yourself and your craft, the rest doesn’t matter.

I like this guy, Danny S… and he’s articulating an idea that I have to sell to clients constantly, especially those clients who insist that they “aren’t salespeople.”

Yes. Yes you are salespeople.  All of you. What’s more, sales is the oldest and most noble professional. Sales is what makes the world go around.

Sales done right, that is.

I try running my flurry of formulas and models by Danny.  There’s the old Skill x Will matrix.  There’s the rogenSi (Knowledge+Skill+Process) x Mindset = Exceptional Performance formula.  Nope, Danny doesn’t want any of that. I don’t bother trying my A.V.O.C.A.D.O. performance model on Danny, or my Competency x Warmth x Intention framework.  Even though he started off with a mathematical formula, Danny is not buying my equations or models today.

Selling ain’t about telling.

Let’s throw away the models and open up the question of how to build-out the components of Danny’s success formula, by making a list of attributes, going from A to Z. (Learning Consultant Jargon version: We can generate an ad hoc sales competency framework using the English alphabet as a convenient brainstorming scaffold.)

Yes Danny, to be successful you have to be able to sell your ideas and your talents…. and to do that, it helps tremendously if you can develop the following:






…and with that, I and turn the discussion over to the Facebook Peanut Gallery:  What are the attributes of a successful performer?

Here’s some of my other friends had to say:


Aptitude; Ambition


Braggadocio; Blandly attractive appearance (being blonde helps);


Calm; Connections


Direction; Determination


Ego; Effort


Faith; Fearlessness; Friends and family to ground them; Funny


Grace; Guile; Good scripts/songs/etc that catch on


Honesty; Heroism; Hot body; Humor


Innovative; Imagination; Intelligence (if they want to have a long-lasting career); Information


Just doing it; Jeterian (for Yankee Fans = comes through in the clutch); Jokes (for being amiable and thus likeable by industry insiders); Juice


Killer instinct; Kan-do attitude


Lovable; Likability; Lack of scruples; Luck


Mastery; Marketability; Maniacal devotion to the Pope


Nerdiness; Noble; Nose for good songs/scripts/whatever; Narcissism


Openmindedness; Opinion; Organic; Officials (ie agents, etc)


Potent; Preparation; Perspiration; Perspicaciousness; Practice; Physical beauty


Quixotic; Quitlessness; Quirklessness; Questionable ethics; Questions (be ready to answer them)


Resolute; Resources; Resourcefulness; Risky/Risk-taker


Selfless; Smarts; Sobriety; Style (especial attention to the tie)


Talent (optional, but nice to have); Tyrannical; Teeth (make them gleam); ‘Tention t’ det’l


Unbridled; User-friendliness; Utilizing the restroom facilities prior to performing; U, the fans


Vibrant; Viciousness; Validation of romantic relationships; Value (from the point of view of the promotors and investors)


Willing; Wakefulness; Winsomeness (aka  appeal to the audience); Wages (it’s best to get any money up front in case things go awry)


X-treme; XXX (like moonshine, not the other type of performance), XRay vision; X-rated gossip about them to raise their profile


Young; Youthful; Yoda-like; Yesmanliness


Zeal; Zealous; Zen; Zero tolerance for failure

(ht Lev, Ben, Avi, Aliza… apologizes for partially sanitizing your submissions, especially yours Ben…  hey, this is a somewhat family-friendly operation here…)

Tellingly, by changing one term in this exercise — generalizing competency in “sales” as a “performance” —  it opened up an interesting analogy between sales and the entertainment industry, which of course was unintentional. 

Ultimately, it’s the serendipitous connections that make an exercise like this so valuable.

Various entries were given for each letter…. but what is the X-factor?

Xenophilia, I think…. the embracing of that which is unknown and different, especially the different perspectives you can get if you ask a question to a few friends in an safe learning environment…. yes?

Yes, I just called Facebook a safe learning environment.  For whatever reason, some people open up on Facebook personal status update comment threads in a way that’s different than what you see in blogs, public forums, Twitter, or even email and instant messages. Perhaps the mid-size semi-private conversations on sites like Facebook and Google+ are the Internet’s equivalent of a small group discussion…. not as intimate as a 1:1 conversation and yet not as open as a large group discussion. In terms of places to generate online conversation, a circle of friends-of-friends seems to be a uniquely interesting zone.

Zeroing in on the lesson learned: It’s more interesting and fun to learn/sell when you let other people do the teaching/selling. Thank you Danny and friends for your excellent, LOL (Learning Out Loud) input!

Spartan Maneuvers

Whether it’s closing a customer, captivating a lover, cleaning an overflowing email inbox, or killing 10,000 of Xerxes’ Immortals, the Spartan’s approach to winning is based on focus and control of two essential factors:

  1. skill of execution, and
  2. strategic use of the landscape.

The first is celebrated and easily remembered; the second is often forgotten and makes all the difference.

PART ONE —  SKILL:  “He who knows how to speak, knows also when.” -Archidamidas

The idea of being a Spartan (whether as salesperson, seducer, information worker or well-oiled Greek soldier) and operating in a disciplined “bare-bones” manner has an enduring appeal, despite all the historical evils and misdeeds of the ancient Spartiatites.

Spartans are specialists who work with a minimum of complexity and a minimum of fluff.  Spartans use just a few well-chosen weapons and pieces of armor (metaphorically or literally) and speak with an economy of words. Certain business/interpersonal communication styles (e.g. the classic “Direct” or “Driver” style) have a powerful precedent in the Spartans’ historically celebrated laconic manner of speech.  According to the Greek historian Plutarch, a lecturer once said, “Speech is the most important thing of all,” to which Agis II (King of Sparta, 427‑401 B.C.) retorted, “Then if you are silent, you are of no worth at all!”   Agis was all about getting to the point:  He said that Spartans did not ask ‘how many are the enemy,’ but ‘where are they.’

PART TWO —  LANDSCAPE:  “Good, then we’ll have our battle in the shade.” -Dienekes

What makes the Spartan approach work is not just disciplined skill in battle (or communication) but also the strategic use of landscape. Given the right type of landscape, 300 well-trained Spartans can hold off an army of 250,000… as long as they maintain the right positioning on that landscape. As a warrior/communicator, if you’re going to be simple and direct, then you have to choose your platform carefully.

Direct communicators (aka “Drivers”) hate email, text messages and voicemail because these forms of detached communication puts them at a tactical disadvantage. The strength of a Driver becomes a weakness in email communication. Just like the Spartan who avoids a wide-open battlefield with multiple “incomings,” the Spartan/Driver communicator prefers short-range, face-to-face interactions… none of those arrows shot from far away.

Of course, sometimes Spartans can use the text-message medium effectively, as illustrated by this historical example involving Philip II of Macedon:

Text Message from Philip II of Macedon:  You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city. If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.

Text Reply from Sparta:   If

Philip and his allies decided to avoid Sparta.

Another strength of Spartan communicators with respect to email:   They know how to clear an inbox full of emails that might otherwise clutter their mental space and reduce productivity. A Spartan responds to emails with a simple “yes,” “no,” or “ok.”   They smash their way through an storm of inbound requests and distractions much like these guys did in the movie 300.  Click… click… click… don’t look back… just keep pressing [Delete] or [Archive] and keeping moving forward.

Above all else, when it comes to the decisive moment of using their prowess to “go for the kill” or  “ask for the order,”  Spartans know they need to consummate it in person, not by txt msg.

IN SUMMARY: Keep it Simple, but Stay Smart

Spartans are specialists who depend on not just on their skill, but also strategy — they must operate in a landscape that is conducive to their simple, direct approach.

Spartans who lose their strategic advantage will fail, no matter how strong they are.  At the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans were outflanked by the Persians.  At the Battle of Leuctra, the Thebans broke the Spartan phalanx with an eschelon formation. Both cases involved a surprise move by the opponent, upending the Spartan’s strategy. The Spartan approach is about simplicity, focus and specialization, and a changing landscape (or changing rules) is the enemy of specialization.  To overcome change, you need to do more than just let loose your team’s battalion of 300 direct Drivers… you need to direct (and re-direct) their drive.

Yes, it is possible to keep it simple, without being stupid.

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