Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's About Getting the Eggs into the Basket

I watched an Easter Special on tv this past Sunday called, 'Easter Egg Morning.' It was about contention between the hens who laid the Easter eggs and the rabbit who painted and delivered them. Year after year, the Easter bunny had gotten all the credit for the work the hens had been doing and it was starting to get to his head. This year, when he came around to collect the Eggs for Easter, the hens would not give them up. They insisted that they could paint the eggs and deliver them just as easily as the Easter bunny. The Easter bunny indignantly retorted that he didn't need their eggs and he could find eggs elsewhere.

Well, each party went about doing the other's job to no avail. The hens were attempting to paint the Easter eggs and making a mess of it. The lead hen was drawing out a map, but just couldn't figure out how she could deliver all the eggs in one day. In the end, they had to admit that they needed the Easter bunny after all. Meanwhile, the Easter bunny was having trouble as well. He was nearly eaten by both a snake and a crocodile, trying to take their eggs. Eventually, he found a giant ostrich egg, but it was too heavy for his truck. He too had to admit that he needed the eggs that only the hens could provide.

Of course, the Easter bunny returned and apologetically asked for the hens' help. The hens also apologized and offered their eggs freely. A happy ending. A nice Easter cartoon for kids, but there are HUGE business implications! This same thing happens all of the time in the business world. Engineering and/or manufacturing will do all the hard work of bringing the product to market, while all that is ever seen by the customer is the brand produced by marketing. No one knows about grunt work that went into making the product. They only pay attention to the slick packaging and taglines. They only see the Easter bunny. They don't see the hens.

As it happened in this cartoon, it sometimes happens in the business world. Marketeres and sales people get big heads. They forget that they have no hens without the eggs. At the same time, the hens will sometimes begin to think that they don't need marketing. Big mistake on both parts. They both are forgetting the mission: to get the eggs into the basket. It's not about engineering. It's not about marketing. It's about the customer. It's a simple lesson designed for little children, but perhaps grown, professional business people need to learn it more than anyone. You're never too old for a little teamwork.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

On Being Price-Competitive

Many salespeople and marketers (myself included) write and speak regularly on the importance of selling on something other than price. Anthony Iannarino talks about shifting from price to cost. Grant Cardone speaks of being sales-driven rather than market-driven. Mark Hunter continually advises on how to sell a price INCREASE. And these are just a few examples of the prevailing notion from the producer's side of a market exchange: value always trumps price.

But do consumers feel the same way? Are buyers value-driven or price-driven. If you look at any end-consumer web listing of similar products, from books on to cars on, they are typically ordered on the lowest price. That means that the first products people want to see are the cheapest. Rational or not, most consumers start with price.

Given this truth (if it is as true as I think it is), how can businesses survive? How can they resist commoditizing their offerings and sinking into "arms race" price wars with other businesses? The answer, I believe, is being price-competitive and creating value ON THE MARGIN.

The Internet and customer expectations have evolved in such a way that, as difficult as this is to say, you must be price competitive. Your car has to hit the first page on Autotrader or your book on Amazon. But that isn't the end of the story. You can't not be price competitive but you can't only be price competitive.

If you are looking at a particular book on, chances are there will be (depending on the book) 5-10 copies offered by different sellers for the same price. How do you choose the seller? Here's the kicker, the differentiation, the added value. Beside each seller will be a rating--a percentage of customers that gave the seller a positive review. After price, this is what book-buyers look at: reputation. It is the same thing with buying a car. You find a few cars that are priced relatively the same and then mosey on over to to see what people have to say about the dealers selling those cars.

True, you can't afford not to be price-competitive, but neither can you afford to be only price-competitive. When it comes down to you and the other guy, why should it be you? This is the question businesses, salespeople, and marketers today need to seriously ask themselves. After price is no longer an issue, what are you doing to earn your customer's business?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What is Your Purple Cow?

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I just finished reading Seth Godin's Purple Cow. The gist of Godin's metaphor is that if you don't stand-out, you won't be noticed. Driving along the road in the country, you see a lot of cows. It's amusing to watch them for a while but, soon, they all start to look the same and you lose interest. What if, however, you were to see a purple cow. You would probably slam on the brakes and make a u-turn. You would probably take pictures. You would probably ask the owner of the purple cow to tell you more about it. The point? If you do not do something exceptional (or 'remarkable' as Godin puts it), people are going to lose interest in what you are offering. If, however, you do something that no one else does, people are going to turn around, take pictures, and want to know more.

It's been nearly a decade since Purple Cow was first published. That's like a century in today's fast-moving, technologically-inclined world. This book was written before the social media revolution of Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In. This book was written before YouTube and Hulu. This book was written before Pandora online radio. This book was written before the iPhone, the Kindle, or Nintendo's Wii. The last decade, more than anything, has validated Godin's thesis. If you don't stand out, you won't stand a chance.

Godin also mentions the fear that some companies have in the level of risk it takes to be exceptional. It's a lot safer to be mediocre. It's a lot safer to take the path of least resistance. Guess what, not anymore. Mediocrity is death. The path of least resistance is the path to destruction. Do you think that Nintendo has had such remarkable success with the Wii because it was just another game system or that Apple has had success with the iPhone because it is just another phone? No, these companies went over the top. Above and beyond. They recognized that 'just getting by' isn't getting by at all. Now, more than ever, playing it safe is the riskiest thing that you can do.

So, what is your purple cow? What do you produce in your business or your life that is remarkable? What stands out...or are you just like everybody else? What color are your livestock? Do you have a bunch of brown cows grazing in your pasture? It's time to get creative. It's time to make people stop in their tracks. Invest in a purple cow. It will be the best thing that you've ever done for yourself or for your business.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Become a Better You

How do you become a better person? How do you develop personality traits in yourself? How do you become more confident, more patient, more encouraging, more influential, more wise, more of the you that you want to be? As of late, I've really gotten into self-help and personal development literature. It seems like everyone's got an idea about how to grow. I find it difficult, though, to implement those ideas sometimes. I try so hard to become the person I visualize but it's like I'm running on a treadmill. How can I change? How can I grow? How can I become a better me?

I read a post recently by Anthony Iannarino on "to-don't" lists, things that we should make it a point NOT to do. Anthony listed 15 things that we might want to stop doing. One that really hit home was "don't hit snooze." While I agreed with everything on the list, many of the things are not really items that belong on a checklist. Many, like "don't stop learning" and "don't forget to be human" are difficult to put directly into practice. You can try to learn more or try to be more human, but how do you know you are making any progress? For items of a more qualitative nature,I suggest an alternative.

Some things can only be achieved as outcomes of other things. It's hard to simply decide to be more persuasive, passionate, friendly, outgoing, knowledgeable, etc. These characteristics come as results of more measurable behaviors. I become more persuasive by committing to practice a presentation three times before giving it. I become more knowledgeable by committing to read at least 1 hour per day. These are things that can be quantified--things that can be checked off. I can't check off whether I've become smarter or more prepared, but I can check of how many hours I've spent or how many times I've practiced.

How do I develop traits that I wish to see in myself? I keep what I call a commitment journal. Each week, I write down specific, quantifiable commitments that I hold myself accountable to keeping. They can involve developing desirable characteristics related to my religious devotion, my business acumen, my people skills, and so on. But my one rule for the commitments I make is that THEY MUST BE MEASURABLE! You see, I've tried to commit to becoming a better husband, a better salesperson, a better student, etc., but it just doesn't work. I can't become a better person without doing things that make me a better person. I can do the dishes for my wife. I can make 'x' number of phone calls at work. I can spend 'x' amount of hours per week reading the textbook. I can't simply choose to be a better person but, if I make quantifiable commitments and keep them, I will become a better person without even knowing it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Just Business!

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"It's just business!" How often have we heard this explanation by companies to justify unethical business practices? A business transaction is nothing more than an exchange of money for goods or services. What those goods and services are or how they will be used is irrelevant. There need not be any consideration of moral obligations or social consequences. The seller has no duty to anyone but the buyer. If the buyer happens to have intentions of using the product or service for harmful purposes, that is not the seller's problem. The seller is responsible only for delivering the product to the highest bidder. What do you think about this line of reasoning?

I recently read an article about Siemens, the engineering giant from Germany. A few years back, when Iran became a sanctioned state, Siemens was allowed to keep only its existing contracts in the country. Since then, though it has been unable to open any new business, its revenues have skyrocketed. Protesters have lined the streets, complaining that Siemens is profiting from supplying a rogue state with the necessary materials for building nuclear weapons. I read another article about advertising in magazines. Aparently there is a magazine, sponsored by the Al-Qaeda, that is directed toward conservative Muslim women...Islamic women who allegedly prefer to remain subservient to men. Recently, a business was called under fire for buying an advertising spot in that magazine. What is so unnerving about the ethical dilemmas these businesses are facing? It isn't personal. It's just business.

The hard truth that no business person wants to hear is that, "It's just business" is a cop-out. Nothing is "just business" just like nothing is "just religion" or "just politics." Business cannot be removed from its social context any more than anything else can. We would like to think that money can exchange hands without ethics ever being a factor, but that just isn't the case. Business transactions sure would be a heck of a lot easier if they didn't have ethics muddying the waters. If it only boiled down to dollars a cents, the appropriate business decisions to make would be always be clear. But alas ethics do matter and, if we ignore this fact, we are just plain being lazy.

Now, of course, there is a business case to be made for ethics. Now more than ever, a company's disposition is evident to the public. In the age of globalization and mass media, a company cannot be too careful in protecting its brand. Ethical behavior builds trust...and trust leads to future opportunities. No one wants to do business with an Enron. While the appropriate ethical decisions to make are rarely clear, the company who makes its ethical intentions known and does its best to keep in line with them has a much better shot of survial in today's world than the one who does not care. You see, I believe that ethics is an integral part of doing business. But even if you do not believe this, it is imperative that you behave as if you do. Now, more than ever, it isn't just business. Business is personal.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I Hate Spiders

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I consider myself a minor arachnophobe. I don't have panic attack when I see a spider, but I do freak out. I never hesitate to step on it. I don't like to kill things. I have respect for the sanctity of all life...all life, that is, except that which has eight legs. Sure, other bugs and perhaps some rodents are gross, but nothing brings out the merciless rage in me like a spider. What makes me hate spiders so much? Well, I think I've figured it out.

Spiders never announce their presence. I always catch them out of the corner of my eye. They hide in corners. They crawl out of cracks. They dangle down from the ceiling like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Spiders are sneaky. I suspect that to be the reason that, not only I, but many people in this world have such contempt for spiders. Spiders never let you know they are there...until it's too late and you're shrieking from the surprise.

Well, as you might imagine, this post is not about spiders. This post is about human relationships. Why do we not like some people? Why do we not trust some? I think it is because they are spiders. They are sneaky. They don't announce their intentions. They are double-minded. I think this is particularly true in the world of buyers and sellers.

All of us have a fear of being taken for a ride, being duped by the fine print, being tricked by someone who is selling something to us. "What's the catch?" We ask all so often. When a product or service seems too good to be true, we wonder what strings are attached. We are skeptical of salespeople and marketers. They hide their intentions. They crawl from the crevices. They are spiders.

Here is the grand lesson for salespeople and marketers: make your intentions known. Don't be a spider! Too often salespeople think that they need to trick the customer into buying. That is a terrible approach. It shows a lack of confidence in their products or their ability to communicate their benefits. Great salespeople will be upfront with their prospects. There is no shame in asking for money if you have something valuable to give in exchange. Introducing the prospect early on to the idea that you are actually expecting them to buy from you will eliminate awkwardness when the time comes to close the sale. Don't surprise your customers. Don't be a spider!

My advice to customers: don't buy from a salesperson with eight legs. Don't pay attention to marketers that spin webs. The people who have nothing to hide are the people who will not hide it. Do business with those people. Reward them for being upfront. Stay away from spiders!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When Customers Call Back

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I spend a great majority of my time in telephone sales. Roughly 80-90% of the prospects that I attempt to call don't answer at first. I end up leaving voicemail messages for them. On the rare occasion that they actually call back, I am all too often caught off guard. It is like I don't expect a call back and, when it actually happens, I am so surprised that I don't know what to say. I stumble through the phone call with a medicore attempt to communicate the message of what I am offering. Big mistake. Customers are busy. It doesn't matter whether they are C-level execs you are trying to sell software or end-consumers you are trying to sell cars. Buyers never have time for sellers. Everyone has something more important on their minds--something that renders you, the salesperson, irrelevant. Given this simple truth, salespeople like myself need to realize what an unlikely miracle it is when a customer actually returns a call.

In many ways, the customer who returns a voicemail message is leaps and bounds more qualified than the customer who answers upon first attempt. The person who answers the phone when you first call him does not know of your intentions. The person who returns your call, though, is sending you a signal. He is telling you that he is interested. More than that, he is telling you that he is so interested that he will take the time out of his busy schedule to give you a shot. He is practically begging you to sell him.

The lesson for salespeople? Be prepared. Have a script. Know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it when a prospect calls back. Sure, prospects want authenticity. They want you to be you when you are talking to them on the phone. But, more than that, I think they want you to not waste their time. They want you to communicate your message efficiently. They don't want you to stumble through the conversation. They don't have time for ill-prepared sales pitches. They want you to demonstrate that you are cognizant of that fact.

Do you know what you will say when a customer calls back? My suggestion? Write it down. Be prepared. Make a script that you are comfortable with and that effectively communicates what you are trying to say. It can make all the difference in the world.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Of Promise-Makers and Problem-Solvers

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I saw a salesman lose a customer the other day. The customer was upset that the salesman's company didn't offer a service that he thought they should provide. After the salesman told him that it simply wasn't feasible, the customer proceeded to call one of his competitors. After he got off the phone, I watched him tell the salesman that he would be taking his business to the competitor, because the competitor promised to offer the service. The salesman's response: "I guarantee you that he is lying."

Was the competitor lying? Yes. Did the customer care? No. He heard what he wanted to hear, and it led him to a buying decision. All too often, customers make this mistake. They want to hear that they will given benefit on top of benefit at little to no cost to them. This type of thinking, though, does not make business sense. A business cannot survive without making up for costs somewhere. The customer in the above scenario should have asked himself, "How is it that the second salesman is so insistent of his promise while the first salesman deems the service as impossible to offer? What is the second salesman keeping from me?" But the customer didn't ask that. He assumed that value comes out of thin air. In reality, there are only two possibilities: the second salesman is making more money or the second salesman isn't telling the truth.

What customers really need are not people who make promises. They need people who deliver. They need problem-solvers, not promise-makers. Sure, it feels good to be promised great value with little cost but, in the end, when the promise is broken, the need is greater than ever. When a salesperson says that something isn't feasible for a given price, a saavy customer should ask why, rather than running to someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. The smart shopper will make the salesperson explain. Utlimately, the ball will go back into the customer's court. The question won't be, "Is it feasible?" The question will be, "Is it worth the cost?"

This is a caution for salespeople as much as it is for customers. It's always easier to get new business by making big promises. But, in the long run, you will be remembered for how you delivered on your promises. What matters is how well you keep your promises, how well you solve the problems for your customers that they are paying you to solve. There is no greater headache, no greater reputation-destroyer, and no greater confidence-crusher, than servicing a client to which you've made a promise that you are unable to keep. It's much easier to rest your head at night when you've lost a client because you've told them the truth than it is if you've lost a client because you've told them a lie.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Golden Rule of Sales

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Jesus, in Matthew 7:12, uttered perhaps the most profound words ever spoken, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We have a plethora of idioms in our contemporary vernacular to express what Jesus was saying. "Walk a mile in the other person's shoes." "Try to see things from the other person's point of view." The idea is to treat someone in such a way that you imagine yourself being treated. We have word to describe this idea: that word is empathy.

Empathy is perhaps the most powerful quality in interpersonal communication. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, says, "Remember that the other man may be totally wrong. But he doesn't think so. Don't condemn him. Any fool can do that. Try to understand him.....Try honestly to put yourself in his place." True empathy requires great mental concentration. It is an actual visualization of what your life would be like inside the other person's skin. You must pretend that you are that person. Only then can you understand him...and only then can you come to any sort of agreement.

If there is any group of people that really need to learn the meaning of empathy, it is salespeople. Too many times, we see a salesperson trying to shove a product or service down a customer's throat without bothering to understand his or her needs. All too often, we see salespeople attempting to close a sale before opening a relationship. Too many salespeople send this crystal clear signal to their customers: "we don't care about anything but your money."

If this is true for salespeople, that they see their jobs merely as earning commissions, they are in the wrong field. Every professional makes money, but that is not the professional's job. A salesperson is one who solves problems, one who finds solutions, one who connects a customer with a product or service that leads to a more fulfilling life or more profitable enterprise. A salesperson is a connector of people and products. How well a salesperson is paid is contigent on how well he is able to meet the needs of his customers. And, to meet those needs, the salesperson needs empathy. The salesperson needs to learn the Golden Rule of Sales.

The Golden Rule of Sales is this: sell unto others as you would have them sell unto you. It's that simple but, in practice, it is incredibly challenging. If you want to succeed with your prospect, pretend that you are the prospect. What would pique your interest? What would make you trust the salesperson? What would make you buy? Don't just pretend to be empathetic. Actually visualize yourself as having to make the purchasing decision that your prospect is making. Don't say, "I know how you feel." Feel how they feel!

If you can't think of anything that would convince you, then perhaps you are taking the wrong approach or selling the wrong product. But if you can convince yourself, you can undoubtedly convince your prospects. There is no other way, though, than to get inside your prospect's skin. To walk a mile in his shoes. To see things from his point of view. To sell unto others as you would have them sell unto you. If you can do this, if you can be empathetic, everything else will fall into place.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sold Out and Proud of It!

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Roger Lowestein of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote a review on Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz's new book, Onward. Lowenstein was not exactly impressed, calling the book "unabashedly promotional." Lowestein criticizes Schultz for being motivational in his approach, rather than objective. According to Lowestein, the book should have been written by someone else who would have given us the facts rather than someone who would simply use it as a marketing tool for self-promotion. Is Lowestein correct in his assessment?

I read another review. This review was a review of Lowenstein's review by The Sales Blog writer Anthony Iannarino. Iannarino agrees with Lowenstein's assessment of Schultz's approach but denies that it is the wrong approach to take. According to Iannarino, Schultz should be no other way than motivational and self-promotional. Objectivity is just another way of saying indifference. "He is setting a standard that defines the brand to its customers," Iannarino argues, "and he is setting a standard for his employees." If Schultz is not 100% self-promotional, then he doesn't believe 100% in what he is doing...and neither will his customers or employees.

I have spoken to many workers at Starbucks, some of whom buy into Schultz's inspirational philosophy and some of whom think that it is baloney. Regardless, Schultz himself has never recanted on his beliefs. "Onward" is the perfect word to describe his approach. He isn't wishy-washy. He is always moving forward, always confident. Whether or not Schultz ever has to look in the mirror and tell himself, "Showtime," we'll never know. He ALWAYS seems convinced of what he is saying, even when others aren't. And, for that, I have to admire the guy.

Howard Schultz is sold out! We seem to have a negative association with that phrase, "sold out." To most of us, it means we have bought into some idea and have ceased to think for ourselves. But what if that idea is our own? What if it is something that we profess to believe and practice? Should we not be "sold out" to it? Would it be better to approach our beliefs with cold objectivity? Will that make us convincing to others? Will it make us convincing to ourselves?

I am sold out and proud of it! I love culinary coffee. Try as you may, you cannot convince me that proper brewing methods do not really result in a superior cup of coffee. You cannot persuade me that it is all just hype that I have bought into. You are wrong, and I am not backing down. The BMW 3 Series is the best sports sedan ever built. Try as you may to tout the benefits of the A4 or the C Class, I will not believe you. I will push the 3 unapologetically, because I believe in it. I am sold out. I cannot apologize for who I am or what I believe because, if I do, it isn't really who I am and I don't really believe it.

What about you? Are you sold out to something? Or do you drift through your life with detached but seemingly noble objectivity? The simple truth is that you cannot make a difference, cannot be influential, and cannot be successful unless you are 100% sold out to what you believe in. Never apologize for who you are. Instead, you should apologize for compromising. If Roger Lowenstein were to review your life, you should shoot for a negative review.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. And, yes, it's also April Fool's Day. This is not a joke (insert snide remark here). What I find interesting is that, even if I didn't care to celebrate my birthday, I would not be able to forget it. Over the past week, I've received multiple cards in the mail. Yesterday, I received a coupon in the mail for a free drink from Starbucks and an e-card from the place that I bought a car. I woke up this morning with my Yahoo inbox flooded with special birthday offers from Kmart, Khols, Arbys, etc. As I am typing this, my 'wall' on Facebook is being continually updated with 'Happy Birthday' posts from my Facebook friends because of that little Birthday reminders box that pops up on everyone's Facebook page. My point? Even if I wanted to forget my birthday, marketers wouldn't let me.

Make me feel important. That's what birthdays are about. This is my day. I was the one who was born on April 1st (okay, and also four other Facebook friends). I'm special. Make me feel like I matter and maybe I will buy from you. Perhaps I am being naive and that's just the manipulative nature of business, but I have no problem about giving preference to those who appreciate my business. I will be using my Starbucks coupon. I will most likely buy another car from the same place. And, I don't know whether I'll make it to Kmart, Khols, or Arbys, but I at least read the emails. I like to know that people care about me, and I think others do too.

Knowing someone's birthday is a simple way to show someone that you care. Everyone has one and everyone has only one. Of how many people can you say that you actually know their birthdays? I know I would be lost without that Facebook reminder. Whether you're trying to sell them something or just be a good friend, you can't go wrong by learning their birthdays. (And if you are trying to be a good friend, you are still trying to sell them something--the importance of your relationship). So, take the advice that I offer so hypocritically. Find out the day your friend or prospect was born and wish them 'Happy Birthday' when that day rolls around.