Friday, December 31, 2010

Slow Down, Sell Faster

I am really enjoying the snow. It is gorgeous out this morning. The snow is still clean, the air is brisk. The stars are bright but fading. Beautiful.

I have really enjoyed this past week. Email, meetings, travel and call volume have all been much lower than usual. I notice my pace has dropped.

It is in these periods of low rush that my creativity tends to be the highest. Much of my life is spent in a rush.

I think of productivity a bit as a funnel. If there are lots of things coming in the top, that creates pressure and helps things move out the bottom more quickly. This is where my Time Management systems kick in to make sure I am getting the right things done.

So during this slower time, I do notice my productivity is lower. So one technique I have used is to pile more in the top of the funnel by creating new projects and new deadlines. I know I work better with a bit of deadline pressure.

But the offset is the lower creativity. So I am thinking I need to devise ways to slow down a bit. Unfortunately, that usually means being more ruthless about the calls and meetings that I take. It goes against my "don't be rude" meter but I think for me it makes sense.

This slow period ties in well to a book by Kevin Davis - Slow Down, Sell Faster - Understand your Customer's buying process and maximize your sales.

Slow Down emphasizes what we all know - knowledge is key. Seek first to listen. understanding a customers' needs helps sell way more than prematurely pitching.

It is a good book. Well written. I would consider it a must read for anyone selling big ticket products particularly in a B2B environment.

From a review on Hotelinteractive's site:

1. Avoid talking too soon about your solution. That tactic only gives your competitors an edge because the customer is likely in the middle of the buying process. Essentially, you reach the end of your sales process just as the customer arrives at the point when they start comparison shopping. To sell more and to sell faster, slow down your sales conversations. Get your customers to talk more about their needs, problems and opportunities. That knowledge will help you create a greater urgency for them to take action.

2. Don’t just dance with the one who brought ya! Most major purchasing decisions these days are made by a team of people. You can hit a lot of speed bumps if all your knowledge comes from only one contact. Get to a second and third decision-maker as quickly as you can in the process. Identify all the decision-makers on the complex buying team. Ask your contact, “What other key people should I talk with to gather more information about these problems and needs?"

3. Always seek to identify a second customer need. Why? The first need is the most understood by your customer, while the second need is typically not. Also, the first need may have been identified by your competitor, so by identifying a second need you have a chance to re-define the customer’s solution requirements in your favor.

4. Go down the corporate ladder before going up. Have you been taught to get to executive-level decisions makers as quickly as you can? That’s not bad advice… unless you go there with nothing interesting or important to say about the customer’s business. Going down the organizational chart to talk to users about their challenges and needs can give you insights that will help you deliver a more compelling message to executives.

5. If you are brought into the customer’s buying cycle late in the game, try to diagnose a need that your competitors have missed. That will help you go from laggard to leader in the customer's eyes.

6. Don’t “pitch” differentiators that have no connection to customer needs. Pick your top five differentiators, and first raise the problems those differentiators solve when you talk to a prospect. See where you get a strong reaction. For a differentiator to become a competitive advantage it must be connected to a customer problem.

7. Know at least three reasons why your customer should buy from you. These reasons must be connected to explicit customer needs. Otherwise, you have no right to ask for the customer's business.

8. Keep in close contact with the customer, especially when they are in a comparison mode. If you are asked to deliver a proposal or presentation, the odds are high that the customer is asking other suppliers as well. Talk to your sponsor ahead of time to see if anything has changed. Immediately after a presentation, schedule another appointment with your sponsor.

9. Help your customer define realistic expectations. Ask them: "Six months from today how will you know this decision was a success?"

10. Measure the success of a sales call based on what actions the customer takes afterwards, not by what you did during the meeting. When planning a sales call, then, ask yourself “what specific action do I want my prospect to take after this meeting, and by when?”

11. Convert intangible customer criteria into tangible criteria. You cannot make a case that some feature or capability of your solution is tied to a customer need if you don’t know how that need is defined.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate yourself based on what you sell because products and services are becoming increasingly alike,” Davis said. “Today’s most successful salespeople and organizations know they need to stand out based on how they sell. Salespeople who slow down each sales conversation end up spending more time with each prospect. Now, when relationships are so important to sales success, having a higher quantity and quality of time with each customer is going to result in higher sales.”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 1% Solution

New York is still not quite out of the snow. Lots of bad press about it.

I am surprised by the number of abandoned and plowed in cars. it seems that part of the snow strategy is to hope for warm weather (and it is a bit warmer so should melt).

Surprise - I read a book. The 1% Solution - How to make your next 30 Days the Best Ever by Tom Connellan.

The book is written storybook style which I hate. But I still thought the book was excellent and made some great points.

The thesis of the book is to just try to do things 1% better. Seems easy and logical.

There was a good section on motivation and inspiration. Life follows the same laws as physics. It is all about momentum. So to succeed, you need to start things moving. The best way to get inspired is to accomplish something. And the best way to accomplish something is to take action. So build systems in to support starting to take action. Starting leads to momentum that often leads to accomplishment. It is a self reinforcing loop.

The book dumped on New Years Resolutions citing statistics like 88% of the resolutions are never kept and one in four people cannot even keep a resolution for a week. I, of course, love any time for setting goals so still intend to set them.

The valid point 1% makes is failing at resolutions can start a downward spiral and a loss of self esteem. And willpower is limited. This is a point Chip and Dan Heath make in their book Switch.

This is where 1% comes in. Partly this is in setting realistic goals. 1% is realistic. And the book suggests only working on one area for 30 days. This still means in a year, you will have improved on 12 areas which is impressive.

What make a self help book good in my opinion (and I must need lots of help to read so many of them) is if it inspires change. And I notice since reading it, I have run 5.05 miles instead of 5. And I am going to try to run 5K in 21:47. And sleep 19 1/2 minutes longer. Perhaps smile 1% more.

Some quotes from the book:

"too many people don't have 30 years experience, they have 1 year repeated 30 times" (so make this year different)

"What sets apart the top 1% is they cycle throughout the day between periods of concentrated effort and planned recovery"

"There is no point in doing well what you should not be doing at all"

"You start by doing something - however small - and once you accomplish that, your motivation goes up. And then you get more done. And then your motivation goes up..."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Wiki Brands

According the the NY Time is a good season to forgive. I agree.

Beautiful snow in NY today. Over a foot. Storm is mostly done now. Just blowing and digging out.

The RuMe bags I gave for Christmas went over well. Good blog entry on them.

I read an awesome and inspiring book - Wiki Brands - Reinventing Your Company in a Customer-driven Marketplace by Sean Moffitt and Mike Dover.

Mostly it was inspiring because I like marketing and social media and this book is at the intersection of those fields. It inspires me to remain active in Social Media. Sometime the Time Management Guy in me questions if it is a good use of time.

I love branding. Al Ries is one of my brand heros. He talks a lot about positioning. Wikibrands talks about the impact of social media on this positioning.

Wiki Brands reinforces that the web has given great power to the consumer. Consumers now can own the media through tweets and blogs. Companies need a keen awareness that what they do will be reported on. "Social media acts an accelerant for good news about the brand as well as for bad."

And online dialogue is now a two way street. The web speeds things up so responsiveness is key.

Companies do not own their brand, consumers in the internet age do. All companies can do is "help" guide and transparently contribute to help the brand move the right direction.

Marketing cannot fix a bad product. Working first on product and service excellence should be the primary goal of any company.

Wikibrands has a practical list of things companies can do to support an online community including:

"Ability to join a VIP circle
Access to an exclusive channel or influence
Access to exclusive resources
Chance for gaining wider fame
Reputation building
Recognition by the company
Recognition by pers
Sense of we-ness versus the rest of the population "

It is a good book. Worth reading.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

10 Book Reviews in 10 Days

There is a nasty storm going on outside. Normally I would say a great one but it caused the cancellation of my kids flights to NY so this one is nasty. I was so looking forward to seeing them.

I am way behind in my book reviews (not my reading - just my reviews). Stormy weather is a great time to stay in an "book report". I am thinking to catch up, I will try 10 reviews in 10 days.

I was given a little book "Exercises for Gentlemen - 50 Exercises to do with Your Suit On" by Alfred Olsen M.D. and M. Ellsworth Olsen M.A. It was first published in 1908.

As expected, it has lots of exercises. Most not very strenuous (they are supposed to be done in a suit). Mostly they are common sense. Just move - it is healthier. And the book did remind me that you can do exercises almost anywhere and any time. And it reminded me of proper posture and breath.

What I particularly enjoyed were the statements made with certainty like:

"Avoid cheap novels and exciting stories" (what does that say about the next 9 days?)
"Unclean fingernails...are suggestive of bad breeding"
"Habits of strict personal cleanliness are the greatest importance in the maintenance of health" (and then goes on to say take a warm bath once a week)

and a section on the Evils of Overclothing:

"too much clothing is likely to interfere decidedly with an alert, vigorous, condition of the body"

It even advocates vegetarianism:

"Much meat excites lust, intemperance and savagery in a man"

Cute little book. Things have changed..

Friday, December 17, 2010

Do and Grow Rich

First a holiday coupon for my readers. Go to and use ESTILL as the coupon code to get 10% off.

I love Napoleon Hill’s classic book “Think and Grow Rich.”

I sometimes see people who like the idea of thinking just makes it happen. In practice, I think doing helps. There is always a balance between thinking(planning) and doing. Wishing alone does not work (at least for me).

Thanks to Charlie Perer of Intermix Capital for passing on a piece Ken Keller wrote with an interesting view of Think and Grow Rich:

This best-seller was written based on primary research conducted by the author to determine how and why some individuals gain significant wealth while others flounder.

The original copyright of the book is 1937. The research was conducted during a time not dissimilar to present day, a time of economic uncertainty.

One of the major principles highlighted is that successful individuals perform planning regularly in an organized fashion.

Under this heading, Hill suggests that owners conduct what he calls an “annual self-analysis.”

The objective of the exercise is to discover if a person is going ahead, standing still or going backward in life.

Quiet reflection is sometimes painful, but it often yields great insight and results. Here are 15 questions from “Think and Grow Rich” that an owner would benefit from devoting some time this month to consider.

1. If I had been the purchaser of my own company’s goods and services this year, would I have been satisfied with what I received?

2. Have the purchasers of my company’s goods and services been satisfied with the purchases, and if not, why not?

3. In what ways has my company rendered more service and better service than what the customer has paid for?

4. Has my company delivered service to customers in the best possible quality of which it was capable, or could we improve any part of the service?

5. Has my company delivered the service to customers in the greatest possible quantity that we were capable?

6. Have I personally attained the goal I established as my own objective for the year? (This question is based on Hill’s research that suggests a person who desires success should have a definitive yearly objective to be attained as part of a major life objective).

7. Have I been persistent in following my plans through to completion?

8. Have I reached decisions promptly and definitely on all occasions?

9. Have my opinions and decisions been based upon guesswork or accuracy of analysis and thought?

10. Have I permitted the habit of procrastination to decrease my efficiency, and if so, in what ways?

11. How much time have I devoted to unprofitable efforts which I might have used to better advantage?

12. How may I re-budget my time and change my habits so I will be more efficient during the coming year?

13. Has the spirit of my conduct been harmonious and cooperative at all times?

14. Has my conduct toward my associates been such that it has induced them to respect me?

15. Have I been open-minded and tolerant in connection with all subjects?

Hill suggests that this analysis be performed in December of each year, so that any changes can be stated in the form of New Year’s resolutions.

The easiest way to tackle these questions is to address five at a time over a period of three days. Even the busiest owner can carve out some time to think through these questions.

To insure accuracy, Hill recommends that the answers be reviewed with someone who won’t allow the owner any wiggle room when answering.

The principles of success haven’t changed much in the decades since “Think and Grow Rich” was published. Answering 15 questions every December could very well make a significant difference in more than just the business and the owner; it could impact employees, vendors and clients as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drowning in Oil

Finally we have a touch of winter.

I read a gripping book about the BP oil spill in the gulf called Drowning in Oil - BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit by Loren Steffy. As the title suggests, the author feels that the disaster in the gulf was largely caused by BP's pursuit of profit. The book is clearly written with an anti-BP slant (although well documented so likely truthful in much of it)

Lots of facts like:

"in 2005, government inspectors found only one safety violation at Exxon's refineries - at BP, they found more than 700 (largely due to repeated safety violations)"

"BP was consistently fined for breaching health and safety regulations, resulting in millions of dollars"

"BP's refusal to modernize pipe systems which lead to corrosion and leaks along with delaying maintenance of known defective alarms."


Although this is a non-fiction account of what happens, it reads like an exciting spy thriller. The minutes leading up to the explosion through to hours afterwards are exciting (and horrific).

The book talks about the previous BP accident at Prudhoe Bay that cut off so much oil supply that the price of oil surged by over $2 per gallon. "Soon, the entire country was paying the price for BP's neglect". As if cheap oil is our right.

I was surprised the author did not comment about North America's insistence on using huge amounts of oil as being a right. It seems to me we would be much better off with a bit of conservation. The cost of externalities like environment, terrorism, safety and health are huge in the oil business.

Drowning in Oil reviews the CEO track records at BP. Great careers left in ruins. Reputation is fragile.

The book talks about "superficial" safety. EG - no talking on cell phones even with hands free in the parking lot while allowing probabilities of fatal accidents on the drilling rigs left untouched.

Another book "Safe by Accident - Take the Luck out of Safety - Leadership Practices that buil a Sustainable Safety Culture" elaborates on some of the foibles of BP safety practice. EG - the dangers of reprisal for reporting unsafe conditions and the culture of cover ups.

Safe by Accident is more of a hands on manual with practical ideas on how to really make safety work. Debunking the myth that safety posters, incentive programs and punishment work.

The book emphasizes the appropriate use of technology, how to use positive reinforcement, and talks about why incentives should not be based on incident rates but shoud be based on behavior.

Good book for any company looking to improve their company safety.

Friday, December 03, 2010

11 Secrets of Tactful and Diplomatic Selling

A friend of mine talked to me about internal family business politics. A different friend talked to me about frustration in working for a big company and not being able to "get her way" which was causing high frustration.

I loved being in business with all my brothers and even hired my father. We worked together for years. On balance I loved those years. And somehow we avoided some of the problems I have heard of in other family businesses.

I also had the big company experience for almost 5 years after SYNNEX bought EMJ. My job often included the need to "sell" head office on an idea or get resources to implement things. to some extent, I even had that when EMJ was public for 10 years as I had a board of directors.

The key in both cases is to make the sale but leave the relationship stronger than before. Much of this has to do with ego and respect.

I studied how to sell and developed these 11 secrets of making tactful and diplomatic sales.

1 - None of these secrets work in every situation or with every person. Secrets (or perhaps I should call them techniques) are situational and person dependent.

2 - Speak highly of everyone. I find speaking highly of people tends to make things come true. (perhaps that is why my brother, Glen, is a genius?)

3 - Let the idea incubate. I often found that I was completely convinced that an idea was a good one so I just wanted to implement it. But then I thought about why I was convinced. I had often been thinking of it for weeks. I had often done research. I had given the idea a chance to grow on me. In many cases, I found when I let the idea grow on other people, they "bought" into it. So present, leave them with information, then back off to let it grow (but of course follow through).

4 - Sell multiprong. Selling requires to support of all. So I would start socializing my ideas with everyone who might have influence. I would even figure out who might influence and make sure I touched them. That way if the person I needed to sell went elsewhere for advice, the idea would be supported.

5 - Think downside. Often the reason I could not get instant support was due to a fear. So in every opportunity, I would design downside protections. Ways to limit risk. And I would point those out. This goes with my Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap. Cheap means looking at downside.

6 - How you talk to people is every bit as important as what you say to them. Much of selling is about respect. I use some of the age old selling phrases like - Feel, Felt, Found. I know how you feel, I felt the same way when I thought of the idea but what I found was this would really help us because...

Another one I use is "that is not like you". "It is not like you to never take a risk...". When repeated often enough, people start to believe it themselves.

My earlier experience taught me not to use lines like "I am surprised they would give anyone so stupid an MBA" or "Let me get you some fish oil so your brain can work better".

7 - Trade. Often I would trade support of another project for mine. In organizations, we all have things we are passionate about but others we are not as sure about. If their passion is not mine and what they need support of is not bad, then I would trade support.

8 - Ask the How question. I find people are much more creative and open when asked "how could we fit another 20 containers in the warehouse" than "Why can't we fit them in?". The act of answering how causes people to think creatively.

9 - Fear is a great motivator. Often people would object to my ideas because they always meant lots of work and change. If found people would buy in to change better if they realized the status quo was just not possible. So we were going to have to change anyways we may as well change this way.

10 - Build the relationship. I tend to be an all work guy (particularly when I was younger). So it took deliberate action for me to spend time building relationships when I had no specific agenda at that moment. What I have found is deep relationships make decisions easier.

11 - Ask them to argue the other side. If someone prepare the case for why something should be done, it reinforces something in them that causes them to support the idea. I like to say "Ok - your turn to sell the idea and I will play devils advocate".

So now the secrets are not secrets.