Tag Archives: software sales

The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.


Commenting on “The Art of Letting Go”, Kenny Rogers and Don Draper

7 Jun

My new favorite blogger, Tony Schwartz, has done it again.  His blog “The Art of Letting Go” is a great piece for that sale, that venture, that relationship that you just can’t give up on.  It reminds me of that classic greeting card a friend once sent me:

They said it couldn’t be done….  How did they know?

Tony talks about how tough it is to go against the grain, how we are predisposed to fight the good fight, persevere against all odds.  The fact that this perseverance does exact an emotional toll.

I recall many instances in my sales career where the handwriting was Sharpied indelibly on the wall.  Without question the deal was dead, but we spent additional time, energy and effort to change the mind of someone who’s mind was already made up.  This is a chronic entrperneurial disease.  It is hard to walk away when you are small, trying to rapidly make the Big Time.

Tony ends the piece with a simple set of four questions:

1. Do I have a feeling in my gut that this dog just won’t hunt?
2. How important will this seem to me in six months?
3. How important will this seem to me in two years?
4. Is there a more enjoyable and productive way I could be investing my time and energy right now?

If the answer to 1 and 4 are “yes,” or the answers to 2 and 3 are “not much,” it’s time to let go.

Which brings to mind the timeless wisdom of Kenny Rogers….

“You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run”

OK, that was way too obvious.

I have a better quote…  Here’s where the connection was made and the fuse blew, and I started writing…

The phrase that came like a bolt out of the blue  into my consciousness came from Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men”, when Don Draper (Jon Hamm)  asked Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) to resign after he was caught embezzling.  I so wanted to get this right, I actually paid and downloaded the episode from iTunes to transcribe it accurately.  Lane sobbed “What do I tell my wife?  What do I tell my son?”…

Don Draper’s words are all the more riveting, considering how the episode played out:

“Tell them that it didn’t work out, because it didn’t

Tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is …

I’ve started over a lot, Lane.  This is the worst part.”


Chief Energy Officer…Commenting on Tony Schwartz

18 Apr

Has anyone in leadership ever said to you, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” and your instant response was to worry about it?  Welcome to the club!   That’s why Tony Schwartz‘ latest blog over at the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right”.  In it, Tony talks of how fast growing, entrepreneurial organizations are rife with stress and overload.

I’ve seen it as well, and I applaud Tony’s approach.  One of my early stumbles here was directly related to me not taking this approach.  Tony’s five key points

1. Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones.

I am as Pollyanna as they come.  I’ve always been puzzled by the folks that would say “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.   Some have accused me of not caring, taking things too lightly, joking at inappropriate times.  I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism on my part.   When it comes to problems, my initial reaction may be negative, but I push past it quickly, leaving puzzled friends, family and coworkers in my wake.

I’ve always considered it an asset, not letting things get to me, keeping a positive attitude.  I’ve begun to realize that this only helps me, it doesn’t necessarily help anyone I interact with…  especially when whatever it was that was bothering me does come back to the surface (where did THAT come from?)

2. Negative emotions do feed on themselves, but the solution — especially for a leader — is not to squelch or downplay them.

Here is the key skill.  This is something that they don’t teach you in MBA school (and certainly not in engineering school).  If you can shine a big spotlight on the negative emotions they will eventually wither and die.  Try to bury them?  Not a good idea, they just continue to grow and get stronger, manifest themselves in different ways.

3. Since we all feel negative emotions at times, especially under high demand, it’s important to provide forums at work in which they can be shared openly and without fear.

The key words here? openly and without fear.   If there is any fear of  ‘retribution’ the openly part ain’t ever gonna happen.  The thing that I struggle with is, how long can I bite my tongue when the bitch session goes on endlessly.  The example that Tony used in his blog is so elegant, and it worked so well.  It reminds me of watching the Food Network, or DIY.  Boy that souffle (or cabinet) looks so easy to make.  How come when I do it, it tastes/looks like crap?

4. Because emotions are so contagious, all leaders are effectively Chief Energy Officers.

When I think of the best leaders I’ve met, this is the key element.  I recall meeting George Bush (the first one) when he was VP.  There was an aura, an energy that the TV cameras missed.   He was always portrayed as a somewhat weak character (think of the Dana Carvey impressions).   His presence/energy t took me by surprise (at that time in my life, I was not what you’d call a Reaganite).  There was a quality there that was unmistakable.  The same can be said for many other leaders that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.   It’s something I admire, I have a LONG way to go…

5. The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. 

I do like the word choice here.  There is a technique that is taught in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training class for ‘smoking out objections’.  While the end goal is to work through sales objections, at the basic level the idea is to allow people the space, and the grace, to voice their objections.  You are taught to listen, to question, to dive deep into the detail of the situation without agreeing or disagreeing.   If you can master this, I believe the rest is easy,  we all just want to be heard.

The final step is to allow the team to turn the emotion positive.

I’ve really enjoyed the new set of advertisements that GE has put out, where their employees go plane-side/track-side to see their jet engines/locomotives in action.  People cheer, there’s an occasional tear wiped away.

Back in the dark ages, as a fresh-out-of-school engineer, I witnessed this first hand.  My employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The flew in an example of nearly every type of aircraft equipped with PWA engines for a weekend celebration.  Not much work was done the week before and the day after, as we all stood at the edge of the airfield and watch vintage and not-so vintage aircraft arrive and leave.

On the Monday after the show, a group of us stood in awe as an F16 pilot kicked in the afterburner of his F100 equipped fighter jet directly in front of us.  The sound was deafening.  He stood that jet up on its tail like a rocket ship a flew straight up into the stratosphere until he was completely out of sight.   It was a sight none of us would ever forget.  There WERE lumps in the throat.  There WERE tears of pride.  Office morale was unbelievable for the next few weeks.

THIS IS NOT PHONY.  People crave an emotional connection to their career.  If you can’t take time, put the emotion aside, and honestly say, “what I do here really matters”, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.


You’re Going to Get Punched in the Face

26 Mar

Can I write a blog based on the alleged entrepreneurial wisdom of Mike Tyson?  Sure I can!

The title comes from a quote attributed to the former heavyweight champion of the world,  “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”  The origin of the quote was actually from another former champion, Joe Louis, who said:

Every fighter’s got a plan until they get hit

That’s what differentiates “entrepreneurs” from “managers”.  Managers manage.  They plan.  They build structure.  They strive for comfort.  Many “can’t take a punch”.  They use language like, “those are the rules”, “that’s how we do things here”. I believe that’s why many large companies have difficulty maneuvering.  It takes a different mindset.

Entrepreneurs KNOW they’re going to get punched in the face.  So what?  It’s just a punch in the face.  No big deal.

…. but what if you get knocked down?   You get back up.

…. but what if you get knocked out?  You start again.

Does that mean entrepreneurs are fearless?  I don’t think so, I think it’s that their drive, their belief, is bigger than their fear.

The first entrepreneur I ever met was my late uncle, Bill Ricci.  He never went to college (that was reserved for the oldest son in this 1st generation Italian-American family, Bill was #2).  Bill was a self-taught engineer, an idea guy with seemingly unlimited energy.  My mother tells the story of when he had mortgaged everything he owned and things he didn’t own (my grandmother’s house), to get through the tough times.  In all the years I knew him,  I never saw any sign of worry, concern.  He was emotional, yes.  Boisterous. Full of life. Angered easily, laughed easily, but I never saw any sense of uncertainty.  You were never in doubt on where Bill Ricci stood on a topic.

Cambridge Tool & Mfg, now part of Pace Industries, was started by Uncle Bill in 1945.  It was an incredibly successful company, mostly because Uncle Bill knew it would be.

That’s what it’s all about.


All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!


Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).


There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.


Commenting on “The Only Question That Really Matters”

10 Feb

Every so often, I read something that knocks me back in my chair.

This morning, it was a blog by Tony Schwartz over at the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Most Important Question You Can Ask”.  The question is “Why are you here?”, Schwartz’ answer:

I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up.

Simple… Powerful… What a great philosophy!  Imagine a world where everyone felt that way?

Many realizations came hard on the heels of reading this statement.  Take social media, for example.  What blogs/tweets do I gravitate toward?  The ones that add value.  The ones that give me an additional insight on a topic.  What are the blogs/tweets that make me want to move off the grid?  The ones that are blatantly self-serving; thinly (or not even thinly) disguised marketing product pitches.  White noise.

Look at any credible sales training methodology (Jeffrey Gitomer and Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage are two that come to mind).  What do they preach? Add value, show a genuine interest in the other person (the key word being ‘genuine’).

BTW: One of my favorite tweets;  Deirdre Breakenridge simply tweets “Good Morning” every day.  It’s almost like greeting an old friend.  I find myself looking forward to it.  No veiled (or unveiled) message, no hidden agenda, just “good morning”.  As Schwartz points out in his blog, even the simple gesture adds value.

Back to the topic:

I’ve always felt that the credit crunch and the financial malaise of the past few years can be attributed to an attitude of “me first”, exemplified by a VISA advertising campaign from decades ago:

“Who says you can’t have it all?”

What a siren song!  Of COURSE I can have that big screen TV,  I DESERVE it.   People (or institutions, or countries) are using money they don’t have, then demanding a bailout when it all comes crashing down.

As we prepared to invade Iraq following the events of 9/11/01,  I was debating the merits of that strategy with a former co-worker.  His view, we need to take over Iraq for the oil.  Iraqi national sovereignty had no bearing on the discussion.  We need the oil.  It’s all about us.

It’s disappointing that our political system seems to fall into one of two camps.  The Democratic “The rich must give to the poor” and the Republican  “I’ve got mine, you can’t have it”.  I find myself disillusioned by both.

I’m looking for a party or candidate that truly lives by “I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up”,  I’ll follow him or her anywhere.

In the meantime, I’ll just strive to live up to that ideal myself.  I have a long way to go.

Thank you, Mr. Schwartz!



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