Category Archives: Storytelling

The gold mining tool of professional salespeople

A few decades ago a 27-year-old, shiny, new Xerox sales representative was minted.

Already a sales veteran, it wasn’t his first rodeo. Indeed, he worked his way through college selling on commission.

Commissioned salespeople, like entrepreneurs, work the marketplace high wire. Observing this act, a salaried employee once remarked that commission selling was “living by your wits.” In the vernacular, business-to-business sales professionals know, “You eat what you kill.”

Starting out this salesman received rubber-meets-the-road sales training from the small business owner who gave him his first commissioned sales job. Then there was a six-year stint with Sears, where he first received sophisticated sales training.

But in those days, Xerox Professional Selling Skills was recognized globally across all industries as the sales training gold standard. Consequently, becoming a Xerox salesperson wasn’t easy and, once achieved, was a big deal at that career moment and an invaluable influence for the rest of your life.

Not long out of the Xerox classroom, our young salesman called on the local installation of a national manufacturing firm. His head was packed with product, pricing and strategy. Plus, he was now a fully converted, Kool-Aid-drinking disciple of the world-class Xerox sales fundamentals. And so it was that on this particular day, sitting in the office of Mr. Keener, the plant accountant, any listening skills and probing techniques he had learned were no match for the cargo of content that was determined to be dumped right there on Mr. Keener’s desk.

Mr. K was a tall, stern and stoic journeyman manager whose gray hair was not premature. He suffered no fools – gladly or otherwise – and took no prisoners. But for longer than most would have expected he allowed himself to be the victim of what was no less than a sales assault. Finally, he stood up and stretched his arm toward the Xeroid in front of him as a way to move the proceedings toward the door, whereupon he demonstrated his rapier wit with, “Well, Jim, you’ve certainly given me the business.”

Now you know, I was that sales assaulter. And my memory includes standing outside Mr. Keener’s office with his words detonating in my brain. In a career-defining moment of self-analysis and clarity I turned and knocked on Mr. K’s door again. Assuming my most contrite and chastened countenance I said, “Mr. Keener, I’m sorry about what just happened. May I please start over?”

To which he said, “Hello, Jim – come in and let’s talk about business.”

Those two sentences – one to haul me up short and one to redeem me – are the ones I remember more often than thousands of selling interactions since. By the way, Mr. K and I did business for years afterwards.

Write this on a rock … The gold mining power tool of successful professional salespeople is the ear, not the mouth.

Monday Inspiration

JimBQuote

Freedom is not free

My friends, I hope we never forget thoseContemplating the blessing of freedom, wherever it may be found, one prime truth is evident: Freedom is not free. And for those of us who are the beneficiaries of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, the only method of repayment — the only way we can ever be worthy of their sacrifice — is if we do all we can to maintain the freedom that has been paid for and given to us.

In honor of all of our veterans, past and present, I’d like to offer this poem written by Commander Kelly Strong, USCG (Ret.) in 1981 when he was a high school senior (JROTC cadet) at Homestead High School, Homestead, FL. It is a tribute to his father, a career marine who served two tours in Vietnam.

Freedom Isn’t Free

I watched the flag pass by one day.

It fluttered in the breeze.

A young Marine saluted it,

And then he stood at ease.

I looked at him in uniform

So young, so tall, so proud,

With hair cut square and eyes alert

He’d stand out in any crowd.

I thought how many men like him

Had fallen through the years.

How many died on foreign soil?

How many mothers’ tears?

How many pilots’ planes shot down?

How many died at sea?

How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves?

No, freedom isn’t free.

I heard the sound of taps one night,

When everything was still

I listened to the bugler play

And felt a sudden chill.

I wondered just how many times

That taps had meant “Amen,”

When a flag had draped a coffin

Of a brother or a friend.

I thought of all the children,

Of the mothers and the wives,

Of fathers, sons and husbands

With interrupted lives.

I thought about a graveyard

At the bottom of the sea

Of unmarked graves in Arlington.

No, freedom isn’t free.

 

My friends, I pray that we never forget those who paid so dearly for our freedom.  Have a safe, happy and respectful Veterans Day.

Thanks for being part of my community. I’ll see you on the radio and the Internet.

Don’t be stupid — eliminate barriers of customers to your small business

A while back, I needed to reach an acquaintance who worked in a local branch of one of the national banks. When I looked for the local number in the phone book, all I found was a toll-free number that connected me to a computer answering system. That’s right – a local business didn’t publish a local number in the phone book, and here’s the stupid part: The answering system didn’t offer an option to connect to any branch or person.

Brilliance, Stupidity Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.From this one encounter stemmed a powerful story and four equally powerful lessons I thought worth sharing to big and small businesses out there.

Lesson 1 - Don’t create barriers to customers and prospects.

If you have any, take them down NOW! I know you think you don’t, but in the name of efficiency and the advent of new technology, you might.

Undaunted, I called a local board member of that bank who gave me the local number (yes, they had one). When I called, I was told that my acquaintance, a loan officer, had recently been laid off.

“Why was he laid off?” I asked. Since the bank was losing money and, for the sake of the stock price the CEO needed to impress the stock analysts with his guidance on the next quarterly conference call. So an edict came down that almost 2,000 employees across the company would have to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable they were, or what such cuts would ultimately do to the bank’s long-term ability to compete, “We’ve got to cut costs and the quickest way is to cut payroll.”

Lesson 2 - Quarterly goals are important for planning.

For a publicly traded company, quarterly guidance to stock analysts is a counter-intuitive and dangerous practice for long-term success. Small businesses have to remember that customers don’t buy based on quarterly schedules, so don’t let your quarterly pressure on sales people cost you lost business and, worse, lost relationships.

I learned later that even though my acquaintance was the top loan producer, he was the last one hired, and also the first to go. Now he’s no longer a payroll drain on this bank, but he is now kicking the backside of his former employer as a high-producer with a competitor.

 Lesson 3 - In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump productivity.

Today, this bank is one of those that had to be bailed out by the government. The bank CEO, who allowed blind devotion to stock price undermine the tried-and-true management practices of building a strong team and taking care of customers, is now no longer a drag on that bank’s payroll.

How much business did this bank lose because of that phone answering strategy? What would have happened if this bank CEO had simply installed an answering system that made sure anyone who wanted to call a local branch could not only find that number easily, but quickly connect to a local person? The answer might be that the CEO would still have his job, and so would my friend and several hundred other former employees. Who knows? By simply adopting a customer-friendly phone system, this bank might have actually needed to hire more employees to handle all of the new business.

Lesson 4 -  If you need more sales revenue, make sure your organization’s people, systems, and policies aren’t getting in the way

Recently, on my small business radio program The Small Business Advocate Show I talked about the potential dangers of quarterly policies with sales management expert and Brain Trust member, Skip Miller (m3learning.com), author of The Ultimate Sales Tool Kit. Take a few minutes to listen to what this smart guy has to say and be sure to leave your smart thoughts.

Allow customers to see your authentic side through writing

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations (1776), identified writing as one of the three most important inventions of mankind – the other two being money and economic tables.

Photo courtesy of Small Biz Trends

Photo courtesy of Small Biz Trends

More than two centuries later, the Internet has powered the written word to levels unimagined only a generation ago, let alone during Smith’s era.  It is the driving force behind a handy new-media maxim, “Content is King.

In an era when content is king, if you want to connect with customers competitively and stay connected, you have to produce more written words than ever before. But not just any words – authentic words.

After all, today we’re consumers of many kinds of online content. From streaming audio and video to multi-media formats on iTunes and YouTube. In the midst of all it, the most popular content — hence the Kingly content — still remains most popular in its graphic form, like what Smith would have used.

Since 1999 – long before blogs and social media – two things I’ve encouraged small business owners to do is:

  1. develop better writing skills
  2. publish more of their own words online that communicate to and connect with customers.

Since 2010,  prospects and customers want to read about the stuff you sell before they meet you. But they want more than marketing messaging; they want authentic, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth information that delivers three things that are increasingly a big deal to customers:

1. the voice,

2. the vision, and

3. the values of the human beings behind the stuff, as unartful and unscripted as they may be.

So don’t worry if you’re not a professional wordsmith. When you need fancy words for strategic marketing messaging, online or otherwise, hire a pro.

But you must become comfortable with conveying your vision and values online, in your own words – the voice – about a variety of issues from explaining how to use a product you sell to a local cause you care about to your philosophy on serving customers. And it’s just fine if some of these authentic words also come from your employees who customers will get to know.

In the Age of the Customer®, now armed with as much information as the businesses they patronize, customers expect to be treated more like insiders. And the good news is that no one makes this connection as effectively and authentically as a small business. Congratulations.

Let customers read about your authentic side with your voice, vision, and values.

Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipelines…for businesses

Selling is a numbers game.

A maxim is a generally accepted truth. Calling is selling a “numbers game” is a maxim for two reasons.

1. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of things that can cause a fully qualified prospect to not complete a transaction, at least not on your preferred schedule.

2. Regardless of all of the bumps on the path to a signed contract, it’s still your job to produce enough sales revenue to stay in business.

Photo courtesy of EOS WorldWide

Photo courtesy of EOS WorldWide

Enter the sales pipeline, and it’ll all tie together.

A sales pipeline is a planning concept that helps managers and salespeople forecast sales for any given period – week, month, quarter or year. Think of your sales pipeline as overhead plumbing with faucets positioned at the calendar intervals your business requires. From these faucets you draw the mother’s milk of any business – sales revenue.

Pipeline faucets come with screens that only allow a sale to pass through so into the pipeline you load only those prospects you have qualified. That means the prospects that have answered enough questions to allow you to determine that what they want, and your ability to deliver, will combine to produce a faucet-conforming sale within the timeframe or your forecast. Once in the pipeline, a prospect is either on track to become a sale or a forecasting mistake to be removed.

As you record a prospect’s entry into the pipeline you must include what you know about their stage of decision-making, plus what you have to do to move them to customer status. Identifying what’s left to be done with each prospect – demo, trial, proposal, final close, etc. – will help you forecast which faucet –you can expect a sale to pour out of, whether next week or next month.

At this point, let’s refer to The Bard. In Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius famously says, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” If you aren’t honest about a prospect’s progress to faucet-conformity, you’re setting yourself up for forecasting failure.

How much revenue you draw from your sales pipeline depends on the twin standards of sales success: quantity and quality.

Here’s Blasingame’s Law of Sales Pipelines: Load the pipeline with enough prospects on Monday (quantity) to have enough qualified prospects to close on Wednesday (quality) so that you can draw the sales you need from your pipeline on Friday (success).

Forecast sales successfully with quantity, quality and to thine own self be true.

 

Small business lessons from big business mistakes

Here is a true story from which several business lessons can be learned.

A while back, I needed to reach a friend who worked in the local office of a national company. Searching the phone book and online, I found only a toll-free number that connected to an answering system for the entire company. That’s right – this business didn’t publish a local number anywhere. And incredibly, this automated system did not offer an option to connect to any local branch or person. I’m not making this up!

Lesson 1: Don’t create barriers to customers. Even if you think you don’t have barriers, look anyway, because you might. Ask employees and customers to help you find them.

Undaunted, I finally acquired the local number (yes, they had one), but the person who answered said my friend, who was in sales, had been laid off. It turns out that this publicly-traded corporation was losing money, so in order for the CEO to impress Wall Street analysts, who influence the stock price, almost 2,000 employees across the company were told to hit the bricks.

Never mind how valuable these employees were or if those cuts would hurt the company’s long-term performance; the quickest way to increase profits was to cut payroll.

Lesson 2: Performance goals are important for planning, but customers don’t always buy on your schedule. Don’t let short-term expense pressures cost you sales, and worse – long-term customer relationships.

I learned that my friend had been a top producer, but since he was the last one hired he was the first to go. He’s no longer a payroll drain on his former employer, but one of their competitors quickly snapped up this winner.

Lesson 3: In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump performance.

So what if this big business CEO had simply installed a phone system that made sure customers could connect to his local offices? The answer is that my friend and several hundred others may not have been fired.

And who knows? By simply eliminating one customer barrier, this company might have needed to hire more employees to handle all of the business that went elsewhere.

Lesson 4: How you run your business – including people, systems, technology and policies – is not more important than the ever-evolving expectations of prospects and customers.

By the way, that big business that taught us these valuable lessons is no longer in business.

Think you don’t have customer barriers? Neither did that big business CEO.

 

Let customers read about your authentic side

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and author of The Wealth of Nations (1776), identified writing as one of the three most important inventions of mankind – the other two being money and economic tables.

More than two centuries later, the Internet has powered the written word to levels unimagined only a generation ago, let alone during Smith’s era. Indeed, it is the driving force behind a handy new-media maxim, “Content is King.”

Today we’re consumers of many kinds of online content, including streaming audio and video. But even in the face of such multi-media majesty as iTunes and YouTube, most of the kingly content is still in the graphic form so highly regarded by Smith.

Untitled-1So what does all of this mean for small business owners? It’s simple: In an era when content is king, if you want to connect with customers competitively and stay connected, you have to produce more written words than ever before. But not just any words – authentic words.

Since 1999 – long before blogs and social media – two of the things I’ve encouraged small business owners to do is: 1) develop better writing skills and 2) publish more of their own words online that communicate to and connect with customers.

In the 2nd decade of the 21st century, prospects and customers want to read about the stuff you sell before they meet you. But they want more than marketing messaging; they want authentic, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth information that delivers three things that are increasingly a big deal to customers: the voice, vision and values of the human beings behind the stuff, as unartful and unscripted as they may be.

So don’t worry if you’re not a professional wordsmith. When you need fancy words for strategic marketing messaging, online or otherwise, hire a pro. But you must become comfortable with conveying your vision and values online, in your own words – the voice – about a variety of issues from explaining how to use a product you sell to a local cause you care about to your philosophy on serving customers. And it’s just fine if some of these authentic words come from employees.

In The Age of the Customer®, now armed with as much information as the businesses they patronize, customers expect to be treated more like insiders. The good news is that no one makes this connection as effectively and authentically as a small business.

Let customers read about the authentic side of you and your business.