Saturday, August 21, 2010

The World's Best Con Man

I got a "compliment" from a fellow employee yesterday (at least he said it was a compliment).  It went something like this:  "You are, without a doubt, the world's best con man.  I mean, if this were the 1900's, you could run for millions of dollars."  I was a bit taken aback by this compliment because, in some way, I'm being compared to a criminal.  I asked him what exactly he meant by the comment and he responded that I have a natural way of understanding people and adapting their behavior and style.

It bugged me for a few hours, but then I got to thinking about the characteristics of the world's best con men.  In today's society, hearing about a big con going down in your neighborhood isn't that common.  One of my hobbies has been to read as much as I can about the old con men in the early part of the 20th century.  They fascinate me because of the prevalence of their work in the big city markets.  These organized crime syndicates were slick operations.  They took people in a variety of ways, but it usually involved some type of financial con, including horse racing, stock trading and others.  Millions of dollars were traded in the big con.

In the early 1900's, con men had roles to fill in operating the big con.  These confidence men and games exploit typical human weaknesses like greed, dishonesty, vanity, honesty, compassion, credulity and irresponsibility.  The common factor is that the mark relies on the good faith of the con artist.  When you consider these traits above, they look like the classic "used-car salesman" characteristics.  The interesting thing about our profession is that we have a choice when we deal with potential customers (let's not call them a mark, OK?).  One choice is to exploit human weaknesses, the other is to be a trusted advisor.  There's a fine line between the two and it has been plaguing our profession since time began.  Much of the decision comes down to ethics and morality, but one thing is clear:  Salespeople can attain greatness (including financial wealth) by choosing the side of good rather than bad.

I guess the compliment by my friend was meant in a positive way, but it's interesting to reflect on how easy it is to abuse the salesperson/customer relationship.  This challenge represents one of the most difficult parts of being a great salesperson.

If you're interested in the confidence men of old, I highly recommend David Maurer's book, "The Big Con:  The Story of the Confidence Man."  Here's a link:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Top Ten List: 10 Ways to NOT Get Hired

Today begins a series of blogs for all my Top Ten fans (sort of like Wayne's World).  Let's start out with the beginning of your sales career (or at least the beginning of most jobs) - the interview.  For whatever reason, you're looking for a new place to hang the old sales shingle.  After careful consideration (and hours staring at, you've hooked up with a company of interest, and it's time to go meet the Sales Manager.  Here's a guaranteed list of things that will likely cause a "NO-HIRE" stamp on your resume.  By the way, I use secret code on my resumes after I interview somebody that doesn't impress me.  If the initials "TBNT" are scribbled on the top right corner of your resume when I'm done - you're not getting hired.

10.   Wear anything other than your best, clean suit (with a tie, belt, black socks and a conservative tie).  I don't care what any book tells you.  I don't even care if the Sales Manager says it's "OK" to dress more casually.  Think about this:  If you were going on a multi-million dollar sales call, in which you could close the deal on that call, wouldn't you do everything you could to differentiate yourself from your competitors?  Dressing in a suit might be the "one thing" that makes a difference.  Dry clean your clothes.  Polish the scuffs on your shoes.  Wear a white or light blue shirt.  Suit color should be dark blue, brown, or grey.  Wear a tie your Mom would be proud of.  Conservative is always better.

9.  Don't bring anything to write with or on.  You would be shocked how many people I interview don't bring anything to write with or even a pad of paper.  I disqualify these people very early in the interview.  It screams, "I don't really care what you say."  So obvious, but yet, so forgotten.  (By the way, taking note on an iPhone or PDA doesn't count).

8.  Don't review the company's website and don't do any research on them.  This one always surprises me.  It's the same thing as going to visit a customer on your first appointment.  If you have to ask them what they do, you're screwed from the start.  Researching the company you're interviewing shows interest in them, initiative, and creativity.  Don't be stupid.

7.  Don't come prepared with any questions about the position.  A good Sales Manager will turn the interview over to you at some point.  Even better, you'll probably have a few chances during the meeting to take over the interview.  Don't get caught by being unprepared.  Come up with at least 12 questions.  Some of them should be difficult questions.  Some should be creative and unusual.  Asking different types of questions demonstrates preparedness and creativity.

6.  Don't bother finding out about exactly how the comp plan works.  Again, I am completely bowled-over when an Account Manager candidate fails to get a good grasp of the comp plan in the first interview.  I mean, after all, I'm considering this person to bring revenue to the company.  I'm hoping that they're interviewing me to understand how I'm going to bring revenue to THEM!  It's a sure sign of later failure if the candidate doesn't want to know as much as I'll give them on the comp plan.

5.  Don't prepare possible answers to difficult questions.  Just show-up.  Big Mistake here folks.  Your going to find a savvy Sales Manager who's going to give you a type of question called "Behavioral Interview Questions."  These are questions where the Sales Manager asks you to think back and describe situations which demonstrate specific behaviors or skills.  Google "Behavioral Interviewing" and prepare for the most common sales-oriented type questions.  You'll probably be asked to describe a difficult closing opportunity.  You might be asked to detail a situation in which you dealt with conflict.  A keen Behavioral Interviewer won't let you get away with simply describing how you might deal with these.  They're going to want you to tell them about a specific example. 

6.  Tune-out on a role play.  When I'm interviewing sales people, I almost always do a role play right in the middle of the interview.  It's going to be on cold-calling, handling an objection (usually price), describing their company/solution, etc.  If you're really good at this, you can even suggest a role play if the conversation and timing is right.  There's nothing more impressive than you totally killing a role play.

5.  Don't ask any questions about the Sales Manager.  There's lots of studies that show clear evidence that the number one factor that leads to job satisfaction is your immediate supervisor.  If it's that important, don't you want to know as much as you can about the guy or gal you're going to be glued to for many years to come?  Make sure you ask about their sales style, what they think the most important characteristics are for sales people, how they manage others, what they expect, how they deal with conflict, and more.  Make sure you Google the Sales Manager's name before you go.

4.  Think that you're better than them.  OK, I'm a bit reluctant to put this one on the list, but it deserves a spot.  All too often, good salespeople grow an ego that's too big to fit through the door.  If you think you're the best, demonstrate it by humility rather than arrogance.  Sales Managers usually have a big ego too, and there's no room in the interview for a battle of the egos.  Let him/her win.  Be honest, sincere, humble and professional.  Now's not the time to be cute or over-confident.

3.  The less creative, the better.  Have you read Jeffery Gitomer?  One of his big points is bringing creativity to the sale.  This interview is nothing more than a sales meeting.  Be creative.  Bring examples of your work.  Go the extra mile and create a biography or "suite" of excellence.  Talk creatively about your sales experience.  Tell a couple of well-placed sales stories.  When appropriate, have fun and be funny.  Sales Managers are looking for a differentiator.

2.  Talk negatively about your previous bosses and companies.  I hear this one all the time.  It usually starts with, "I don't want to speak negatively about ABC Company, but..."  As Pee-Wee Herman says, "Everybody's got a big butt."  Don't even touch this one.  If you have a gripe, keep it to yourself.  Speak positively about your previous employers.  It's OK to explain why you made a job transition, but you'll need to figure out a way to describe it in a positive way.  How about this:  "My success at ABC company was awesome, but I felt as if I could benefit from an organization with a better opportunity for me and my career goals."

AND...The Number One Reason you're going to tank the interview:

1.  Don't close the sale.  This is a sales meeting.  You have a sale to make.  Would you leave a customer meeting without moving to the next step in the sales process?  Wouldn't you ask who and what else they're evaluating?  Wouldn't you ask about a leader (if there is one), time frames, contingencies?  You better do this at the end of the interview because you're demonstrating exactly what you're going to do in a customer meeting.  I don't hire candidates who don't ask these important questions.  Make sure you do!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don't Use a Closing Technique - I'll find you

There are so many book readings on how to "close" a deal, it makes my stomach turn.  Here's the problem:  they all run the risk of being perceived of being some trick or forcing of the close, that it might back-fire.

Here's some famous sales closes and why they don't work:
  1. Puppy Dog Close.  This is the one where you you give them the product/solution for "free."  The hope is that they'll "fall in love with it."  Like a cute dog, when you have it for while, you can't really give it up.  This almost never works as a closing techniques.  Don't waste your time.  An old closer and it will be perceived as a cliche.
  2. Benjamin Franklin close.  This is the one where you draw a line down a white board and put the pros/cons down.  Supposedly, if the pros out-number the cons, they should buy.  Really?  I mean, Really?  Never works.
  3. Assumptive close.  "When we implement this solution, do you prefer a day or night implementation?"  The concept is that you just keep making assumptive statements and the buyers not supposed to know that you're really just closing him.  Buyers are too saavy today.  Doesn't work.
  4. Closing by luring something attractive at him and when he wants it, it only happens if they close the big deal.  This is more of a bribe, if anything.  Unethical and obnoxious.
After exentisve research, and working with thousands of sales people, I've found the magic to close any deal.  Are you ready?  Get your pencils out.  Here it is:  "Do you want to buy it?"  I mean, really guys.  If you're showing the customer that your solutions are better than the others and that the support is better, along with the product itself, you're ready to ask for the business.

Got it - GOOD.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Schiffman's Cold Calling Techniques 1987

With all the books published on selling, there's a few out there that withstand the test of time.  Some are conceptual books, others give creative suggestions.  Some use interesting analogies with magical characters teaching lessons about business and management.  Many of the top CEO's have written books on their experiences dealing with leadership and big-picture topics.  While all of these books are great reads, very few really come down to blocking and tackling in the sales trenches.  Stephen Schiffman's 1987 classic:  Cold Calling Techniques (that really work) is a gem.

I've been recommending this book to just about every salesperson I've worked with over the past 15 years.  Sometimes the reps actually get the book, fewer actually read it.  Even fewer still really take the lessons to heart.  I used to get 10-20 copies and just keep them in my office, giving them away to salespeople over time.  I've read the book a few times over my sales career, with certain chapters always standing out.

Last week, I saw a copy at my local bookstore and added it to the stack I eventually check out with.  Last night I re-read this very short (1.5 hour read) beauty.  For some reason, this time the words seem to glow off the page.  I kept asking myself, "Why don't more salespeople take this stuff to heart?"  Here's a guy who has sold over 1M copies of the book and performed over 10,000 seminars on the topics with proven, repeatable results.  His message is clear and resounding:  there is nothing more important in any salespersons career than keeping their funnel full of fresh prospects.  You can't make the sale without getting that first appointment, and even today (with the internet, email, instant messages and social networking), there is no better way than picking up the phone to speak to a potential prospect.

I can't say enough positive things about the book.  It's not fluff.  Every chapter gives rock solid advice.  From getting past the mental challenges of cold calling, to finding prospects, to the most compelling process for cold calling ever developed.  Sure, there's a few things that I bet Schiffman would change if he were updating the book today, but these are minor cultural issues that can easily be "read through."  Don't let the book's copyright date throw you off.  There's a reason the book was sitting there on the shelf at my local Los Angeles book store.  People know the truth when they see it.

There's fantastic chapters on overcoming common objections and a creative method called "The Ledge" that is without-a-doubt, THE best way of dealing with tough calls.  Schiffman creates a mathematical argument for how critical this part of the sales process is.

I challenge any salesperson with the following task:  Not only read the damn book, but follow it strictly for 90 days.  If you don't have significantly more appointments, more prospects and (eventually) more sales, go find another job!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Miracle Spring Water - Peter Popoff, The Most Evil Man on Earth!

Hi folks.  I was just so taken aback by this story that I felt obligated to my fellow salespeople around the world to spend a blog on this waste of a human being.  Peter Popoff, a self-proclaimed Minister of the Peter Popoff Ministries, has been scamming the indigent, sick and helpless people of the earth for over 30 years.

In the mid-80's Popoff was performing faith healing by the power given to him by Jesus.  In his worldwide tours called the Crusades, Popoff pretended to heal horrible diseases by the touch of his hand and miraculously seemed to know inside information about these strangers in his church audience (like their loved ones names, their street address, even the diseases they possesed).  Busted in a sting operation by renouned skeptic James Randi, video recordings were made while radio scanners picked up the voice of his wife on a hidden ear receiver planted on Popoff.  He was being silently fed the information from cards the victims had filled out before the "show."  Embarrased and humiliated, he declared bankruptcy in 1982.  The scam was exposed live on the Johnny Carson show.  Think that's the end?  Forget about it.

Popoff has reappeared, and in great forces with his new Miracle Spring Water, which he will send you for "free" if you just provide your full name, address, birthday, and your prayer.  First of all, the "miracle" in the spring water is nothing more than iodized salt and tap water, analyzed to be local water in his factory.  The water is supposed to cure all diseases, bring good fortune and even (you gotta be kidding me) get rid of your debt?  How, you ask?  By the power of supernatural intervention.  That "free" part also gets you on over 50 mailing lists asking for money.  Peter Popoff's 2006 IRS return showed his income to be over $23M.

How can we be led in by this charlatan?  Is our desire to believe in God so desperate that we'll simply hand over all our money to a convicted scam artist?

Let's put a stop to people like Peter.  Google Peter Popoff and see the scam for yourself live.  You'll be shocked.

Happy selling.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whale Wars - Disruption of Your Competition

The Japanese Whaling Fleet leaves every summer to kill these magnificent Ocean Mammals by the hundreds.  Why?  They claim it is for Scientific Research and that they have been granted a kill quota of over 800 animals each season.  They have the audacity to mark their ships with the word "RESEARCH" in enormous black letters on their harpoon boats.  The mother ship, the Nippon Maru, is a floating whale butcher shop, slaughtering these animals that the harpoon ships continuously deliver to them, drug onto the ramp by metal hooks.  Pretty horrible right?

There is an organization called the Sea Sheppards, which has their own fleet of vessels.  When the Japanese dispatch their fleet, the Sea Sheppards descend upon them with a simple goal in mind:  Disrupt the whalers.  Every moment of disruption saves the life of these endangered species.  You would be amazed at these strictly volunteer animal activists.  They throw Nitric Acid on the decks of the whalers which emits a powerful odor which is almost impossible to bear.  They position their ships to blockade the traffic, spraying water cannons at the Japanese.  They shoot potato guns at the enemy ships.  They dispatch smaller disruption ships attempting to entangle the large harpoon ships' propellers.

The Japanese say the Sea Sheppards are terrorists and are illegally operating their fleet in these waters.  Arrests have been made and the Japanese government has even arrested and jailed boarding parties. The Sea Sheppards don't care.  They will risk death to protect the life of a single whale.

Regardless how you might feel about whaling, or who's side is right or wrong, one thing is clear:  The Sea Sheppards will do anything, including sacrificing their people and vessels to protect endangered species.  Their strategy is disruption.  In many ways, this analogy mimics an extremely competitive sales environment.

When you run up against competition, your strategy must be disruption.  We must create tactical plans to fight for what we believe in.  We must do whatever it takes to create an environment of chaos.  You have not spent dozens of hours qualifying your prospects only to have the account taken over by sales pirates on a mission to destroy, rathen than protect your customers.

How hard will you fight for your sale.  What weapons will you use against the competitive antagonists?  How far are you willing to go?  In sales, we often talk about conservative tactics to "let the competition hang themselves."  While this tactic has its place, when a poisonous lookalike is fighting for your livelihood, its time for action.  Assemble your fleet of resources.  Grab the pick-axe, the musket and fight for what's right.

Are you a Sea Sheppard?  Do you have the commitment to fight for your sale?  If you haven't checked out their live documentary show on Animal Planet, tune into Whale Wars once a week.  You'll be amazed at the bravery, suspense and courage displayed by the Sea Sheppards.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Economy Weak - What Do Salespeople Do?

Yes, we all know that, for the most part, the US Economy is still stinking up the place and we're all going to have to breathing this polluted air for some time to come.  Over the past few days, the Wall Street Journal has been heavily touting signs of a recovering economy.  If you're like our sales organization, our prospects haven't seen these articles.  "We've just got no money right now," is a common utterance at the end of most sales meetings.  Here's some practical time-tested ways of staying in front of potential sales during a down economy and close some business:

HOLD FAST.  Remember the tattoos on the knuckles of the seaman aboard the H.M.S. Surprise in the classic books and movie, "Master and Commander."  We can take a lesson from these old sailing vessels in the 17th century.  When the weather gets tough, just HOLD FAST.  Keep wind in the sails, tie the lines down hard and do your job.  The storm eventually fades.  We can do the same thing in this economic downturn.  Don't withdraw your position - HOLD FAST.  Increase your communication with prospects, tell them that you understand how difficult things can be and as any trusted partner would be - HOLD FAST together.

INVEST TO SAVE.  In times when customers may not but the latest and greatest product/service you have to offer, they may be looking for ways to keep their current products working as long as possible.  This is an excellent time to sell maintenance and support services or overhauls to their existing solutions.  Businesses want to get every penny out of their investments and drive these into the ground.  Your organization can help them keep what they have running better and longer.  These service opportunities keep you in front of the customer when the good times return.

PROVIDE VALUE THAT COSTS NEXT TO NOTHING.  Change your mindset for a moment.  What can you provide your prospects and customers that adds value to their company but doesn't cost anything (or very little) to you or your company?  Things like consulting services, solution assessments, training and help completely outside of the box can be fantastic ways to build the trusted relationship during times when a big sale just isn't possible.  My technology gives away a complete network assessment at no charge with an hour of additional free consulting services.  Even though these services may not bear fruit quickly, I cannot tell you how much our customers appreciate a proactive approach to their company.

Get one of those temporary tattoos on your knuckles:  HOLD FAST.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Prospecting - A Targeted Approach

Salespeople hate prospecting.  I'm serious.  People like closing business more than they like finding and sifting through all the poorly qualified prospects.  It's a no-brainer, right?  If we could, all the salespeople in the world would just work well-qualified leads, rather than figuring out how to find the lead in the first place.  Here's a short 3-Step Method to figuring out your prospecting strategy (by the way, there's no magic here - there never is).

STEP 1:  FIND OUT WHERE TO LOOK FOR GOOD PROSPECTS.  The biggest mistake made by salespeople when it comes down to prospecting is jumping to the phone/email before you strategically determine what kinds of prospects make the best customers.  You must define the PERFECT CUSTOMER PROFILE to compare prospects, and you must define your target.  Targets can be vertical (types of customers) or horizontal (based on a product that types of customers would need).  Good salespeople create both types of targets.  You must pretend you are a "Named Account Representative" who has a named list of accounts which you'll have to work one way or another.  This is a great way to spend time qualifying the prospect before you begin to approach them.  Make a list, big at first, and then use Step 2 to cull the list down.

STEP 2:  RESEARCH TARGETED PROSPECTS BEFORE YOU CALL.  What if you never had to cold call?  This is what Rumbaskas says in his book, "Never Cold Call Again."  I'll go on record here:  It's a deceiving title.  The book basically says what all salespeople know, but just don't do:  Create a warm lead by cultivating it with knowledge.  You do this by researching your targets, Googling the decision makers, asking your network and doing some competitive research.  Once you know them, the call isn't really cold anymore, right?

STEP 3:  MAKE A COMPELLING CASE - BE CREATIVE.  When you approach your targets, you've got to give them a reason to meet with you.  The reason is always the same.  Ready?  Here it is:  There is a possibility that what you sell can positively impact their company.  If they could make more money, cut costs, be more productive/efficient, increase the safety, security of their organization, that would be pretty compelling, right?  Use the information you gained in Step 2 to tailor your argument to their company.  Lastly, be creative for God's sake.  If you've ever heard the pitch, think it's a cliche, or you would think you're being sold - DON'T DO IT.  Come up with something interesting and new.

Here's my typical cold call pitch:  Bob, it's Adam Petrovsky calling from ABC Integration.  We're a technology company in Los Angeles.  We haven't met before, but here's why I'm calling:  We've helped companies like yours dramatically change their customer base by attracting more customers and keeping the ones you have satisfied.  While I'm not positive I can do that for your organization, doesn't it make sense for us to meet to figure that out?

The more you know, the better your pitch will be.  HAVE FUN.  Life is short.