Friday, 21 December 2012

Let it Go, Let it Go, Let it Go!

I have a friend, a Christian businessman, with whom I agree (surprise!) when he says, "Let it go!"

He is referring to the holiday season debate - whether his team should implicitly recognize Christmas by wishing all of their many customers a Merry one, or with a non-denominational "Happy Holidays!" or "Seasons Greetings!"

His answer to his people is simple.  "Wish our customers a "Happy Holidays" in respect that their beliefs may not be your own, and vice versa.  Wish a "Merry Christmas" to those whom you know celebrate."

"Live your Christian beliefs, those you have (if any), year round.  Live to company standards of integrity and respect for each other and our clients year round, these are non-negotiable."

His place of business is decorated for the season, as are the back offices.  Christmas trees and coloured lights abound.  "It's just good business," he says.  He doesn't see the point in getting all worked up over the way others celebrate when he goes out shopping himself.  "If it (Christmas decor) was offensive, I wouldn't do business with them, that's all.  So far I've never seen anything offensive to the Christian belief.  Just a whole lot of good cheer."

Most of all, when confronted with this new Christian activism that insists on shaming people into recognizing the Christ in Christmas, he just smiles and sings, "Let it go, let it go, let it go."

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Strategic Discomfort

There will be times in our careers when we are confronted with situations we'd rather not face.  Sometimes it's because we're in over our heads, other times we're blindsided, still others it's a train wreck in progress and we don't even realise it until it's too late.
  • The incredibly bad boss who seems bent on making the lives of every living being miserable by his very presence
  • The corporate sociopath who operates according to her own agenda, bringing down bosses and peers in her single minded ruthlessness
  • The sales presentation gone awry because a customer takes Kevin O'Leary style rudeness as his aspirational modus operandi
  • And whatever is occupying your head as a result of the actions of others...
One way to survive is to treat such hardship as a learning experience.  I am suggesting that it be embraced in a "gonna put this on my resume" type challenge.  Research it, read about it, practise it, consult with others and develop a strategy that goes beyond coping or surviving, to thriving.  Develop strategy by reading articles like this one about bully bosses: 12 Smart Ways to Deal When Your Boss is a Bully

It's one way of making the best of a bad situation, of turning other people's shortfalls into our own professional gain.  It's a great way to take back control.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

But What Will They Say When We're Gone?

I heard the tale of a long serving assistant around whom the entire operation revolved.  Nothing moved unless it had her stamp of approval, and in time nothing was created without her fingerprints all over it.  Give up any bit of control?  Not on her life.  People quit doing business with, or working for the company rather than deal with her.  And she was not management, not front line and possessed only institutional knowledge - she knew what she knew because it was all that she knew.

Eventually she overstayed her welcome, making one too many demand, playing one too many department heads against each other, and she was forced to flee to "a better job."  Many people mourned her loss and wondered how the company would ever survive without it's "heart and soul."  Many, many more kept silent and held their breath until she had walked out of the door for the last time.

And then life went on.  People discovered work unfinished.  Her manager began to realise just how many times she had thwarted his leadership.  The final landmine left for her successor was defused.  They're still cleaning up the mess she left behind, and some relationships will never be healed.

I like to occasionally use "hit by a bus" thinking - what would they find if I didn't have time to clean it up one last time because I was unexpectedly hit by a bus on my way back from Starbucks?  Am I proud of what I would leave behind?  Is there anything that needs to be fixed/cleaned up/finished RIGHT NOW?

Most of us are not like the exec assistant in our story.  They'll say good things about us after we're gone.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I shudder to use the word "bully" to describe anything other than actual bullying, of which I have experienced very little in my life, either as victim or perpetrator.  I'm not saying I haven't, I'm saying it was nowhere near as widespread as it appears to be today.  As it appears to be today...

I have, however, witnessed a few prominent personalities on Twitter using their 140 characters to bully tweet.  In 140 characters or less, here's my definition:

#bullytweet: Influential social media "celeb" identifying business by Twitter handle to be overcompensated for real or perceived slights  A person who bully tweets is a #twit. 

You see, when you name the business there's a good chance their social media person will catch it, and rush to overcompensate to avoid public relations damage.  I once watched a weekly TV consumer show take a company to task because they had tweeted a problem, and a full 30 minutes later they had not been contacted.  Wow, they had to wait 30 minutes.  They could have asked for the manager on duty, had the conversation, solved the problem and been on their way home in less time.

  • Not long ago I followed a well-known twit as she had a meltdown and blamed her intern for deleting some very important files.  There is no doubt that her intern follows her on Twitter and must have been humiliated.  She went on to berate me with uncomplimentary nicknames for pointing it out.  #twit #bullytweet
  • Recently a renowned twit and keynote speaker decided to name his hotel in a 140 character complaint about the view from his room.  If memory serves, this same guy whined about his kid's cheeseburger at McDonald's, identifying the location and an employee.  #twit #bullytweet
  • A well followed travel expert tweeted about a problem in his hotel room, and fortunately the manager happened to follow this guy and had someone knocking on his door with a solution in less than 10 minutes.  Unfortunately there was no follow-up tweet of appreciation. #twit #bullytweet
It seems to me there was a time when one just picked up the phone and called the front desk when you had a problem. 

Back then, however, the whole world would never know how so very important you are, in 140 characters or less.

No #twits were named in this blog.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Leading with Love

We so often mistake the concept of love to refer only to romance, to sexual intimacy, to familial relationships.  Love can also refer to the bond between friends.  Love, we have heard, is a verb.  It is an action.  It is joyful work.

Leaders must (oh, this is uncomfortable...) love their direct reports.  They don't have to particularly like them, but they must love them.  And subordinates should endeavour to lvoe the boss, with all the same caveats.  And that love must never be expressed sexually or inappropriately.  Never.  If it looks like it's a possibility, someone has to quit.  Period.

Respect, integrity, empathy, discipline and a genuine concern.  I know a guy who prays for his worst performers, his biggest PITAs (pain-in-the-asses).  His theory?  You can't think the worst of someone and pray for them at the same time.

Love thy neighbour, we're told.  You know, the ones right outside your door.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ain't Nothing Free

I have a friend, a social media expert, who advises never to pay for anything on the internet you could otherwise get for free.  Good advice, and I have followed it.  Good advice, but not great advice.

As a result, I have free apps on my smartphone that do half the job, which is fine when it's only half a job I need.  And so, from time to time, my knowledge is incomplete (by half) but my wallet remains full. 

Trouble is, ain't nobody looking in my wallet.  They're just listening, reading, waiting for me and wondering why I don't always have the full picture.

Ain't nothing free.  There's a whole lot of something out there that doesn't cost money.  Instead it costs in service, in time, in frustration and in reputation.  It costs in lost privacy, in information bombardment (to quote the title of Nick Bontis' book) and in an erosion of expectation

"You get what you pay for," was yesterday's advice.  I'd suggest that's still good advice for today.  I'll still be downloading apps without paying out of pocket, but I am under no illusion that any of them are free.  And feel free to demand all sorts of "freebies" from the people with whom you do business, but make no mistake; ain't nothing free.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Nurturing Thunderbeast!: Customers and TLC

I drive a '96 Thunderbird with 230,000 kilometres on it, nicknamed "Thunderbeast!".  I recently began a new assignment that will take me from almost never driving to work, to putting about 50,000 km annually on Thunderbeast!  I hope to get two more years out of it.  Her.  "Thunderbeast!"  (raises right fist, punches the air)

There are two kinds of people who should ALWAYS drive a beater (old car):

  • A young man's first car should be a beater.  (Sorry, but I prefer that a young lady drive a safe and reliable vehicle at all times.)
  • A salesperson's personal vehicle, if circumstances allow.  Failing that, he should never forget the lessons learned as a young man in his first car.
When you drive a beater you develop important habits.
  • Always be attuned to the details.  One annoying squeal can turn into one huge repair if not dealt with promptly.  If you disregard a customer who's trying to get your attention for too long he will let you know in catastrophic, expensive ways.
  • Some things are nice-to-haves, some things are have-to-haves (the difference between a functioning radio and functioning ABS brakes.)  Review your relationship with your customer regularly.  Maybe the have-to-have's of yesterday are the nice-to-have's of today, and she'll appreciate you taking the initiative to suggest it.  Maybe she's missing some have-to-have's but doesn't know it.
  • Check the important things frequently, like oil and other fluid levels, tire air pressure, brake pads, tire wear, etc.  Do regular maintenance.  You wouldn't let your old car go more than 5000 km without an oil change, and yet we regularly let our best customers go months without a check-in to ensure they're being looked after properly.
  • Some things don't need to be fixed, they just need to be jimmied.  Like a door key that works only if you turn it only a certain way.  Sure, you could invest in a new mechanism or you could just adjust your style.  Friendships and relationships, personal and professional are a lot like that, and the new guy trying to win the business isn't going to know the inside stuff.  Our clients should know we're part of their inner circle by the way things happen intuitively, and it doesn't hurt to point that out.
    • Of course, you're not doing anybody any favours by ignoring the things that just need to be fixed.  Let's just be honest with each other, we'd both be better off if we address that nagging detail we're pretending not to notice, even though it drives us both crazy.  Good friends can speak plainly.
  • NEVER drive your old beater past a dealership lot full of new vehicles while you stare at them with lust in your heart.  A beater is like your long established customer - if they sense you're playing them, you will wish you had never even let the thought cross your mind, and rightly so. 
Come to think of it, this is all good advice for a marriage , and yes, I am the old Thunderbeast in the driveway of our 30 odd years together.  Insert your own metaphor here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sell the Truth

I guess we all know sales people who would rather lie than even admit a passing acquaintance with the truth.  From the gal who claims her product can do things it can't, to the guy I know who continues to lie about his marital status just to get his "hot" customers between the sheets, and/or onto the balance sheet.  (The same guy claims commission on purchase orders that don't exist, and adds notches to his belt for conquests he's never had.)

People lie because they're embarrassed by, or afraid of the truth.  Add one more reason for sales people to lie:  the truth they fear is that they're lousy sales people.

Sell the truth.  It takes more talent, it takes a little longer, you lose some sales until you realize that selling to the wrong customer may be part of the problem.  Once you focus your efforts, prepare,  build your product and market knowledge, the truth will set your fee; nice and high.

Sell the truth.  Watch this rant:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Professionally Ambitious

There was a time when I worked for a large multi-national company that was making aggressive inroads into Canada.  I was a young, eager, hungry and tireless manager competing with countless others for the next promotion, and the one after that.

In a well established company, that level of ambition is a little harder to find.  Perhaps it's because everyone has a different start date (as opposed to the thirty of us who all began on the same day; surveying the room and and sizing up the competition).  Perhaps it's because opportunity comes less often when a business is growing slowly, or not at all.  Perhaps it's because there isn't a culture of ambition.

Whatever the case, I know two things to be true.
  • Professionally ambitious people are rare.  I'm not talking about people who want a bigger salary, longer title, or a corner office.   I'm talking about people who feel it their moral professional duty to take on more responsibility for the good of the company, and for the good of their careers, and because they know no other way.   Those people are hard to find.
  • If someone has expressed an interest to move out of their current position and up in the company, the leadership ignores him/her at their own peril.  They've basically given their notice by expressing a desire to move on, so the question has to be asked, "when he leaves this current position, will it be for another in this company, or for one at a competing company?"
If it doesn't matter, hasten the departure and help him to find a new job elsewhere, fast.  If we can honestly answer the question "do I want this guy competing against us?" with a "who cares?", then let him go.  

If he's worth saving, but not quite ready for promotion, then the leadership has a moral professional duty to 
  • acknowledge the ambition
  • redirect the ambition if necessary
  • harness the ambition if a promotion isn't immediately in the cards
  • encourage the ambition 
  • support the ambition by working with the employee on a professional development plan
Most of all, we have the obligation,as leaders, to take our subordinates seriously.  If we don't, someone else will.  

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Building Bridges

Whenever someone leaves his employ, someone else reminds him not to "burn any bridges."  I know a man who not only never burned a bridge, he built new ones.

He was one of the top managers in one of the top restaurants in the country.  Arguably, he was more known than his establishment, which suited the partners just fine - he brought in the guests.  He was a difficult man to work for if you were the kind of person who didn't believe in high standards, excellence in performance, and professionalism.  I don't have his permission to use his name, so let's call him Mr. Manager.  I thought of him as Mr. Mentor, and I've tried ever since to live up to his example.

And one day he gave his two weeks notice.  For me it was a death in the family.  It seemed like the next logical step was to close the establishment and call it a day.  Of course, that didn't happen but for a time I didn't know how I'd go on.  I did; we all did.

After he gave his notice, some of the staff started to slack off a bit.  Missing corkscrews, smudged aprons, carrying fewer than 3 pens, forgotten garnishes, loosened ties...things that seem small but that really matter.  Really.  He put a stop to it right away.  One of the waiters complained that he should lighten up, since he only had a few days left.  "What do you care?" he asked.  "You're leaving."

"Just because I'm leaving doesn't mean this isn't a four-diamond establishment," he said, as he worked full out until the last minute.  "Smarten up."

After he was gone, for years, the staff would remind the slackers, very seriously, "just because (he's) gone, doesn't mean this isn't a four-diamond establishment."


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Book I've Read - Brain Rules by John Medina

I met Dr. John Medina in San Diego and we had a chance to chat just moments before he presented his book, Brain Rules - 12 Rules for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School.  After just a few minutes of conversation I looked forward to how his observations would help me to be a better sales guy, and a better manager.  I wasn't disappointed.  Medina ties science to early human behaviour with wit and insight.  He suggests the typical caveman, when presented with new stimuli, asked himself a few questions very quickly - Can I eat it (will it eat me?)  Can I mate with it?  Have I seen it before?  We are not that different from the caveman, and if we imagine our audience, customer or employee asking himself these questions subconsciously, we can appeal to that which motivates him or her.  If nothing else, we'll know better when to change the subject (and what to change it to).

Brain Rules is a book you can apply to any role in your life.  Parent, employee, executive, matter who we are and what we do, we all want to do better, to relate to others better, and to be successful, however we define success.  Each of us will read this book and find different rules that seem to call to us.  Here are the three of the twelve that jumped off the page for me.

Brain Rule #1.  Exercise boosts brain power.  Our grade school teachers knew that, and made sure we got regular recess breaks, not just to wake us up or let us burn off some energy.  It turns out that when we came back in we were ready to think better.

Dr. Medina theorises that the average caveman survived because he got lots of exercise, so his brain was firing on all cylinders, he thought on his feet and was ready for the unexpected (like a big hungry tiger, or a tricky negotiation, or an ornery board member).  Medina says we're hardwired for 12 miles walking a day, so to improve our thinking, we've got to move!

Brain Rule #4.  People don't pay attention to boring things.  There is no such thing as multitasking, according to the author.  There are only distractions and wandering minds.  Medina suggests we are better at seeing meaning than recording detail, and that we need stimulus every 10 minutes or so or we'll mentally check out.  Presenters take note - switch it up with a story that appeals to our emotions every 10 minutes or so, or you'll lose us.

Brain Rule #10.  Vision trumps all other senses.  Of all the senses he employed, the early caveman relied most on his vision.  Medina suggests vision takes up half our brain resources, and we learn best through pictures, not written or spoken words.  Good advice for anyone designing a sales brochure or an annual report.

There was a great rule on sleep, Brain Rule #7.  Medina suggests the biological clock for an afternoon nap is universal. I don't mind admitting that since I read this book and heard Medina speak I've had the odd 20 minute nap at 2 pm (there's a specific way to calculate the best mid-day nap time).  I just didn't tell anyone about it.

Just one more reason I sometimes wish my kindergarten teacher was my boss.  She understood.

Brain Rules - 12 Rules for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School
John Medina
Pear Press

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Quit Your Job at Least Once a Year

I have a friend who quits his job once a year.  Not literally, but once a year he comes in on a weekend and cleans up his office as if he's leaving it forever.  He knows if he did it when the team was in the office he'd spend more time answering questions than cleaning up.

He imagines what it would be like for his successor to go through old files, and gets rid of the ones that he hasn't touched in a year and probably will never need to look at again; stuff that jusn't essential.  This isn't sensitive material, more like flyers and convention handouts, expired projects and old reports.

He organizes his current files and projects with summaries using the "hit by a bus" method.  You know the one.  If I was hit by a bus today, could someone step right in and take over?  The side benefit is he sometimes discovers files he's neglected, and has booked new business by reaching out to old customers accidentally forgotten.

He goes through his off-line and deletes the non-essential photos and files that he once thought were important enough to save.  His every year is organized off-line and he dumps the third year file, keeping two years and the current one.  This year, 2012, he deleted 2009; again, non-essential stuff only.  I think IT should send him a medal just for clearing up space on the company server.

Finally, he tidies up the junk and pictures and giveaways on his desk and credenza, and begins on Monday as if he was walking into the office for the first time, and every year he gets better at keeping it uncluttered.

Of all the time managment tips and tricks I have learned over the years, this one seems the most practical.  And if the day ever comes that he has to leave, he's got a lot less packing to do before he goes.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

And Here's the Pitch

There's a guy I know, a pro, the kind of guy you want working for you, who has never been seriously recruited by anyone.  Oh sure, he's had off-the-cuff offers that amount to little more than cocktail party chatter.  He's had desperate headhunters ring him up, "do you know anyone who might be interested...?"  He got his current position the same way he has ever landed any job - he applied for it, successfully.  He hears stories of his peers lured away to the competition, but had started to believe it was all exaggeration and rhetoric.

And then he got the call.  The serious call.  The top guy at the competition called my friend at home, after hours, and told him he wanted him to take a serious promotion and leave his current company to do so.  There'd been cocktail party promises from middle management and low-level executives from this company in the past that my friend had acknowledged and ignored, but this was not that.  This was an actual invitation from a decision maker to advance his career in a way that increasingly seemed impossible in his current, otherwise happy state of affairs.

He asked me what I thought, and I called up the only baseball metaphor I could think of.

If it's a perfect pitch and you don't swing at the ball, it's still a strike.  Do that enough times and you're out without ever having moved an inch.  You can take yourself off the market and lessen your market value (even to your current employer) simply by doing nothing.

As an old boss told me wistfully when I submitted my resignation in search of a career growth elsewhere, "sometimes you have to move, to improve."

Best wishes, old pal. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Reclusive Professional

I get how difficult it must be to answer phone calls from sales people, day in and out, incessant calls from the overly aggressive and the seemingly undead, at least when it comes to persistence.  No wooden stake ever stopped one of these guys, and I'm not aware of a silver bullet that works in all cases.

In this day and age that description fits very few salespeople I know.

And yet perfectly reasonable professionals hide themselves in plain view at networking events, saving their hob-knobbing for old friends and associates.  They leave no trail at trade shows.  When contacted they become reclusive and surly, ("where did you get this number?") presumably to avoid prospecting calls from the likes of yours truly.  That hurts a little because I'm not just robo-dialling from a purchased list.  I've done my homework, I suspect you need or would benefit from knowing about my product.  You represent what seems like a cool organisation, the kind with which it would be an honour to do business. 

You're the customer, you hold the cards and I'm sorry for whatever has happened in your past that makes you wary of all salespeople, new products, change, new approaches and better results.  I am in no way suggesting that your current provider isn't the very best you can do; I am strongly suggesting you don't know that for sure.

I further respectfully suggest that the problem may not entirely lie with unprofessional sales people, though I acknowledge such individuals do exist, but in an adversarial view that is preventing us both from reaching our true potential.  Someone's customers and members, as well as their organisation's bottom line, may be suffering as a result.

Plus, rumour has it you're a decent human being and a respected professional in your field.  No reason you should care, but I'm going to be worse off for not having met you.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

LinkedIn and the Average Sales Guy

I'm no expert on the subject of Social Media; I dabble.  A lot.  One method of connection serves me professionally very well:  LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is not just Facebook for "suits", although it is that.  It's my on-line Rolodex that updates itself, stays with me wherever I go, and provides me with leads, introductions, connections, shared interest and current events.  Unlike my Outlook contacts list, it is not company property so if I should leave this place I would not be breaching ethics to use it to find my next gig and connect with former customers, if only for a recommendation.  We're connected by more than just our job titles.

If we're connected, I know more about you than you're telling me just by reading your posts, reading your recommended articles, seeing where you travel, reading your blog and choosing my next book on the books that you read, and you know that much about me.  I know you personally.  And you know someone I want to meet, and if I ask nicely you'll introduce us.   I can track current business to social media connections.

LinkedIn is not a massive ego trip for me.  "Look, I've got more than 500 connections!  Yay me!"  Actually, I do have more than 500 connections, but here's the thing.  I have personally met each one of them.  I trust them with my professional Rolodex, and by accepting my invitation to connect, they have trusted me with theirs.

For this reason I don't ever accept invitations to connect from complete strangers.  You shouldn't either.  Watch this:  Tyrrell on a Tangent: A Failed Invitation to Connect

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

When Excellence is Just Good Enough

True Story:  A friend tells me about his son, a student, having received his mid-summer performance review at his part time job.  He was marked "above expectations" on about half the categories, and "meets expectations" on the other half.  There was, apparently, a decided lack of specifics, so the student asks his reviewer,  "What do I need to do to be considered an excellent employee?"  

I Don't Grade Anyone "Excellent"
The answer is as surprising to hear in the new millennium as it was stupid back when it first crawled out from the Bog of Bad Management in the 80s.  "I don't mark anyone excellent because it demotivates.  You'd have no reason to keep trying."

OK, two things.  Actually three.

1.  That was a stupid thing to say.
2.  No it won't, no it won't, no it won't.  Exhibit A: Michael Phelps, who did not stop trying after he won his first gold medal.  My guess is that he kind of liked the feeling and wanted more of it.
3.  How about managers let their reports worry about their personal motivation and they worry about accurately assessing performance in a helpful, respectful and realistic manner?

Unless merely meeting expectations is their definition of excellence. 

It's my definition of a business about to die.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Why You Gotta Lie?

A buddy of mine, a prominent and successful sales guy, shares a story:

A successful and respected executive and long time customer calls him and asks him for a deal on his product, claiming it's for business use.  He gives her a great price.   A GREAT price that only her influence as an executive in a huge company could get.  It doesn't take him long to learn that she has used her connections to help a personal friend get a corporate price on a personal purchase.  There's no business connection whatsoever.

I asked him what kind of deal she'd have got if she'd just been up front about it.  It turns out he would have offered her if not the exact same deal, a very good deal.   

He forgives her; my buddy is a Catholic businessman who walks the talk.  He just doesn't trust her, quite another issue.

People lie for only two reasons: they're embarrassed by the truth or they're afraid of the consequences of telling the truth.

Either way, that's no way for grown ups to live.  It's certainly no way to treat a friend.  It's no way to do business.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Meet the New Boss

A guy once faced a predicament in his career.  Shortly into a new position, he found himself reporting to a guy whom he had once fired in another organization. 

"Aren't you worried about reporting to me, considering what happened before?" asks newly promoted to his former boss, now his subordinate.  The first shot is fired, but at least it's out in the open.  Frankly, my friend was pretty impressed with his apprentice, 10 years his junior.

"No," he responds. 

"Why not?" asks the new boss.  "I would be."  And my friend laid it all on the line at that very moment. 

"Because I raised you right," he says bluntly, having chosen his words deliberately, "and I know you'll do the right thing."  He's not known for beating around the bush. 

Condescending?  Not at all.  Stupid?  It didn't turn out to be.

If we've treated people with integrity, empathy and respect we have every right to expect it back no matter where we are in the corporate hierarchy.

What goes around inevitably comes around.  We shouldn't have to duck when it does.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Raise Your Right Hand

I know a sales guy who has worked his way on to the agenda of almost every orientation session at his rather large company.  They produce experiences, and most new associates wouldn't even think they'd need a sales guy whose only job is to sell the world renowned memories they make.  Sales guy will work sales missions around orientations just to be available to spend a few minutes with the newest members of the team.

He tells them what he does, and then gives them the tour and sells them on the value of what they'll be doing.  He answers all questions openly.  He does such a thorough job that most employees aspire to be customers themselves, and this is not an inexpensive proposition.  But sales guy wants their friends, family and neighbours to be customers too, and he wants referrals.  So he asks the new folks to raise their right hands.

"I now deputize you as official sales people at XX company," he solemnly intones.  It always gets a laugh.  Some of these people will never come face to face with a customer, and others will have contact daily.  Even an overnight janitor is deputized.

"You are all now officially part of the sales team," he says.  "If you meet someone who you think could benefit from what we do here, let me know.  You don't have to remember my name, just remember there's a guy here who does what I do.  All you have to do is call the company switchboard and ask for that sales guy.  They know how to find me."

Not only do most of his coworkers remember his name, but he gets some pretty decent referrals that have lead to some amazing business for the company.

Everyone sells.  Some of us just do it for a living.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

My Own Private Logan's Run

I took a survey with Starbucks today.  Starbucks is my favourite coffee place.  Starbucks makes me feel young, with-it, wanted and dare I say it?  Cool.

All the cool kids order fancy frappas and cappas while I just have a java, which they serve to me promptly without the need of expert preparation from the goth barista, but they don't treat me any differently from the dot-com millionaires and i-Pad toting skinny jeaners waiting for their frothy consumable investments, and I appreciate that.  Sometimes I'll ask the Starbuckian to wait 3 minutes and then call my name as if I ordered something expensive, just so I can stand and mingle with the youthful ubers.  They pretend not to notice that I'm wearing a suit and using a BlackBerry, or that I've shaved my face today and had a shower this week, which I appreciate.  I pretend not to notice they can't all be child millionaires.

Today I took the Starbucks survey after a pleasant visit yesterday, and I was asked to provide my age by range.  Today was the first time I ever took a survey where I was in the top box.  Today I checked the box that said 50+.  Not 45-55 like everywhere else, with at least another one or two categories still to live for.  50+.  No sense worrying how much or little over the age of fifty this geezer may be.  I'll probably be grouped in the "who cares?" section of the analysis.

I'm not sure what to make of it.  Is my next stop the carousel, like in Logan's Run where everybody over the age of 30 went for a short ecstatic flight before being zapped?  Unless they ran.  Logan ran.  I'm not fond of the way he offed Farah Fawcett on the way to his freedom, for the record. (Don't know what I'm going on about?  Look it up, you latte slurping punks. No offense.)

But I'm not complaining.  I also top boxed the income but the frankly bar is set pretty low.  I tell you, they'll let anyone in that place.  It calls to mind the words of Groucho Marx; (seriously, look it up kids)

"I would never join any club that would have me as a member" 

Maybe it's time to make my run.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Brief Lesson in Front Line Marketing

Absolutely brilliant!  An advertisement on the sports channel for free underwear, this weekend only!  All you have to do is go in, try a pair on, and keep 'em.  I dropped my afternoon yardwork project and headed over to the mall.

Awesome Sales Team!
Comparing notes with a colleague who got his free pair at a different location, the sales people did an awesome job of upselling, inviting us back, doing the feature benefit benefit overview, and making us feel comfortable in what was a definitely uncomfortable situation ("hi, I'm here for my free underwear!").   I was so impressed I purchased some other essential menswear while I was there. And by the way, the underwear are very comfortable.

And then...
A friend tells another story.  When he went in the sales team had no desire to see another mooch in for a freebie, and he ended up leaving the store without anything.  In his case the corporation spent a whole lot of money just to piss him off because the store team didn't deliver.  Pissed me off too, actually, since I endorsed the promotion.

It could happen in any of our operations.  A brilliant concept brilliantly executed, or not.  Here's a few tips to avoid front line let down.
  1. Buy in.  If we load too many promotions on our front line team, they grow weary.  They forget exactly what is the "promo de jour", see no value in mentioning it, or openly rebel against yet another added step that they see as getting in the way of their "real" jobs.  It's our job as managers to believe in it ourselves, demonstrate the value to the company and to themselves, and address any concerns - real or imagined.  And then we make it happen and follow up like crazy to encourage the right behaviour.  Lead the charge!  Make it fun!  Be visible and positive.
  2. State the goal.  There's nothing wrong with the brains at HQ telling the front line staff that the reason they are promoting X brand underwear is because a) we're doing a deal with X brand, b) the underwear really is good and supports our brand positioning and c) it will bring in new customers who will be back once they discover the other cool things we sell.  I'm not saying this didn't happen here, but I know it hasn't always in my work experience.
  3. Communicate!  It's damned embarrassing when the customer says "I saw your ad" and you have NO clue what they're talking about.  Sometimes it's our fault for not paying attention to the corporate communications, and many times that's because of overload, or because of a failure to communicate.
  4. Simplify it.  It was simple - try on a pair of underwear and leave with them.  Period.  One per customer.  Easy.
  5. Ease up.  I didn't have to actually try on the underwear.  Instead the salespeople spent that time telling me about the quality, and showing me where in the store I could find them when I came back for more.  Nicely done!  If we make the rules too cumbersome or overly complicated, our front line team will just avoid the whole thing in frustration.  No one wins.
  6. Listen.  Encourage open feedback from every member of the team.  It can be done anonymously, in a round table or even by electronic survey.  A few questions are all you need to ask - what worked, what didn't work, what did you hear from the customers, what would you change? 
  7. Act.  Once we know you're listening to us, up there in the ivory tower, we'll buy in to the next promo, we'll forgive you a few small missteps, and we'll be enthusiastic the next time something innovative and fun comes along.
And just fyi, they were Denver Hayes with Dri-Weave and the company was Mark's Work Warehouse and I also bought a really very nice tie which gets many compliments.  Bet you didn't know they sell ties, too.

Mission accomplished, Mark's!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

To the Non-Swimmers...

My mother-in-law knows only one joke.  More accurately, she has told only one joke that I remember, and it is so funny that she need never tell another.  It's about the German airliner, Lufthansa, and a plane that gets ditched into the Atlantic Ocean.  If you're old enough, imagine this in Sgt. Shultz's voice.  The pilot, in my mother-in-law's perfectly overblown but completely authentic German accent, instructs the "schvimmers" (swimmers) to deplane onto the right wing, and the "non-schvimmers" to deplane to the left wing.  He then stands on the fuselage and instructs the swimmers on the right wing to head towards Iceland.  "To the schvimmers, dot vay is Izeland.  Gut luck!"  He turns and salutes the remaining passengers and delivers the punchline.  "To the non-schvimmers, tank you for flyink Lufthansa!"

It's beautiful because it encapsulates the impression we have of Germans as being, shall we say, a little cut and dry.  Delivered in her impression of an authoritarian pilot with a heavy German English accent, my mother-in-law has us on the floor laughing before she even gets to the punchline, no matter how many times we've heard her tell it.  And finally, the "thank you for flying Lufthansa!" is a perfect a combination of procedural politeness and brutal dismissal.  It's the unexpected punchline that makes a joke worthwhile.

Somewhere in that is a lesson for all of us who hear unreasonable complaints, and however rare that is, they do happen.  When it becomes apparent that nothing we can do will remedy the situation and the customer will forever unreasonably hold us responsible (they're non-swimmers in an ocean of reasonable expectations and good manners), it wouldn't hurt to put a smile on our face and end the conversation politely, thank the customer for their patronage, wish them well, and then start swimming for Iceland. 

It also helps me to hear my mother-in-law's voice in my head dismissing the non-swimmers because, in truth and through no fault of the organization, there's just nothing else that can be done to please them.  It always brings a smile to my face just exactly when I need it most.

Thank you for flying Lufthansa.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Saturn Way

For a time I sold cars at Saturn.  For some people, those cars were absolutely perfect, reliable and the level of service we provided was exceptional. 

We had a General Manager, Rob, who used to admonish us to behave in "the Saturn way."  This unofficial and nebulous standard of professional behaviou referred to integrity, self-assurance, customer focus, teamwork and joy.  It was more often measurable by it's occasional absence.

If a salesperson ever was tempted to take advantage of a customer, Rob would ask "is that the Saturn way?"  The process demanded truth and full disclosure.  If one of us tried to sell a car without first listening to the customer's needs, Rob would remind us "that's not the Saturn way." The Saturn way was all about determining customer needs, not hastily acting on a hunch.  It wasn't about one sale, it was about a satisfied customer for life (many of whom remain friends to this day).  Heaven help us if we tried to cut corners, or if anyone gossiped behind a coworker's or customer's back.  That was definitely not "the Saturn way".  I'm not saying it didn't happen, I'm saying none of us wanted to be thought of doing things other than the Saturn way.

The car is gone from General Motors now and arguably so is the ideal, but from time to time in my current occupation I can hear a voice in my head asking me "is that the Saturn way?"  If the answer is yes, then I know we have ourselves a great deal and probably a lasting customer friendship.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Do it Like I'm Doing it for Free

"Is it ethical?"  It was a simple, complicated question.  My buddy had just accepted a position on a fundraising board and had all sorts of ideas, some of which he worried might be in conflict with his professional position.  In effect, his plan to raise money for his favourite charity would bring him into contact with a similar segment he professionally mines for business, albeit not likely the same customers.  He was on-fire, as they say.  He couldn't wait to tell me about it.

I was intrigued by the enthusiasm he was showing, essentially to use the same skills for which he gets paid "in real life"  but for free, on his own time and for a cause.  He has a very aggressive prospecting plan and a well considered fundraising strategy.  He has to; the goal is several million dollars.

I wondered, though.  If the skills are the same as the ones he uses every day, then why does he never appear to be this inspired by his job?

The talk turned to tough personal questions about our own careers.  The answers gave us a clearer picture of what we really have to work on this year; ourselves, our attitudes, our motivation.
  • "Am I still excited by my career?"  (like when I first started out)
  • "What could I accompish if I didn't know better?" (you know, like before "reality" set in)
  • "Do I have a strategy to increase sales that is imaginative, focused and benchmarked?"  (like my friend's fundraising campaign has to be)
  • "Do I have a challenging goal?"  (the Everest goal, I call it - a difficult, killer, inspiring and worthy goal that few will ever accomplish, maybe not even me)
  • "Do I believe so strongly in my product and service that it ain't about the money?" (so I'm not just working for a paycheque) 
How would our workday look if we did our jobs for a higher cause?  Don't we?  What are we waiting for?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


When I write about leadership and management, I know that I have always tried my best, but for someone somewhere, probably more than someone, I have been what they might describe as "the worst boss, ever."

I recently had the chance to apologize to one such former employee.  No need to go into details, suffice to say I had behaved in a way that had caused me shame in hindsight, and cost him his livelihood while he had a young family to support.  I can, to this day, justify my actions.  HR backed me.  The law was on my side.  He was very clearly justifiably terminated.  Yet I believe I could have done more, tried just one more time.

On a chance encounter, after inquiring about his wife and kids, I brought it up.  He had already forgiven me long ago, which only goes to prove he really was the gentleman I had hired, but who had somehow gone astray.  Maybe just one more chance might have made the difference...and maybe not.  We have a responsibility to the entire team to address the problems within. 

Truth is, we who dare to lead sometimes fail and this is the burden we carry.  Truth is, if we don't risk neither will we know improvement, or the positive difference we may have had on others. 

Truth is, if we can't remember the names and faces and the lessons of the people we failed under our leadership, we do a great disservice to the people in our care today.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Team Dynamics - the Ghostbusters

Critics consider "Ghostbusters" to be one of the funniest and most quotable movies ever made.  I agree.  I also consider the movie to be full of lessons in how teamwork can defeat even the darkest villain - be it the threat of total annihilation or a looming project deadline.  Here are some examples from the movie, and a practical applications for a team.

Respect the Experts on Your Team
Peter Venkman:  "I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?"
Egon Spengler:  "Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light."
Ray Stantz:  "Total protonic reversal."
Peter Venkman:  "Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon."

We've got a team of three remarkable individuals, all with his own talent.  At various times one of them takes the lead.  Most of the time its the Bill Murray character, Peter Venkman, and probably only because of the force of his charisma and personality.  Yet when Spengler has something important to contribute, that is his invention could cause the end of the world if not handled properly, he doesn't stand quietly or back down.

Because they know and appreciate each other's strengths, they listen and modify a potentially disastrous course of action.  The lesson learned?  Sometimes the least likely guy has something valuable to contribute, and we'd be best to listen to him.  If you're that least likely guy, make like Spengler and press the issue.  The success of the team (and the fate of the world) may depend upon it.

Take a Chance, Celebrate Small Victories
Peter Venkman:  "the flowers are still standing!"

They've just finished destroying a ballroom just minutes before an important social event, plus several floors of a hotel.  They've captured a nasty and very messy ghost.  They haven't been paid yet, although in the midst of the mess they've discovered that their inventions work, and there is business to be had.  Venkman, perhaps sensing an opportunity to release some tension in the room, sees a fully set table undisturbed and decides to try the old trick of pulling out the tablecloth and leaving the table setting intact.  It mostly fails, china and cutlery flies...but the flowers are still standing.  I'm not sure Ray Stantz would have had the cojones to calculate the exhorbitant bill in front of the incredulous hotel manager if Venkman hadn't given him permission to be proud of what they had accomplished, albeit not exactly to expectations.

Sometimes our plans can go disastrously awry and lead to what appears to be a failure.  It's only a failure when we don't learn from it.  It's only a complete failure when we haven't given it our all.  It's a personal failure when we fail to take a minute to celebrate the small successes along the way, even if it's only a vase of flowers intact amongst the ruins.

Admit Your Screw-Ups, Don't Wait to Get Caught
Ray Stantz: "It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man."

Given a chance to avoid destruction, all they have to do is clear their minds.  The destructor will come in the form of whatever one of them imagines, and leave it to Dan Ackroyd's character Ray to completely mess up these simple instructions. 

When we blow it and things take a turn for the worse, it's a lot faster to own up to it and confess our error than to wait for the investigation that will eventually lead to the truth.  There can be serious consequences personally and professionally for being the guilty party, and even worse for the entire operation for holding out.  It can affect our credibility, our team, morale, and future business.  It hurts to admit that you're the one who let the team down, it hurts the team to deny it and let them come to that realization on their own.  Make like Ray - own up.
Loyalty to Our Customers
Peter Venkman:   "OK, so, she's a dog."

Sigourney Weaver's character has been transformed from a very beautiful lady to a creature that resembles a dog.  But she is, as Venkman puts it, the "nice lady who paid us in advance."  He stares down his team mates and shrugs off the unfortunate turn of events.  "So?" he dares them.  "She's a dog."  What of it?

We talk so much about customer loyalty to our product or business.  But what about our loyalty to the customer?  Someone on the team, hopefully everyone, has to keep the end user, the customer, front and centre in the decisions.  If we forget our customer along the way, whatever we produce will be unrecognizable to them and we've done them (and our company) a great disservice.  The customer is not the enemy, as much as she's been possessed by demons who are trying to kill us, turned into a smelly ugly dog-like creature and is very unlikely to ever be the nice lady we met at the start of the project or negotiations.

The customer may not always be right but she's still the customer, as my old boss used to remind me.

Stuff Happens, Plans Have to Change, Get Behind it!  100%
Egon Spengler:" "Not necessarily. There's definitely a very slim chance we'll survive." 
Peter Venkman:  (pauses) "I love this plan! I'm excited to be a part of it! LET'S DO IT!"

The Ghostbusters have their backs to the wall and they appear to be on the losing side of the battle.  It's all over, except by breaking the rules of physics they could turn the battle around, if they live.  Egon who first advised against crossing the streams (at the top of this article) now suggests that they should go ahead and do exactly that.  It makes no sense, and Bill Murray's character challenges him.  "You said it was bad!"

Spengler suggests a plan that is almost certain to fail, but it has "a very slim chance" at working.  It's all they've got.  It's not the original plan.  They could argue and negotiate and point fingers and push each other under the proverbial bus, but instead the one guy who arguably has more sway and carries a lot of influence over the others, Venkman, stops, considers and then enthuiastically endorses the change of direction.  There'll be no "I told you so's" after this.

How many times do we conditionally endorse a plan carefully logging proof of  our objections in case we're called to answer for it.  Any episode of The Celebrity Apprentice will show you how that works if you've never experienced it in person.  How often does it feel like the team backed us in principle, but in truth we know we're going down alone if the plan doesn't work.  These Ghostbusters under the quirkly leadership of Bill Murray's Venkman just don't work that way.  Neither should we.

False Humility is Really Annoying
Winston Zedemore: "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"! "

Alright, nobody should claim (or admit, if delusion has already set in) to being a god, but we should learn to accept compliments graciously.  If you're the type who is humbly deflecting or refusing compliments, it's actually an insult to the giver.  Imagine refusing the gift of a bottle of wine, or a morning coffee.  "I'm not worthy, give it to someone else."  Right....  So if someone recognizes your brilliance, allow them the courtesy of a simple thank you.  That's it, just say "thank you."  It actually reflects well on the whole team.

Witness the violent reaction of Gozer when the answer to her question is negative.  The same sort of reaction happens to the giver of a compliment denied.  Maybe not the first time, maybe not the second, but with continued deflection and denial of praise, sooner or later lightning bolts will fly.  Or worse, you, and by association, your team will become inconsequential.

Ghostbusters II
Let's just agree that one successful project does not mean that you can venture into the next using a cookie-cutter approach.  We have to apply ourselves 100% every day, to each undertaking, as if it has to stand alone.

Because in fact, it does.  We're only as good as our last endeavour.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

One Customer at a Time

A successful restaurateur I know used to say, "One lousy server can put me out of business in three years, one customer at a time."  I'd guess that's about right. 

You've met employees like these.  They answer questions literally and provide no other information unless asked, are curt and surly and call it "efficiency".  Their service isn't bad, but neither is it good.  It isn't enough to complain about; neither is it worthy of recommendation.  It can happen in any businesses, and it is deadly

Recently I overspent $40 in a hardware store on stuff I didn't need, not because of bad advice from the clerk, but because of no advice.  When I returned the product, she said,  "I only gave you what you asked for."  True, but a few questions on her part and I would have had the exact product I needed in the quantity I needed and I'd be a loyal and happy customer. 

Instead I was embarrassed and unhappy.  There's nothing really to complain about; it's clearly my own damned fault for asking for the wrong item.  I still won't be back.  She may be right, but I've got the money and with a little effort on her part more of it would be going from my wallet into her employer's cash register in the future.  It won't be, but it could have been.  It's called repeat business and it can bring future earnings to the skilled and enthusiastic worker. 

Customers are notorious for not knowing the product and service nearly as well as they think they do.  Customers routinely ask for what they think they want, which may not be what they actually need

Customers are also free to shop or dine or stay wherever they will get friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and genuine sales and service.  Unless they find it with us, they won't be back.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The "I" in TEAM

"There is no 'I' in TEAM!" enthused the uninspiring, and unoriginal cheerleader boss.  My fellow rookie Jeff leaned over and whispered, "but there is an 'M' and an 'E' and that spells 'ME'!"

He was right.

This overused "team" motivational quote, once meant to create community can be a wet blanket to the ambitious.  It's often said to humble peak performers and to avoid rocking a boat crewed by the average.  It's wrong.  It's OK to be number one and proud of it, and every member of a high performing team wants to be.

Here's where you can find the "I" in a championship team.

  • "I want to be the best"
  • "I've got your back"
  • "I don't want to come in second"
  • "I'm proud of you, I'm happy to be your team mate"
  • "I worked my butt off, and I'm going to celebrate a hard fought win"
  • "I screwed up; I'm sorry"

And while we're listing vowels, you can also find a "U" in "TEAM".
  • "You need to pull up your socks.  You are letting us down."
  • "You really pulled that one off...thanks!"
  • "You are the best on this team, and we rely on you"
  • "You can count on me"
  • "You can do better"

"I" and the "U" together are the real team letters.  "Can I help you?" 

But a team is truly successful when we can humbly, and with trust ask of each other, "Will you help me?"

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stomped, Beat Up and Whooped

I'm not complaining, but there are times when a sales guy just feels a little stomped, beat up and whooped.  That's the title of a tune from the funky 70s, and it's not country and western, but super-funk R&B from Graham Central Station.

You see sales people experiencing that sort of rejection from time to time.  The best go and walk it off, feel bad about the loss, talk themelves through it, do a post-mortem and ask themselves what they could have done differently, and then get right back at it.

I pro I know taught me to keep track of all my telephone rejections.  "When you get to 20, go buy yourself a coffee and celebrate!"  It's backwards thinking, but it works.  When I'm at 18 rejections and I feel I can't make even one more call, knowing there's a Starbucks coffee in the near future keeps me going.

And there ain't nothing like a good cup of coffee to lift you up when you're feeling whooped!

Listen to Graham Central Station here, and check out that funky album cover!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


My son recently got rid of a few shirts that no longer fit him - they're still the right size, they no longer fit his style.  I snagged a nice one.  It's not the first time this has happened.  His older brother has handed "up" (as opposed to the classic hand-me-down) the odd t-shirt in my direction.

I'd like to see a bit more of this go on in business.  Here are some hand-me-ups I'd like to receive from the junior ranks.
  • The ability to find relevant and fun apps on my smart phone for a more productive work use available technology to its fullest
  • Like you, to leave my work at work, and make my personal time truly my personal time.  I'd want to go home confident in having done all I could do for one day, whenever that ends or begins. 
  • To have been in my thirties and look at my peers as co-workers, not as competitors for the next promotion
Here are some hand-me-ups I hope I'm giving to my superiors.
  • That you look good because your team performs
  • That you have as much knowledge as you need, confident that I've got your back and can fill in the blanks when you need me to
  • That you can sleep through the night knowing that, if it's possible, I actually care about this business more than you do, albeit in a different way
And mostly, I'd like to give to my organisation a legacy of well trained up-and-comers who are thorough, enthusiastic, disciplined, upstanding and ready to take this farther than any of us think they can.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Little Respect - Returning Calls

There's a number thrown around about a sales person having to make something like 7 to 12 calls to connect, and most giving up after 3.  I'm not sure of the veracity of the statistics, but anecdotally I can tell you it sounds about right (on all counts).

It does amaze me when professionals who have invited me to contact them will not return my calls.  I've gone the distance sometimes, and I've given up from time to time.  Both scenarios are disheartening, frankly.

And that's why we should return calls when people try to sell us stuff.  It's just good practice to treat others as we would like to be treated, and further, it's crazy to think anyone will (or should) treat us with respect if we can't afford that courtesy ourselves.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ethics and Special Effects

On this day 35 years ago, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released.

I saw the original Star Wars 11 times in theatres, the "Strikes Back" movie 18 times in the theatre, and that third one with the stupid Ewoks only once.  As any good dad would, I took my sons to see the original Star Wars movie when it was re-released in theatres fifteen years ago.

A valuable life lesson was learned, however, as the boys saw the familiar Star Wars on the big screen for the first time.  As new creatures and different special effects showed up in the oddest places with no discernible relevance to the plot, my oldest son was the first to squirm, and finally blurt out in disappointment and disgust,

"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."  He was referring to advances in technology that allowed for all sorts of creative and useless distractions from a perfectly GREAT first couple of films.

That has since applied to the next three Star Wars movies and that last Indiana Jones with the (spoiler alert) aliens ex machina ending.  It's true of all enhanced special effects, sequels, prequels and in matters of ethics.  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

It applies especially with business ethics - just because you can
  • (get away  with it) - like when the boss or your wife will never know
  • (expense it, hide it, fudge it) - creativity has no place in accounting
  • (do it) - whatever "it" is that just ain't right, or demeans someone else, or is illegal or immoral or reflects badly on your organization
doesn't mean you should.

Insert your own clever "force be with you" ending here.  It's not that I can't...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Will you....?

Imagine the scene:  A young man plans it all carefully.  He works with stadium and team management so at the seventh inning stretch they will spring into action.  The jumbotron will say it all - "Buffy, I love you!"  A picture of the two of them is framed by a heart of rose petals...

The big moment comes.  The balloons fly, the jumbtron screams the message, and the picture fades to a live shot of the two of them, the crowd cheers and then waits for the moment...and waits.

And he does nothing.  He just stands there waiting to slip a ring on the finger of his truly beloved if she would just take the hint.  He wants to marry her, dammit!  Isn't it obvious?

Sometimes that's how we sell.  Flyers, client events, email "dailies" and newsletters.  Lunches and drinks.  Good times at conferences.  Sponsorships.  Bar tabs.  Table partners at monthly chapter lunches.  Opening receptions and hospitality suites.  Coffee, coffee and more coffee at Starbucks.  Messages on Jumbotrons.

All great fun, but if we don't ask for the business, someone else eventually will.  A girl can only wait so long.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Let it Be and Move On

When we get emotionally invested in our customers there come times when we are called to forgiveness.

I know a sales guy who is steaming because a C-Level customer played him like a fish with promises of future business, never signed.  Word got out that other companies were favoured and the sales guy couldn't get Mr. CEO on the phone.  My sales buddy was under pressure at home office for the promised deal.  Desperate, one day he dropped into CEO's office and watched him squirm around the "it just happened" and "next time" and "future considerations" potty dance.

That doesn't bother my friend.  It's the constant reminders that Mr. CEO is considered a leader in his industry.  Every publication he picks up has yet another validation of Mr. CEO's astuteness and professionalism, and my friend has experience otherwise.

It could have been a one-time thing, and my sales guy buddy has to let it go and move on.  It could be an ongoing issue, and my sales guy buddy has to let it be and move on.  Forgive, but don't forget.  There but for the grace of God, go I - the shoe could well one day be on the other foot.  Mr. Sales Guy may one day lose the trust of a client because of something stupid.  Truth be told, he probably already has (haven't we all done something stupid?)

As for the integrity of Mr. CEO and his public persona; I'm not ready to switch religions but I do like this quote: 

"Three things cannot long be hidden - the sun, the moon and the truth."  Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Goodbye Saab

Months later I can finally write about it.

From the first time I ever drove a Saab and announced to my boss that I would be the top Saab salesperson in my town (and was, for awhile), to buying my dream Saab second-hand, to buying my wife a Saab I have considered it to be the finest automobile ever built (for a guy of my social status).

But by the time I drove to Toronto to trade in the 9-3, I was ready to wake up.  As my local Saab dealership said as they disavowed all knowledge of having ever sold me the car, "you're on your own now."  The dream, while nice, was over.  Life goes on.  It was a machine.  A very cool machine.  The machine of a dream. 
  • A very safe machine, one of the safest cars ever designed
  • A beautiful machine, one of the most stylish vehicles I've ever owned
  • A functional machine, with seats down one of the largest cargo spaces in it's class
  • A well built machine, with not a squeak or a rattle 9 years after first rolling off the line
  • A quirky machine, with strange and different design that made perfect sense...I can't explain it.
  • A bit of a status symbol, I admit.  Not everyone "gets" Saab.  I will having miss the nameplate in my driveway and on my key chain.

And so I bid adieu and move on.  We shall speak of it no more.  Watch my goodbye video here:  

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Lessons in Sales, Learned at the Heartbreak Hotel

One of the best tactics sales people use is to let the customer experience the product and imagine ownership.  That's why we take test drives - partly because we need to test and drive, and mostly because we'll become emotionally attached to the car.  We use buyer's language.  "Does it come in blue?"  They use seller's language.  "Do you think the kids will like it?"  We've usually bought it before we own it.

There's nothing wrong with this when it's done with integrity.  It's a way of gauging buy-in, or finding silent objections that may need addressing.  It's a way of determining the customer's emotional investment in whatever it is we're selling.

Sales People are People Too
The truth is, good sales people get emotionally invested, too.  We really want the client to buy - partly because we get paid if they do, and mostly because we've determined their needs, we know our product and we believe it is the best for them.  Really good sales people let down their guard and let themselves "fall in love with the customer."  It's a way of living in truth.  It's integrity.  It's caring about someone else.  It keeps it real and it helps us sleep at night knowing we've connected the right customer with the right product; the classic "win-win".

The downside is just the same as it was in high school.  Sometimes you get your heart broken.  Sometimes you experience rejection.  Sometimes you get screwed.  And just as it was in high school, you go through the anger, the bitterness, the self-doubt, the hurt, the fear of trying again and finally the getting over it as you discover that for someone, somewhere, you're actually perfect.

It's worth taking the chance.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Smart Phones and Dumb Users

I've often wondered if anyone has measured the lost productivity when a company issues a new phone to an employee.  Although I've moved beyond the "gee whiz!" reaction to a new phone that had me obsessing over it for a full workday, I still spend more than a few hours just figuring out where everything is, what it can do, what new apps I need and which I can delete...

So I asked our I.T. guy that very question.  "Are you concerned with the lost productivity every time you issue me a replacement smartphone?"

His answer was the first wake up call on a new phone.  "We've got you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with this thing.  Go ahead and take a few hours to figure it out.  We'll get 'em back."

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Poor Judgement all Around - City Council and the Library

In Windsor we have yet another crisis, yet another avoidable crisis at the public library.  An elected official has used the corporate credit card for at least $9,000 in personal charges, which he claims to have repaid.  The amount grows daily with each revelation.

The councillor's lapsed judgement not withstanding, this is not entirely the issue.  The issue is that the politicians have staged a successful takeover of the Library Board.  The root of the issue is in a council with an obstinate fixation on not raising taxes without regard for the implications of such a sweeping generalization - the first being the false presumption that only the elected council has any wisdom and stake in the outcome of any monetary discussions; not so.  At issue is the failure to separate, very necessarily separate, access to information from those who have most to gain by controlling it - the government.  This issue concerns a growing sense of entitlement pervading Windsor's city council, manifested in a disregard for even the most basic rules of corporate responsibility by one of its junior members, who would have been in high school when this "council knows best" juggernaut first began.

The library must be completely free of political influence in all ways, at all times.  This includes everything from library locations to hours of operation to the books on the shelf.  It is not an overstatement to suggest that along with the health and welfare and the policing of the citizenry,  controlling access to information is the third leg in creating the perfect dictatorship.  No one is suggesting an impending dictatorship in Windsor, however we cannot predict the behaviour of politicians not yet elected.  Not coincidentally, these three areas - Police, Public Health and the Library are protected by law from political influence under the Municipal Act.  Look it up.

In practice, it is quite another story.  Look around.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Boss, my best Customer

I had a great chat with a friend who is currently between positions.  We talked about what he is looking for.  We approached it the typical way - what can he bring to the table, what does he want, etcetera, et boring cetera.

It wasn't until I sat in on a sales webinar yesterday that the answer to his, and my career satisfaction fell into my lap.  The moderator asked the question, "who is your ideal, perfect customer?"  I wonder if most salespeople ever take the time to ask themselves that question, or are we just scrambling to find anyone who'll buy our product?

Sometimes, especially during times of unemployment or under-employment it feels like we're using the same shotgun approach.  Who will hire us (buy our wares)?  But what if we asked the question, "who is my perfect customer?" (the employer is essentially a customer who "buys" our time and talent).

And so my friend is making up his wishlist of traits he is looking to find in a future employer.  He has no plans to sell out to the lowest bidder, to those who don't qualify, or to the first one to come along.  On his list, so far:
  • a company with a clear sense of purpose, direction and raison d'etre
  • integrity at the top, uncompromising integrity expected throughout the organization
  • a growing company, not one that is just hanging on to the status quo, or managing a downward slide
  • a product or service he can be proud of
  • etc.  (it's a work in progress)
No mention of what he brings to the table, yet.  That's a different discussion and a different sales job altogether, one not to be wasted on people and companies that don't qualify as his "ideal customer".

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Addressing the Price Question

At some point in any sales conversation a client will ask, "how much does this cost?"  If the subject of price never comes up, then you're not selling.  At best, you're marketing.  At worst, you're practicing your conversational skills for when you interview for your next job after you get fired from this one because you can't sell!  (Sorry to be so you need a minute?)

The flip side of the coin is when the interaction is only about price.  When that happens we're also not selling so much as taking orders, exchanging money for a product, and leaving ourselves vulnerable to any fool who can sell what is perceived to be the same, or similar product for less.

That said, the longer we delay the inevitable pricing question, the more we're engaged in selling the experience, the benefit, the value of the buyer/seller relationship.  As my old boss used to remind me in our "no price haggling" operation, "if the customer objects to the price, you haven't sold the product.  Go back and sell the product."  (and it might not have been the right product for the client - go back and listen to the customer this time!)

A wise man I know used to say to his team, "anyone can give it away, I hired you to sell it."


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Living the Vocation of Work

Those who begin their career with a purpose for the most part are exercising a vocation.  A vocation is loosely defined as a calling.  One is compelled to do and to be because one can't resist the call. 

Along the way, for some of us, it becomes a job.  We get bogged down in the details of the where and the what, and turn our backs on the why.  When you've got a mortgage, a wife and kids, two car payments, aging parents, a dog and a March break getaway to pay for the why takes a back seat to the how, as in "how am I going to manage this?" 
(Usually the why pays less anyway.)

I see politicians who've lost their drive, teachers who've traded their passion for benefits and a sick-day payout, and so many middle aged zombie managers who have forgotten how to take a risk.  It's disheartening.

For those of us still in the game, remember the wisdom of the seventies: "hang in there, baby".  The next generation needs role models even though they might think they've got it all figured out. 

If nothing else they need to see what it looks like when good people still strive to make a difference for the love of it.  Hang in there, baby.