Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 28, 2012

George Orwell’s Negative Influence on Sales Language

The coincidence of timing: My friend Dan Waldschmidt published a post yesterday on why words matter.  After reading my post on how words a misused, I’d encourage you read Dan’s to see how words should be used.

What words do you use to describe yourself and your products and services?  Are there words you intentionally try to keep out the mind of your prospects or clients?  Do you use euphemisms instead of plain English when making a presentation in order to try to elicit a particular feeling or response from your prospect?

As salespeople, we’ve been taught to frame our conversations and presentations in ways that lead our prospects and clients to the conclusions and decisions we wish them to arrive at.  In order to do this, we are advised by some to refrain from using certain words that may evoke a negative reaction—or to use words that will evoke a negative reaction, depending on what we want our prospect to think or feel.

Much of this advice is based on the idea that if we control the conversation we control the prospect’s attitude, thinking, and ultimately, their decision making process.  In other words, by carefully controlling the words used in the conversation, we can control the prospect’s thought process. 

Some sales trainers even go so far as to recommend we not bring up potential negatives—don’t address a non-existent objection so as not to plant a potential objection in the prospect’s mind.  Or if an objection is raised, deflect it and return to the presentation or closing the sale.  Gloss over the objection and it will go away.    

It seems George Orwell has become the director of sales training.  Orwell’s Newspeak is now the new “sales speak.”  No longer is communicating with a prospect as a rational human sufficient; now we are exhorted to in essence treat them as nothing more than a computer, inputting only the data we want them to compute–as though if we don’t give them the words, they won’t be able to think the thoughts we don’t want them to think.

Orwell believed that words are the keys to thought.  If the words don’t exist to communicate a particular thought or concept, it isn’t possible to think the thought or concept.  Consequently, if you can control the words someone has available to them, you can control not only what they think, but eventually how they act.  Orwell later repudiated the concept.  Unfortunately, a version of this concept has become quite popular in some areas of sales training.

Like Orwell’s world of 1984, some view the world of sales as an arena where words are not simply powerful in influencing thought and behavior; they are the creators of thought and behavior.  If we don’t say it, the prospect will never think it.  If we can frame it using the words we want, the prospect will never think of their own words to describe it or question it.

Rather than trying to communicate, we are told by some that if we create the conversation we wish to have with the prospect, the prospect will unknowingly go along with us.  If only we learn the right words and phrases to use—and the words and phrases to avoid, we can direct the prospect to the ”proper” decision.  Selling in this view is simply an exercise in rhetoric.

So, we learn the right words and the right phrases; we engage the prospect by making sure we eliminate any words that might evoke thoughts, feeling, or concepts we don’t want them to have; and we ask for the order.  Instead of the automatic ‘yes’ we expected, we hear a resounding ‘no.’

What could possibly have gone wrong?  We did everything right.  We used the right words; we avoided the wrong ones.  We were careful to implant the ideas, concepts, and emotions we wanted the prospect to have.  We executed perfectly.  And they said no.  How could this possibly have happened?

Could it be that they did the unthinkable–they actually thought words and concepts that we worked diligently to keep out of their head?  Despite our best efforts to implant the right “data,”  when we pushed the “enter” button they exercised independent thought and rejected our attempt to manipulate their decision making process?

Is it possible the words we use aren’t as important as the communication and connection we make with the prospect?  Is it possible that our attempt to finesse the prospect by trying to direct their thinking through the careful manipulation of language isn’t as effective as we have been lead to believe?  Is it possible that less rhetoric and more communication would serve us better?  Could it be that more listening, more understanding, and more straight answers to prospect questions could prompt more trust in the prospect?

Maybe it is time to rethink the Newspeak of selling and learn instead to listen, to answer honestly and forthrightly, to drop the euphemisms and begin once again communicating with prospects and clients using plain English.  Maybe rather than the belief that the words we use will create the reality we want in the prospect, we should seek try to understand the prospect’s needs, wants, and issues and try to present our best solutions to those needs and wants as honestly and forthrightly as possible. 

The Orwellian experiment has been tried—and failed.  Orwell recognized the failure of the concept before he died.  Certainly, many trainers in the areas of communication and persuasion recognize the legitimate uses of rhetoric in the sales process.  Yet, there are still large numbers of trainers selling the Orwellian concept of easy sales through language manipulation and its false promise of controlling prospect thought and behavior.  There is a difference between the legitimate use of persuasive influence and the intent to deviously manipulation. 

We are selling to independent beings who exercise their capacity to think autonomously of our attempts to stage-manage their actions and decisions.  Our words can influence, they cannot create the reality we want.  Our words can help create an image, they cannot eliminate independent thought.   Our words can create conversation, dialog, and real communication, they cannot produce a pre-determined outcome.  The sooner we recognize their independence, the sooner we can get back to creating relationships built on trust, not on linguistic manipulation.

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February 1, 2012

Killer Communication Strategy

So many prospects and clients to kill, so little time.  But don’t worry; salespeople all over the world are doing their damnedest to kill as many prospects and clients as possible every day.  Their weapon of choice?  Communication—or more specifically,  communication fraud.

I suspect you are like me, getting dozens of emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, and even face-to-face meetings with sellers who seem to have only one goal—waste as much of my time as possible.  They email and call wanting to know if I’m doing OK, or if I need anything, or if they can show me a new product or service without having the slightest idea if I could actually use it.  Some call to simply let me know they’re still around and want my business.

Many of these intrepid sellers have bombarded me with so much time wasting junk communication that they’ve taught me to completely ignore them.  When I see an email or letter from them or if I get a voice mail message from them I know that I need pay absolutely no attention to them.  Their time wasting communications have completely killed me off as a prospect—and, worse, I’ve even had some sellers kill me off as a client because of their insistence on trying to waste my time.

Sellers work hard to find and connect with quality prospects and then to win them as clients.  Why in the world would they want to then commit prospect and client genocide?

Obviously, their intent isn’t to become mass murderers, but that is the final result of many sellers’ communications.  Their killer communication strategy is to unintentionally kill off massive numbers of their prospects and clients by teaching them to ignore any of their communications. 

So many sellers think of communication as nothing that important.  Their object is to keep their name in front of the prospect or client and to that end they feel a need to contact the prospect or client even when they have nothing of import to communicate.  Actually and more correctly, they feel the need to draw attention to themselves even when they have nothing of value to communicate.  And even more correctly, they are just too damn lazy to find something of value to deliver to the prospect or client. 

In other words, their killer communication strategy is tell their prospects and clients in no uncertain terms that they just aren’t important enough for the seller to invest the time and energy necessary to add value for them.

Now that’s a killer communication strategy.

There is a very simple communication rule that I teach my clients:  every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them to either pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to ignore you because all you do is waste their time.  In other words, every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them that it’s worth taking your phone calls and reading your emails because they know you’re not going to waste their time–or you’re teaching them to avoid you because you have nothing of value for them. 

The next time you pick up the phone or write an email or want to schedule an appointment, ask yourself one simple question: “am I adding value to them or to just me?”  If your honest answer is that you’re only adding value for yourself, don’t make the call, don’t send the letter, don’t send the email until you have taken the time to make sure you’re adding as much or more value to them as you are for yourself.

January 30, 2012

Guest Article: Are You Client Focused or a Client Vulture?, by Charles H. Green

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 12:55 pm
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Much has been written about client focus. We hear about sophisticated clients who will leave if we don’t focus on their needs. We hear about the virtues of client loyalty, and the virtues of measurements like client profitability. The key to competitive success is to do a better job serving clients than the next guy. And so on.

But there’s a dark side to that theme. The reason to be so client-focused is almost always phrased in terms of the benefits to the seller. And that changes everything.

Client focus, as it is too often practiced in business today, is the focus of a vulture. It is all about the benefit to the firm—not to the client. When client benefits are discussed, they are as discussed as a means to the seller’s ends. Yes, we want to serve clients better—but for our sake, not theirs.

Should we be surprised, then, when clients become cynical, send out RFPs, and refer us to third-party buying agents? In our rush to dissect the client brain, we have forgotten that motives matter.

I’m not talking about ethics—I’m talking about the simple facts of trust. We trust those we believe to have our interests at heart, and we distrust those we believe to have their interests at heart. But we particularly distrust those who pretend to be the former, while behaving like the latter.

Sometimes it’s hard to see trust faults in our own business. By way of metaphor, consider an industry recently hard-hit by trust issues—pharmaceuticals. One of the drug manufacturers’ wounds is self-inflicted—the failed relationship between physicians and reps.

Doctors long relied on reps to keep them up to date on new drugs—an important and valuable advisory role. In recent years, the drug companies tried to increase reps’ sales effectiveness. They increased the number of reps per doctor, focusing on hiring young and attractive people. They introduced complex measurement systems to evaluate rep performance, and purchased sophisticated statistical data to calibrate the impact of rep visits on physician prescriptive behavior.

Sensible steps all, it would seem: but they’ve produced negative results.

  • Less than one rep visit in 10 now results in a conversation with a physician, and lasts on average only 90 seconds;
  • Personal relationships have been reduced and curtailed; reps are valued only for the samples they leave, turning them into pill-pushers;
  • The doctors have little respect for the reps, which in turn is debilitating for the reps.

How did this happen? Each change in the system was motivated largely, if not entirely, by a desire to increase physician prescription-writing of drugs produced by the pharmaceutical company. That motivation was very clear to the doctors—and they saw no benefit evident to them. Like most clients, the doctors reacted negatively. A past trusted relationship was degraded because the seller was motivated only by the seller’s needs.

Relationships and Fake Trust

When client focus becomes a tool for seller profit improvement, clients notice and become cynical. Lately, the language of client focus is adopting the language of relationships, fostering yet another layer of cynicism.

Think of “relationship,” “loyalty,” and “trust.” All once had significant emotional connotations—for “loyalty,” think “semper fi” or “’til death do us part.” For “trust,” think the bonds of a handshake, or of fiduciary responsibilities.

Today, loyalty gets defined behaviorally as repeat purchasing behavior. “Client relationship management” software is sold on the basis of its ability to create client profitability analyses (to the software owner, that is, not to the client).

In the dating world, it’s considered forward to say you want a relationship on the first date—but in business, some firms have gone one better and built “relationship” into a marketing slogan before even meeting the client.

Relationship concepts have been hijacked in service to selfish motives. When a company’s ad copy says, “you care about your children; that’s why we here at XYZ corporation are doing blah blah blah” the company is not only lying, but lying baldly and shamelessly about their motives.
What is at stake here is no less than the meaning of words, and therefore the credibility and trust of the company saying them.

Being Truly Client-Focused

The most difficult act for us as sellers of professional services is to stop viewing everything from our own perspective. And it has to be a personal act—a self-willed, psychological belief or attitude.
The economics of trust-based selling™ rest on a paradox: if we do what is good for the consumer, we will eventually gain more than our proportionate share of business. It may not come from this transaction, in this quarter—or even from this client—but it will come. Nothing motivates repeat business or referrals better than a trust-based relationship with the provider.
If our motives for being trusted are not truly client-focused—then it all falls apart. This is the paradox. Great results come from client focus—but only if you stop doing client focus in order to achieve results for yourself.

In today’s business climate, “best practices” and financial analyses are defined in ever-smaller, ever-shorter, ever-narrower slices. They are often not “best,” but among the most insidious.
These practices are harmful because they blind us to opportunities to serve our clients.

In the perennial Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s Santa Claus is nearly fired for recommending that a client go to competitor Gimbel’s for a particular product. That is, until Macy’s Chairman realizes the profound increase in client trust produced by Santa’s approach—having faith that doing right by the customer will end up helping Macy’s anyway.
Being truly client-focused means believing in the superiority of client relationship strategies over competitor-focused strategies; the medium- and long-term over successive short-terms; and truth-telling over spinning.

The good news is the field is wide open for firms willing to practice what everyone else only preaches—serving the client, believing that to do so will ultimately return more than the self-serving narrowly calculating strategies of the vulture can ever hope to do.

A truly client-focused relationship strategy built on trust is the best deal going. It is rare; most competitors are afraid to try it. It is powerful; ask any successful salesperson about the power of trust. And it is proven—just look at your own behavior as a buyer in relation to a seller you trust.

Trusting relationships have to start with the selling firm, not the client. Go ahead, take a risk. The ultimate paradox is, taking a risk ends up being the lowest risk. Being trusted is a very low-risk, high-return strategy.

Charles H. Green is a speaker and executive educator on trust-based relationships and Trust-based Selling in complex businesses. He is author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005), and co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford, Free Press, October 2000).  Visit his website

January 23, 2012

Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Prospects and Clients

Filed under: Client Relationships,Communication,politics — Paul McCord @ 12:20 pm
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Once again we are in the middle of the presidential political season.  For the next few months the Republicans will have center stage as candidates wrestle with one another to gain the Republican nomination to run for President.  Once that contest has been decided the focus will shift to a tussle between the Republican nominee and President Obama.

Whether we tend to be politically active or not, we will all have opinions about the candidates and issues involved in political combat this year.

We’ll also have some—hopefully just a very few–prospects and clients make comments about these people and issues or, worse, ask us directly about our opinions regarding them.

When these uncomfortable topics come up what should our response be?

As salespeople we spend a great deal of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients; we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, and that we want to create friends, not just accounts.

Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. Most of us have been taught to avoid the social and political issues that could offend a prospect or client.  Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden we’re no longer too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Rather than being open and honest when these subjects come up we try mightily to obfuscate or avoid.  The last thing we want is for our prospect or client to know where we actually stand on a candidate or issue.

Consequently we’ll spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only what we have determined is safe for public consumption and that will allow them to get to know us only superficially. We’ll try to balance on the head of a pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a politically or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior disingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Some will immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion at all costs. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to answer questions—especially uncomfortable questions–honestly. 

As long as you are respectful of the prospects point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory or degrading language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you.

Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

October 7, 2011

A Simple Way to Distance Yourself From Your Competition

Every seller, no matter the product or service they sell, is looking for ways to demonstrate how they differ from their competition.  Most of us will go to great lengths to try to make our prospects and clients recognize how unique we are and how fortunate they are to be working with us.

In order to create that sought after difference we’ll talk up how great our customer service is, some will give out cute or useful freebies, others will bring in other vendors to help create the perfect comprehensive solution to their prospect’s or client’s issues.

Certainly we should be giving exceptional customer service.  The problem is every one of our competitors is claiming to have the best customer service also.

And by all means we should be doing everything in our power—including partnering with other vendors if necessary—to give the best and most comprehensive solution possible.  The problem is most of the time our prospects and clients don’t really grasp the true extent of our solution until after the product or service is delivered and has been in place for awhile.

But there is a much simpler way to not only demonstrate a real difference between yourself and your competition, but to give your client a very different experience than what your competition would give.  Furthermore, this strategy is so seldom used that it really stands out to the client.

What, pray tell, is the fabulous strategy that is simple yet can make such an impact on your client?

It is simply giving the client the purchasing experience they want rather than the one you think they want.

So simple, yet so few sellers do it because frankly they have no idea what their clients want to happen during the purchase because they simply don’t ask.

Yep, that’s it; couldn’t be simpler.

Most sellers mistakenly think they know what their clients want to happen during the course of the sale.  Ask a seller what their client wants and they’ll rattle off a number of things such as on time delivery, prompt service, a quality product at a fair price, a seller they can trust, and a number of other “expectations.”

These are so general that they are almost useless in defining what a client’s purchasing expectations are. 

What does “on time delivery” really mean?  Does it mean the same thing to each and every customer?

What does prompt service mean?  To one customer it may mean that a phone call is returned within 24 hours, to another it may mean the call should be returned within an hour.  To another client a phone call might be totally out of the question as they prefer to communicate only through email.

The fact is that no two of our clients have the same expectations but we treat them all the same because we assume we know what they want.

We never ask the most basic and simple customer service question—“What can we do to make this the exact purchasing experience you want?”

That question is asked so infrequently (some customers have never been asked that question) that many customers won’t know how to respond; they really won’t understand the question.

In that case you’ll have to ask some follow-up questions such as: “How do you prefer to be contacted, phone or email?”  “If something comes up and I really need to speak with you, is there an emergency number that I can reach you at?”  “Do you want me to keep you posted daily or weekly, or would you rather I only contact you if there is an issue or question that needs to be dealt with?”

Obviously the number and type of purchasing experience questions you need to ask will depend on the particular product or service being purchased. 

And a great side benefit is you can find out upfront if your client has an unrealistic expectation, and if they do, you can deal with it before it becomes an issue later in the sale.

If you want to really make a quick impact on a client and put yourself in a different category from your competition, quit forcing them to live through the purchasing experience you want to give them and begin giving them the purchasing experience they want.

It’s simple—just ask them, they’ll tell you—and then all you have to do is give them the exact experience they wan—and  that no one else can give them.  You’ll be a hero—and all you had to do was ask a few questions that you should have been asking every client anyway.

June 22, 2011

Get Rid of Your Seagulls Before They Devour You

Filed under: business,Client Relationships,small business,success — Paul McCord @ 10:34 am
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My wife Debbie and I have an 18 month old grandson, Colton.  Knowing that we’ll soon be watching animated movies with him, we’ve been catching up on them every chance we get.  Not having watched them much in the last twenty years or so, I’m amazed at how many there are—and how good some of them are.

In Finding Nemo, as the action progresses toward Sydney Harbor, we witness a large group of Seagulls fighting for food.  The Seagulls know only one word which they repeat incessantly—“mine.”  Their dialog is a constant stream of “Mine, mine, mine, mine,” as they try to grab and fight for whatever food there might be.  And they’re not the least bit inhibited in how they go about getting it; nor are they concerned about how their actions might be impacting those around them.  Their only concern is for themselves and what’s in it for them.

Do they remind you of anyone?

If you said some salespeople, you’d be right, of course. 

But those aren’t the ones I’m thinking of.

Instead, I’m thinking of a group—hopefully a small group—that virtually every seller in the world knows all too well—some of their prospects, customers, and clients.

We all have them in our pipeline and in our client database.  They bleed us dry with their constant cry of “mine, mine, mine,’ with unreasonable demands and never-ending attempts to get lower and still lower prices.

This small set of prospects and clients take up far more time and energy than they are worth.  Yet most of us dutifully take care of them, even when we know it is to the determent of our other prospects and clients.

What should we be doing with this flock of self-centered Seagulls?

Get rid of them.  Turn them loose and let them suck the blood out of your competition.

There is no rule that says you can’t get rid of prospects and clients.  It’s your sales business; you can keep or get rid of anyone you like, and you must do some culling in order to maintain a healthy business.

If you have Seagulls as clients, get rid of them.  If when you prospect you come across a Seagull, eliminate them from your prospecting list

We all want and need sales, but prospects and clients who only know the word “mine” aren’t going to do anything for you except ultimately cost you business and money.  Shoo them away before they devour you.

June 3, 2011

Hey, Now, Just Who’s Qualifying Whom Here?

Recently I wrote an article titled “How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale.”  In the course of the article I argued that it is natural for a prospect to ask about price–and often to do so too early in the sale, before the seller has had an opportunity to create real value for the prospect—because price is one of the factors prospects use as they seek to qualify the seller and the purchasing opportunity.

In response to that article I received numerous emails and comments from salespeople and sales leaders that they had never thought about the idea that the prospect is qualifying them and their offering at the same time they are trying to qualify the prospect.

Yet the prospect’s qualifying the seller and the seller’s value/solution is the crux of the whole sales process.

We are all familiar with the concepts of qualifying the prospect, investigating needs, developing a solution and creating real value for the prospect, overcoming objections, and the other aspects of making a sale.  All of these concepts are views of the sales process from the seller’s perspective.  These are the constructs that we as sellers tend to concentrate on.

We then view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections that are nothing but a smokescreen or are out-n-out buying signals.  For many of us, the questions and actions of the prospect are either those of an enemy or those of someone telling us they are ready to buy.

What if neither of those choices is true?

What if all of those questions and the statements by the prospect, instead of being obstacles to our sale or indications of their desire to consummate the purchase, are simply questions and statements to help them qualify us and our offering? 

What if they are doing the same to us as we are doing to them?

If that is the case, then that means we’re neither dealing with an enemy to be overcome nor are we dealing with someone asking us to close them.  Instead we’re dealing with a human being who wants to know whether or not we’re trustworthy, whether or not our offering is appropriate for them, whether or not we’re wasting their time.

In other words, they are in the process of qualifying us just as much as we’re qualifying them.  When we qualify a prospect we ask questions and probe to discover who we’re dealing with and what we might be able to do for them.  When we’re asking questions we’re not trying to play the ‘gotcha’ game.  Most of us aren’t trying to trap them into a sale.  We’re honestly seeking information that allows us to know whether or not we are in front of a real prospect with a real need that we can help solve in a way that produces real value for them.

The prospect is going through the same process with us.  Whether they are conscious of it or not, they’re trying to determine whether or not we are someone they want to do business with and then, whether or not our product/service/company presents any real solid worthwhile value for them.

The traditional terms sellers think in—overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.—tend to set up an adversarial relationship where we are on the lookout for the dreaded objection and the opportunity to pounce with the closing question.

However, if we recognize that the sales process involves both parties qualifying one another and that the qualifying process involves the investigation and questioning of each party, we can relax and begin to address the prospect’s questions for what they really are—a legitimate desire to find out who we are and whether or not we are someone they want to work with.

Go forth and qualify—and let yourself be qualified.  It’s a whole lot more fun to sell when you’re working with a prospect to mutually qualify one another than it is to try to out fox and overcome an adversary.

January 25, 2011

Is It Really a 2.0 World for Sellers?

The hype is everywhere: if you’re a salesperson or company without a blog, you’re totally out of today’s marketplace and are losing position to the competition hourly because unlike them, you’re not establishing your image as an expert; if you’re not active on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and/or Youtube, you may as well concede that you won’t be in sales 6 months from now; if your focus is anywhere besides online, you completely misunderstand 21st century buyers.

The message from so many is simple: we live in a 2.0 (going on 3.0) world, and anyone who doesn’t recognize that and realign their business to focus on the enormous and exponentially growing online business opportunities is a dinosaur and cannot possibly be successful in the future—and the future is defined as tomorrow, the next day at the latest.

Certainly this is a message that many businesses and salespeople want to hear.  No more having to cold call.  No more having to figure out where to advertise—yellow pages? Magazines? Newspapers?  Nope.  No more having to network through physical groups and events.  Focus on social media and the virtual world and grow your business without having to invest a dime or spend hour after hour prospecting and hearing ‘no’ after ‘no.’  Finally, a free–and rejection free–way to sell and make more than you ever dreamed possible.

What a crock.

It’s also a message that a great many people have a very vested interest in spreading.  Take a look at the incredible number of social media, internet marketing, and online business “gurus” and “coaches” trying to connect with folks on Twitter.  It appears that everyone who’s ever signed up on Twitter and successfully created a tweet considers themselves to be social media experts, ready and willing to charge the next sucker a buck to teach them how to create a tweet also—and promise them instant millions without having to work. 

Then there are the “futurists,” predicting how technology is going to change the world of selling, virtually destroying the sales profession while creating untold opportunities for companies to increase sales and profits.  These are the same futurists who upon the invention of the telephone predicted that salespeople would never again meet face to face with prospects; and who upon the arrival of the fax machine predicted that mail was no longer necessary; who upon being introduced to email declared that surely this time business mail really was dead.  Now, with the gazillions of social media options, they’re proclaiming that this time technology really is going to completely revolutionize the world of selling.

And, of course, there are thousands and thousands of companies joining the chorus of social media and internet hype who must sell their products and services to the businesses and salespeople who want to be in the vanguard of the new sales world order. 

Before I go any further let me say that despite the above, this isn’t a polemic against the internet or social media.  My Sales and Sales Management blog is entering its fifth year of publication; I am active on Twitter and Facebook; I participate on LinkedIn and Focus and many other social media sites.  I believe there is much of value and much to be gained from these technologies and you should be involved with them just as I am—but I don’t believe that they’re decreasing the need for massive traditional offline marketing and sales activities.  If anything, the hype surrounding social media has lured many competitors away from traditional prospecting and marketing, giving those who recognize the current limitations of social media a distinct advantage over those who have bought into social media as the ANSWER.

I’m also not by any means trying to say that all trainers, coaches or advocates of social media are hyperbolic in their views of the role of social media.  There are many great trainers and coaches who understand social media’s place in the marketplace and do a superb job in guiding and directing sellers and business owners in how to use and gain value from them. 

The Reality of the Internet and Social Media

That being said, there’s still far too much unfounded, wishful thinking about the power of social media.  A recent post by Brian Carroll demonstrates the lack of business generated by social media—Brian was quoting Sergio Balegno, Director of Research for MECLABS, the parent company of InTouch of which Brian is President.

MECLABS surveyed 2,300 marketers and discovered that by the end of 2010 only 6% were generating enough business leads to track ROI.  Only 25% of marketers even have clear objectives and practices for engaging social media.

Those surveyed were marketers of good size companies, not small businesses and individual sellers.  Sergio’s conclusions are very different from mine.  His conclusion is that 6% of companies realizing enough sales to track ROI with such a new medium is impressive.  That conclusion is all well and good–for a company that can afford to assign someone to managing an aggressive social media campaign.

My conclusion is that only 6% of sizable companies producing measurable ROI with a marketing department behind their activities indicate that a small business or individual seller is so far behind the 8 ball with social media that investing significant amounts of time trying to create business through it is a monumental mistake.

Further, if only 25% of the marketing departments of companies using social media have developed clear objectives and practices of how to use it, how many small businesses and individual sellers who don’t have the time or research resources of a fully fledged marketing department have developed such?  How many can spend the time and effort needed to develop such a plan and still maintain their sales volume, much less increase it?

In addition, Dave Stein of ES Research Group, Inc, the only independent source of intelligence and advice on sales training approaches, programs and the companies that provide them, forwarded to me the following graph that indicates that there is still a huge segment of society that relies little or not at all on the internet for information and decision making help.

 

Although this chart tracks only three items; how many in each age group go online for any reason; how many in each age group access a government website; and how many in each group access financial information, it does give us some idea of how many use the internet for non-government oriented research and information.

According to the above study 79% of the population above 12 years of age goes online, yet only 38% of the population above 18 uses it for financial research and information, which is one of the top research topics on the internet.  This correlates well with a study by Ruder Finn Internet Index which found that 80% of all internet users go online to socialize but less than half that number uses the internet for shopping and/or research.

If we assume there are about 235 million Americans 18 or older and 79% go online but only 50% of them use the internet for shopping and research, there’s only 93 million adults online shopping and using it for research (39.5% of the total adult population).  That means there are still 142 million Americans (60% of the adult population) not buying online or using the internet for research, i.e., 142 million Americans that you won’t be reaching online no matter what you do.

The question is simple: do you want the opportunity to reach 40% of your market (online), 60% of your market (offline), or 100% of your market (both segments)?  If you concentrate on those who are online, you’ll be eliminating 60% of your potential market (these numbers do not include businesses which would add many more millions to each category).

Now, take 60% of your potential market away and then realize that only 6% of companies with a marketing department that has the resources to aggressively work social media have generated enough business from it to be able to track results.  What are the realistic chances that social media is going to become a significant income stream producer for you or your small business?

I know, I hear the answers now—“I’m not online to sell, I’m looking to develop relationships; sales are secondary and hopefully will come someday.”  Really?  You’re spending two, three, four, five hours a day online to develop relationships with people or companies not to sell–but to maybe sell someday?  What would a sales manager say if when she asked you how you spent your week you said something like, “Well, I spent about 10 hours this week on the phone calling and meeting with prospects and clients, and I spent 20 hours online trying to develop relationships.” 

“I see,” your manager says, “what are your sales projections from spending so much time online?” 

“Oh, you misunderstand,” you answer, “I’m really not trying to sell, I’m developing relationships with lots of folks that maybe in the future might someday be prospects.  See, social media isn’t for selling, it’s for relationship development and to do it right I’ve got to spend a good deal of time interacting with them.”

“I’m sorry,” your manger responds, “I was under the impression your job was to sell.  How did I get such a wrong impression?”

“I know,” you respond, “it’s hard for you to grasp the new sales paradigm.  Things have changed, we now sell by not selling, we engage with people who might want to buy at some point in the future.  With social media I can engage hundreds of these companies.  One day, if I continue to spend half my time engaging this way I’ll be a big producer, I’m sure.  You’ll see.”

“Uh, huh,” your manager stammers.  “How much business have you gotten so far?”

“None, but don’t worry, it’s the wave of the future, everybody says so.”

“So is unemployment,” your manager responds, “it’s the wave of today.”

Sounds silly?  Yes.  Real?  Yep, there are lots of sellers spending huge amounts of time engaging in social media when they should be selling.  But, hey, social media’s easier and safer—and everybody’s doing it.

The Real Role of the Internet and Social Media in Sales and Marketing

What does this mean for sellers and small business owners?  It doesn’t mean ignore social media.  Not by any means.  Social media can play a real role in your marketing—and it will become more important over time; just take a look at the percentage of each age group that is plugged into the internet.  As you would expect, it gets bigger and bigger as the ages get younger, and, of course, those youngsters will become oldsters one day.  Likewise look at their activities.  Those in the 18 to 34 age group aren’t that far behind the older age groups in using the internet for financial research.  As they age, more and more members of this age group will engage the internet for reasons other than socializing.  By the time they reach the 65-73 age group, their financial research numbers could well be almost twice what that current age group’s numbers are.

But that’s a good ways away.

Unless you sell only to internet users—say you’re selling SEO services, website design, and such—your market is more offline than online (even if you only sell to net users you still have to spend a good deal of time selling offline—EBay and Esurance are good examples).

For most of us the internet is a viable marketing tool if used correctly.  (For an interesting current discussion of using blogs to establish credibility and expert status, see Dave Brock’s post and the comments here.)  Unfortunately, it can also be the ruination of us if we allow it to eat up too much of our time hoping for easy, faceless, no rejection sales.  There’s really no magic bullet to get around the fact that selling success has, as Tibor Shanto of Renbor points out, “always come down to planning, discipline and execution.”  Tibor goes on: in B2B sales “most buyers are not plugged in to the [internet] echo chamber to the degree 2.0 gurus would lead you to believe.  Speak to most office supply sales people, speak to buyers in the transport trade, or a vast majority of buyer and sellers, and they are not in the 2.0 lane, some are not in any lane at all.  Even many of the buyers who are ‘tuned in’ find themselves with information overload and contradictory input, as a result studies show that they still turn to direct interaction with trusted sales professionals.”

I think that in today’s world investing a few minutes a day in social media makes perfect sense and is a commitment almost every seller should make; making social media a major time and effort commitment doesn’t. 

Where you invest your time—and how much you spend–is the real question.  Most salespeople need to engage social media as a prospecting and marketing tool. More than that, they need to engage social media as a tool to develop and strengthen relationships with their prospects and clients who are tuned into technology.  Linda Richardson of Richardson, one of the leading sales training companies, put it well:

“Selling is about relationships and competency.  Sales 2.0 does not take the place of relationships, but it does give salespeople and customers a new platform for building relationships and increasing competency.  Sales 2.0 is more than technology. The tools enable collaboration, better preparation, and create a more effective and efficient way to sell. 2.0 is about reaching and connecting with the right people, getting a lot smarter and engaging in more meaningful conversations.   Of course not every company or buyer is leveraging 2.0 but by waiting on the sidelines sales organizations and salespeople are placing themselves at a serious disadvantage and risk.  Sales 2.0 is transforming sales and opening up possibilities never before seen.    It is a fast moving 2.0 Sales World and with the ever increasing number of tools there is a real need to help salespeople learn how to use them to reach their buyers.”

Where are buyers today?  Certainly there’s a large contingent that engage the internet, yet most are there not to buy or to do research or inquire about products, services, needs, or wants, but to connect with their circle of friends—to socialize with their group.

That recognition means we have to consider just how much are we willing to invest in the 2.0 world when we are not going to be able to engage with the majority of our prospects.  Can we connect with prospects?  Can we even make an occasional sale?  Yes.  Is it going to produce the business that could be otherwise produced in strategic offline prospecting and engaging of prospects?  Testimony and research to date seems to indicate the answer is a resounding no, not now.  Are the hoped for relationships that will result in future sales worth spending large numbers of hours on social media sites?  Not if your paycheck relies on sales.  Unfortunately you can’t cash a relationship, no matter the future potential. 

The internet and social media will continue to grow in importance.  You need to have a presence and grow that as the influence of the technology grows.  But if you want to be in business long enough to see significant business come from it, you have to be fully engaged in the business of selling—offline.  That hasn’t changed and it won’t change for many, many years to come.

The Major Role of the internet and Social Media for Most Sellers Today

That doesn’t, however, finish the discussion of the role of the internet and social media for us sellers.  Although the chart Dave sent me points out the limitations of social media and the internet for marketing, Dave emphasized the very real benefit of them for virtually every salesperson to significantly change and improve their prospecting research, for learning and sharpening sales and product knowledge, and for the fast and inexpensive (often free) opportunities for great training and skill development through blogs, article sites, webinars, forums and groups, and the other platforms available on the net.

Webinars offer unbelievable training and learning opportunities and should be a core resource for every company and seller.  You can get guidance and training from some of the best trainers and thinkers in business and sales without having to leave your office; whereas in the past you couldn’t get their training unless you were lucky enough to have your company bring them in or you lived in or were willing to travel to a place where they were presenting a public seminar—if they gave public seminars.  The internet has opened those opportunities to every seller in the world that has a computer and internet connection–and often at no cost.  (Webinars are also one of the best resources for sales and customer service as the uses for selling, customer and internal training, and servicing customer needs is endless.)

LinkedIn groups and sites such as Focus offer sellers the opportunity to ask questions and get answers from some of the top sales minds in the world, as well as from other sellers.  These forums and groups make it possible to get world class answers to virtually any question a seller could possibly have—free of charge.

For most of us the internet has opened tremendous new doors for researching our markets, for identifying quality prospects, for doing competitor research, for obtaining training and developing new skills.  As Linda indicated above, it can help us create a more effective and better way to sell—both online and offline.

The 2.0 world does have a tremendous impact on how we sell.  Its influence will continue to grow.  Right now it can open doors to opportunities in training and research that can change the very basic nature of how we do things.  The only thing it can’t do is help us reach that more than 60% of our market that doesn’t use the internet or social media outside of socializing with their group.  For that—for the lion’s share of our market—we have to hit the street in the same manner we’ve always done.  And that means it really isn’t quite a 2.0 sales world–yet.

January 10, 2011

Truth, Trust, and The Masks We Wear

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 10:43 am
Tags: , , , ,

“No, Paul, I didn’t spend any time prospecting yesterday.  I woke up and just didn’t feel enthused; didn’t want to be here.  Whenever I force myself to prospect when I feel that way, I always feel like I’m wearing a mask trying to be someone I’m not.  If I can’t be true to who I am, I’m not serving my clients, my company, or myself well.”

Dana (not her real name) is one of my newest coaching clients.  She is a strong producer selling relationship management software to small to mid-size companies in the northeast part of the country.  She finished the year well ahead of quota.  She isn’t the only salesperson I’ve spoken to who has an ethical issue with “being someone I’m not.”  In fact, she’s not the first seller who has referred to feeling like they’re being insincere, false, or lying when acting one way while thinking or feeling another way.

We may as well get the truth laid out on the table right now—we ALL wear masks.  We wear them a lot. 

Society demands we wear them. 

Professionalism demands we wear them. 

We want to wear them

While talking with Charlie Green of TrustedAdvisor.com and Jeb Brooks of The Brooks Group about this article, both pointed out a book written in the 50’s by Erving Goffman titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life where Goffman contends that we are always, 100% of the time wearing some kind of a mask.

Although I’m not sure I buy the idea that our whole life is nothing but a continual, uninterrupted series of masks, I do believe that the concept that we all wear masks at times—especially in business–is pretty self-evident.

The question isn’t whether we wear masks, the question is: are the masks we wear ethical?  And if they’re ethical, do they inhibit trust?  At an even more basic level, are they designed to lie or to help us tell the truth?

Certainly we are all familiar with the mask so often associated with salespeople—that of the fake friend, our false ally who is going to help us get the best deal possible, fighting for us against his or her unreasonable manager, all the while lying and double-dealing without shame in order to maximize the sales price and, thus, their commission.

That mask of lies is what many salespeople associate with our profession and consequently they try to distance themselves from that image by inventing all kinds of titles (masks) for themselves that are designed to communicate they are NOT salespeople—they’re ‘advisors,’ ‘consultants,’ ‘customer advocates,’ ‘customer guides,’ ‘account managers,’ and dozens of other, mostly meaningless, titles.

Fortunately, although still used by hucksters and con artists, the mask above is slowing being forced out of the legitimate sales world as more prospects become educated about their potential purchases long before engaging a salesperson.  For most of us that clichéd mask isn’t in our hip pockets any longer. 

But many other masks are.   A few examples:

The, “Ms. Prospect, I’m really excited to speak with you this morning” mask when in actuality we feel crappy and would rather be doing anything other than speaking with her.  This is the one that Dana feels would be being dishonest with her prospects if she put it on when feeling like she’d rather be anyplace else than on the phone prospecting.

The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting.  I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask when in actuality we’re thinking “geeze, are you kidding?  The transgression is your pathetic excuse for a meeting that sucks the life out me and everyone else.”

The, “I know that your budget is tight and this is a tough decision, but my solution will increase your sales and put significant dollars on your bottom-line” mask when you’re actually thinking “OK, you have more money than you know what to do with, you cheapskate; knock it off with the games and let’s get down to business.”

Certainly salespeople aren’t the only ones who wear masks.  Sales managers wear their own masks, especially when dealing with their sales team and upper management.

Typical sales manager masks are:

The, “Bryan, man, just apply what we’ve been working on and you’re going to be just fine.  I know it’s been tough, but I have every confidence that you can be a great producer” mask while thinking “Man, what was I thinking when I hired this dimwit? What a goofball, it’ll take a miracle for him to last another month.”

And the “yes, sir, I talked to the team this morning and we’re on it.  You’ll see results by the end of the week” mask while thinking “Last week the crisis was to sell the XB2 systems and this week the future of the world depends on us forgetting about everything else and pushing the YS add-on.  You guys have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

And, of course, there are a million other masks that we wear for our prospects, a different set for our clients, another set for our managers, and an even different set for our colleagues and co-workers.

Mask after mask is put on and taken off every day. 

Are we justified in wearing them?  What happens to trust if we’re caught wearing one by our prospect or client? 

These are really tough questions because, as Charlie pointed out in our discussion, a mask is by its very nature deceitful—at a minimum it’s hiding something we don’t want seen or is projecting something we don’t feel at the moment; and certainly most of us would consider being deceitful as bad.  Quite a dilemma—how can we be doing something that is considered bad and call it good?  Would Dana have been engaged in unethical activity if she had put on that “great to connect with you” mask when she didn’t feel like prospecting?

Tough questions.  My initial reaction to Dana was that the issue isn’t whether it is right or wrong to put on a mask because the mask itself is neutral—neither good nor bad.  The determining factor as to whether a particular mask is ethical or unethical is its intended purpose—why we put the mask on in the first place.

Was our intent to help build a relationship–or to manipulate someone into doing something they might not otherwise do? 

Were we trying to be sociable and considerate–or were we simply trying to catch someone off guard in order to slip something by them? 

Was it with the intent of being constructive–or with the intent of destroying?

As I thought about this issue over the next few days, I decided to ask a couple of friends what their thoughts were; thus my conversation with Charlie, Jeb, and Daniel Waldschmidt of EdgyConversations.com.

There seems to be two central points of agreement between the four of us:

  1. Masks are an absolute necessity.  As Charlie pointed out, without masks the very concepts of etiquette and manners cease to exist.  Or if we consider the deception of masks to be bad, then we would have to condemn the concepts of manners and etiquette since conforming to the rules by putting on the appropriate masks would be bad acts in and of themselves.  He sees that we put on masks for one of two reasons: either out of fear or out of respect, politeness and etiquette.

    I’ll add a third: to acquire something we want that we don’t believe we can get without being someone or something we aren’t. (To be fair, I suspect Charlie would file this as just another form of a fear based mask.) 

    Certainly no one would want to live in a world without rules governing how we act with one another.  In the 60’s, many of us of the Boomer generation decided that we needed to be “true to ourselves.”  We took that to mean that doing anything we didn’t feel like doing—or not doing that which we wanted to do—was a disingenuous act, conforming to the bourgeois norms of a crass and corrupt society.  We dispensed with much of society’s rules of behavior (and unwittingly adopted our own rules of behavior which we rationalized by “believing” the socially accepted acts we conformed to within our group were our own spontaneous actions that emanated from the real “me”).  It wasn’t pretty. 

    Most of us eventually grew out of it (a few, sadly, have been permanently lost in a stupor of blue smoke while clinging to their hookah) as we realized the masks of broader society were not only necessary unless we were willing to live in a minor subculture, they were more comfortable and in many ways more genuine than the masks we adopted when we were just ‘being true to ourselves.’ As Dan Waldschmidt put it, “Being sanctimonious about ‘not wanting to be who you’re not’ isn’t cool for pedophiles, rapists, or molesters. Why would sales execs claim any exception?”  (Or sanctimonious 60’s youth for that matter.) 

    So, no less in our professional life, as our social life, masks are mandatory.  Business etiquette demands we treat our prospects, clients, and business associates with respect—even if we don’t like or respect them.  Professional ethics demand that we perform at the highest level and with complete courtesy even with a prospect or client who is rude and hateful. 

    Business success demands that we interact and deal with our prospects, clients, and company associates with dignity and respect—and total professionalism even when we don’t feel like it.  Just try going a week being “true to who you are” and see how successful you are.

  2.  Most masks are ethically neutral—it’s your underlying reason for putting the mask on that determines whether the mask is ethical or not.

    Certainly some masks, such as the stereotypical seller mask introduced above, aren’t ethically neutral because they’re designed for one purpose—to defraud someone by making them think they are getting something they aren’t (usually a better or product than they’re really getting) or to coerce them into buying something they don’t want to buy.

    What about the other masks we identified above?

    But what about the mask Dana felt was trying to be someone she isn’t?  Is that mask bad or good?  Actually it could go either way.  In Dana’s case the intent isn’t to harm but rather to be able to efficiently utilize her time prospecting even when she doesn’t “feel” like prospecting.  Her intent is, as Jeb put it, to “increase the comfort level” of the people she’s speaking with.  She has a “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction.”

    If, on the other hand, Dana’s intent was to open a door by appearing to be something she isn’t with the intent to harm, whether through fraud, lying about the product or service to get a sale, or for any other illicit reason, wearing the mask would be unethical because it is being worn with bad intent.

    Let’s look at the mask warn by the sales manager who encouraged his salesperson to apply what they’ve been working on together and he’ll be just fine even though the sales manager doubts the salesperson will make it.  Again, this mask can go either way ethically.  If the manager’s intent was to try to encourage the salesperson with the hope, no matter how small, that the salesperson will get it in gear and turn things around, the mask is ethical as the intent is to produce a positive outcome.

    On the other hand, if the intent of the mask is simply to get the salesperson out of the sales manager’s hair until the manager can work out the details of firing the person, the mask is unethical as it’s only intent is to deceive the salesperson into believing he is working to save his job when in fact the decision to fire him has already been made.  Unfortunately, this unethical mask is worn by many, many sales managers every day.

    The next few masks are a bit more difficult to deal with.

    The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting.  I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask would certainly seem to be hiding not only the salesperson’s feelings about the value and content of the sales meetings they are required to attend, but possibly a general disrespect for his or her sales manager.  If it is simply a mask hiding their evaluation of the value of the sales meetings, I think the mask ethical in order to maintain civility and out of respect for their manager (although I would certainly think they should have a discussion with their manager about their perceived value of the meetings).  If, on the other hand, the mask is really one of many that are covering their attitude toward their manager, the mask is unethical because, to borrow a phrase from Charlie, “there’s too much of an honesty gap.”

    I believe the mask where the sales manager questions to himself whether or not senior management has a clue as to what they are doing is in and of itself unethical, again for the reason that there is simply too much disrespect being hidden. 

    In both of these instances the individual must take action to correct the honesty gap—either a discussion with the sales manager or senior management to clear the respect issues (uh, yeah, that probably won’t happen) or moving to an organization where they do respect their management.

    The salesperson who questions the lack of available dollars to purchase his or her product or service has, in my opinion, a far different issue—making the assumption that the prospect is lying.  This certainly isn’t an infrequent reaction—a great many of us instinctively make this assumption as soon as we hear monetary objections.  But are we justified in making the assumption?  In most cases, I doubt it.  Are we justified in masking our belief?  Yes, I think so.  If one of the valid reasons for adopting a mask is with, as Jeb said, the “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction,” then masking our suspicion is justified and ethical.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the suspicion itself might not be an indication that we need to take a close look at how we view our prospects and clients.  Although the mask itself may not be unethical, our view of our prospects and clients might.

OK, so we’ve narrowed it down to the idea that masks are necessary and for the most part whether or not a particular mask is ethical is dependent upon the reason the mask has been put on. 

What does that mean for us as sellers—if anything?

If we all are wearing masks, what’s to keep us from wearing the mask that will get us what we want, even if that mask is unethical?  What happens if we are caught by a prospect or client wearing a mask?

At its core, understanding that we are usually–if not always–wearing a mask gives us the ability to gain some control over the masks we wear.  It gives us the opportunity to make some ethical decisions we might not otherwise make and that we might wish not to make by forcing us to analyze the reasons we put on the masks we wear.  Are we putting a particular mask on in order to better serve a prospect–or to better serve our desire, no matter the ethical cost?

Charlie gives a great summary of the role masks play in our professional lives, so I’ll quote him at length:

Fear-based masks:

If I wear a mask in front of you out of fear, it is to protect myself from you.  Perhaps to project myself from your judgment, or to keep you from taking something I have, or to keep you from getting something I want.  Inherent in fear-based use of masks is a bad intent: to keep you from seeing some truth about something (usually some truth about me).  

 

“So fear-based masks are inherently oppositional–they are rooted in trying to keep one party from knowing what’s going on with another. 

“So–what does a fear-based mask do?  It triggers every fear both a buyer and seller feel.  What is he really saying?  Does he actually mean that?  What am I not hearing here?  What’s the real thought balloon?  How do I know he’s not saying something different to someone else? How do I know he’s not taking all my good stuff and spreading it around to my competitors? 

“The fear-based response triggered by a mask leads to suspicion, counter-lies, deceit, covering up, shading of meanings, white lies, and a host of other modes of deception that result in more of the same reciprocally in the other party.”

 

Respect-based mask:

“The other reason for masks is as a sign of respect, politeness, etiquette.  I rise as someone I respect enters the room; I smile at an elder (or a child); I nod my head in a sign of acknowledgement when I listen to a prospect describe his or her needs.  It may well be that I don’t feel like standing up, or smiling, or even that I disagree with someone–but politeness, respect, etiquette dictate a larger social reality–that we have evolved hundreds of little social rituals by which we acknowledge the legitimacy of the Other, the person in front of us, whether it is elderly Aunt Mildred, the head of sales at Xerox’s copier division, or a stranger on the street (in most towns, anyway).

“By contrast: respect-driven masks are an elaborate social ritual we go through to recognize our commonality, rather than our differentness.  They break down barriers, rather than erecting them.  They make it possible to live both as a corporate representative and as a human being, by emphasizing the things we have in common.    The ‘masks’ include our business card stock; the cut and fabric of our clothing; our choice of ties; and all this of course is before, ‘Oh, you grew up in the Ozarks too, eh?’ Or the East Coast, because the locale doesn’t matter.”

I’m in general agreement with Charlie—but with the recognition that there are those exceptional mask wearers who are so comfortable in their fear-based or illicit acquisition-based masks they don’t create the typical response in their victims– Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford quickly come to mind.

As sellers we must be ever mindful of why we put on the masks we do.  Are we sincerely trying to connect with our prospect or are we trying to manipulate them?  Are we acting out of respect and desire to communicate or are we acting out of a desire to create a particular beneficial outcome for ourselves no matter the cost to the prospect or client?

The masks we wear telegraph our intent and thus can either help establish and strengthen a bond of trust with the other person or they can create a feeling of unease, caution and suspicion. 

The question isn’t are you going to wear masks; the question is are you going to consciously put on ethical masks that build trust and communication or are you going to put on unethical masks designed to manipulate and control your prospect for your gain irrespective of the cost to the prospect?  It’s your choice.  Sooner or later you’ll reap the true value of the masks you wear—just ask Madoff and Stanford.

November 16, 2010

Do You Measure Up to a Dog?

Filed under: Client Relationships — Paul McCord @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve become a hater.

The other morning I told my wife that I hate her.

This new found hate came on quickly—literally overnight.

Last Thursday evening Debbie insisted I watch a movie with her.  “It’s supposed to be really, really good,” she said.  “It’s about a dog and his owner.”

I’ve really mellowed in my old age and have become quite sentimental, and since I love dogs, I figured a couple of warm and fuzzy hours would be time well spent.

It was horrible. 

I ended up not sleeping that night thinking about that dog, Hachi.  I’ve thought about him ever since.  Haunted by sadness and humbled by a depth of love, loyalty and commitment I honestly cannot image.

We in sales talk a lot about being loyal to our customers, about putting our customer first, about being committed to excellence, about sacrificing our wants and needs to our client’s.

The story of a dog demonstrates how little we really know about loyalty, commitment, and sacrifice.

Let me briefly relate the story (if you get a chance and don’t mind being overwhelmed with sadness, you can find the movie, Hachi, on the Hallmark channel.  I’m sure it will be on again sometime this month).

The producers have changed the location and time of the events although it is based on a true story.  The events actually took place in Japan in the 1920’s.  The move moves the location to the US and the timing to present day (I assume they felt it would sell better this way).

A college professor acquires the dog as a puppy and raises him.  They become extremely close.  The professor has to take a subway train to campus everyday and walks from his home to the train station.  The dog walks with him to the station and then returns home.  In the afternoon, the dog goes back to the station and sits on a concrete wall each afternoon waiting for his master to return.  They then walk home together.

This routine goes on for a few years until one day the dog’s master doesn’t return.  He never returns as he dies of a heart attack while at work.

That night the dog waits until long into the night for his master to return.  The next day Hachi returns and takes his usual place and waits.  He returns to his spot and waits from early morning until late at night every single day for over 10 years.  For over 3,650 days he never misses a single day.

Ever hopeful that today will be the day, he sits through scorching heat, freezing snow and sleet, drenching rain.  Nothing can keep him from being there when his master returns.  He knows his master would not abandon him.  He knows his master will return and he’ll be there, waiting faithfully when he disembarks the train.

Today there is a statue on the spot where he sat faithfully waiting for over 10 years, erected in his honor by the men and women who witnessed his incredible devotion and loyalty during his vigil (that statue was melted during World War II, but  a second statue was created after the war and is still standing today), and each year, to this day, a ceremony is performed at the location to honor the dog. 

Although both a terribly sad and inspiring story, ultimately the question is what can we learn from this magnificent dog?

Loyalty has a price.  We talk a lot about being loyal to our customers, to our company, to our profession; yet when things get a little dicey, when loyalty is no longer easy, we bail.  Our loyalty tends to be fair-weather.  We may be willing to sit through one snow storm; we might even be willing to go through a hot summer also, but 10 years of sweltering heat and bone chilling cold?  Nope, it costs too much.

There’s dignity in sacrifice.  Hachi earned the love and respect of those who knew him not because of his success, but because of his willingness to sacrifice for what he believed in.  He literally sacrificed his life to be faithful to his master.

Sometimes we win even when we lose.  Hachi’s hope was never fulfilled.  His tremendous loyalty and faith were never rewarded.  His master never came back.  Hachi died as he lived, faithfully waiting for his master’s return.    Even so he won the respect and honor of millions.  That, of course, was no consolation for him.  He never knew the impact he had on the humans around him.  He wouldn’t have cared anyway.  What was important to him was his commitment to his master.  He wasn’t seeking honors or rewards, just the love of his master.  Yet by putting his master first, he earned honors beyond what most of us will ever earn—there are

How do you measure up to a dog?  When you speak of being loyal, of being committed, to sacrificing for your client, are you really?

Maybe we don’t have to go to the lengths that Hachi did, but so often what we claim to be loyalty, commitment, and sacrifice are nothing more than words we use to sell our services and make us feel good. 

Yep, I told Debbie I hate her for making me watch a movie about a dog that makes it perfectly clear, I don’t measure up.

I think most of us have a lot to learn from a dog.

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