Online Sales

Meet Your Competition.

Working with scores of companies in the digital ecosystem, I end up being the go-to guy on a persistent question:  “How do we compare with the other guys?”

Individual sellers and whole sales organizations demonstrate a serious need to be benchmarked.  There are great companies out there who offer this as a service:  they’ll tell a given company whether they are number one, two or twenty-three in the eyes of agencies or marketers.  Or you can always fall back on whose is bigger (comparing revenues, page views, video streams….whatever.)

But nevertheless, they ask me the question, because I’ve spent close time with many of the companies they perceive to be competitors.  And they really, really want to know how they stack up.

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The answer is simple, if also a bit frustrating:  If you’re measuring yourself against any competitor, you’re embracing ambivalence and courting failure.   Give power and currency to someone else and you immediately make it all about a company and a sales team and issues that you have no control over.

The right approach is to localize the questions:  Given our resources, skills, voice, capabilities, scale, etc., what is the best we can possibly be?  How might we become indispensable to this customer at this critical time in their business?

Tell your team (or tell yourself) to stop comparing your insides to other companies’ outsides.  The more you obsess about your ‘competitors’ the more you stop paying attention to the customers whose money you hope to earn.  Your competition is you….your benchmark is your potential value to the marketer.  All the rest is noise.

When a member of her staff would ask Oprah Winfrey about the latest guest that Jerry Springer or Arsenio Hall or Sally Jesse Raphael had booked, she always offered the same admonition:  “Let them do them.  We’ll do us.”


Stop…Drop….Start Over!!

You there!  Yes, you!  Drop the mouse and back slowly away from the keyboard…hands where I can see ‘em.

Sure, sure…I’ve heard it all before.  You were just going about your business getting ready for one of those “sales calls” that your boss likes so much.  You finally wore down that 29-year-old Media Sup to the point where she agreed to “get the team together” for a sit-down next week.  And now you’re making sure you’re armed to the teeth and ready for battle.  You’re pasting the customer’s logo onto the front of a hefty PowerPoint that has it all:   company intro….partner logos….all your products….case studies….even the obligatory Questions? slide at the end.  You’re even packing up a few gifts to make them all feel engaged and included:  a little swag to grease the skids.

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But I just can’t let you go through with it.  I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.  It’s Fatal Attraction and you’re Glenn Close; it’s Thelma and Louise and you’re both of them.  In the name of all that’s holy, stop now and start over again!

Too many of our sales calls end up with both parties simply falling into their assigned roles.  Both the seller and buyer know they have to have a certain number of meetings, and they end up in the business equivalent of a bad blind date.  You share the same space, make polite but disinterested conversation, and part with some vague talk of keeping in touch or sending something.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is the meeting going to be about?  If you haven’t proactively identified a business or marketing problem and centered your entire meeting on it, then you’re simply another rep doing another “catch up” call who’s hoping for some of their money.

What exactly to you want to happen?  Write out the words of your closing “ask” before you walk in.  If you don’t know what you want to happen, you’re certainly not going to get it.  The right people might not even be in the room to give it to you.  Any answers that include words like updateeducation or evangelism are just too soft and meaningless.

What are you telling them that they don’t already know?  If you’re armed only with the information that the buyers themselves have given you, then you end up being another rep who’s describing their own product, rather than one who’s prepared to make something new happen.

Do you really need that PowerPoint?  People really looked forward to seeing PowerPoint decks….in 1995.  If you’re seeking a real, genuine conversation, then a piece of paper with some observations about the account is a better bet.

How will you use the first 90 seconds of your time together?  Sales calls have something in common with fistfights.  How they begin goes a long way in determining how they will end.  Hyper-awareness and presence right at the outset can change the entire character of a call.

If your sales calls are feeling less than fulfilling, look hard at your own approach.  You just may be sleepwalking into mediocrity.  You deserve better.

Before posting this week, I stopped myself.  I looked back to 2014 and decided this post deserved a second airing.  If it wasn’t new to you, I hope it was a good reminder.

Great Meeting!

A sure fire way to induce a room full of sellers to make that confused Scooby Doo face is to tell them you want them to stop having great meetings.


Years ago one of my bosses had a bellyful of great meetings.  When he asked about the outcome of various customer meetings and sales calls, every rep seemed to come back with the same evaluation.

Great meeting! 

He finally couldn’t take it anymore and came out with one for the ages:  “Stop telling me you had a great meeting!  Tell me what happened!  Great meetings are the comfort of the weak seller!”

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While not known for subtlety, he had a point.  Far too often, these great meetings were great because neither side really committed to anything beyond general positivity and hope that things might work out some day.  No one was disappointed because no one really asked for anything.  The rep described his offerings while the client described her goals.  Everything was friendly and congratulatory.  There was much positive head nodding about things like alignment and complimentary strategies.  There was a nod toward speaking again at some future juncture when a budget or objectives will have arrived.  Hugs were exchanged at the elevator.

Great meeting.  Then….nothing.

What my boss understood many years ago in an era of four-color bleed pages and 15% commissions is just as true – and even more urgent – today.  All these great meetings are hurting us three ways.  First, nothing actually gets sold.  Second, we’ve needlessly extended an already long and meandering sales cycle.  And finally, we’ve injected an element of false hope into the pipeline where it doesn’t belong.  Hope is a wonderful human quality but a really shitty sales strategy.

Instead of having great meetings, reps should go in with urgent, specific business problems they can help solve.  They should have a specific course of action to recommend and be able to say just what that course of action would cost the customer.  And they should ask very specifically for the action they want the customer to take.

You may not get a hug at the elevator, but you’ll start having real conversations, better forecasting, account progress and better sales.

Now that’s great.

Write this Down: Part One

When I conduct a sales workshop (of which I do about 40 in a given year) I have a verbal tic that participants notice right away.  As we move through the structured materials and focused discussions of our day, I’m constantly telling them to “write this down.”  I do this because I’ll recall an idea or strategy midstream that I know is going to prove helpful later on.

So I’ve decided to write some of them down myself.  Enjoy.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.  Most of us treat our customers’ business and advertising problems like so many disposable razor blades.  Get just a little specific about their situation and watch the nature of your meetings and your relationships change for the better.  It’s better to be specific and wrong than accurate and meaningless.

Sell pain relievers, not vitamins.  Most of us tell clients about things that are generally good for them. This will extend your reach…this will help your brand.  Those who zero in specifically on an important short term pain point are more likely to create urgency and walk away with a sale.

Complexity is your enemy. Clients thrive on direction and clarity. Most sellers drown them in options and detail. Just get to the point.  Start with zero slides and build from there. And tell your customer what you think they should do.  If you’re not there to recommend action, why are you there?

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People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” TED Talk and his book “Start with Why” are game changers.  Don’t go more than two slides or 3 minutes into any meeting before explaining “Why We’re Here Today.”  And have a really good answer.

Be the party host, not the entertainment.  Sales is not performance art.  Most of us are way too wrapped up in what we’re going to say and how we’re going to perform.  Instead, pretend you are the host of the meeting and task yourself with creating a real conversation and making sure everyone is heard and comfortable.  Transformative.

Clients will always build something bigger with you than they’ll buy from you.  We tax our companies and our teams by making them build thousands of polished presentations and demos every year.  And they fall flat.  Instead, show your customer the plans, the blue print, the storyboard.  Keep it rough and invite them to draw, cut, add.  If they help build it, they’ll also own it.

You never get more than you ask for.  And most sellers, unfortunately, don’t ask for anything.  They imply. They talk about the next meeting, or going back to the office and putting together a proposal.  But ask for the order?  Close?  Not so much.  And the opportunity – to qualify, to clarify, to keep selling – is lost.

Watch for future posts in which I’ll continue to build on this list.

Closing Cases, Solving Crimes.

Watch any police procedural and you’ll hear the grizzled veteran detectives talk about ‘closing cases.’  To add a retro visual, you’ll even see them erase victim names or case numbers from a huge blackboard in the station house.  But as you learn, closing cases is not the same as solving crimes.

The cop who closes cases is mostly concerned about the bureaucracy of getting a case disposed of; tagging it with a plausible outcome and getting it out of active consideration.  It’s Dragnet meets The Dilbert Zone.   In contrast to these uninspired civil servants, we’ll see the real cop in the bunch…the one who isn’t satisfied until she solves the crime and brings the real culprit to justice.

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It’s occurred to me recently that we have a version of this contrast playing out within sales teams in our industry.  There are a lot of erstwhile sellers who are actually just closing cases.  They watch the board, they take notes, they report out what happens.  If they don’t get included on the RFP or the client decides to spend the money with another vendor, they dutifully append the case with the outcome and take it out of circulation.  They will have a half-dozen very good reasons why the sale wasn’t made, and an air-tight rationale for closing it out.

Contrast this with the seller who’s really out to solve the crime.  This seller goes into the investigation with genuine curiosity.  Win or lose, he wants to chase down every lead, interview every witness, eliminate every dead end.  If the case seems to be going cold or the witnesses disappear, he digs deeper and with greater urgency; he finds a way to pry it back open and earning a second or third look from the customer.

Sellers who solve crimes are a rare breed in our station houses.  Maybe it’s because we don’t call out and recognize their particular contributions enough.  Or perhaps we’re just not being clear about the nature of the job that needs to be done.  Is the drive and ability to solve crimes just something you’re born with?  Or can it be taught?  I aim to find out.

We need a new kind of cop in this town.