Friday, December 10, 2010

Lose the Inferiority Complex. Build a Better Story.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re buying the 2nd best of anything. Educated buyers are well aware of the ‘best of breed’ brand for their purchase, but they likely lack the budget, fortitude and ego required to pay the top dollar required to obtain it, and so begins the process of attempting rationalize the comparative value of the viable alternative they hope will present itself.  That’s great news for those of us who don’t represent the high-end luxury route with all the bells and whistles. We’ve just got to stay the course helping them build the story of their decision making process along the way. Put more simply, your goal is to make the prospect feel like buying the top-end is for ignorant suckers who are too lazy to make intelligent purchasing decisions.  

In the IT world, the old adage of “Nobody ever got fired for choosing Cisco” is true enough at organizations with plenty of cash and limited ingenuity. But nobody got promoted for their innovation and cost-consciousness choosing Cisco either. My reply is always “Cisco never made anybody a hero either. Wanna be a hero?” Of course they do, or at least they want to try. It’s a matter of helping them see that winners don’t pay more to play it safe. Heroes do more with less.

A chip on your shoulder can be a shackle or a piece of flare. A burden, or an inspirational thumbing of the nose at the incumbent. To use cities for example, I’ve fallen in love with Chicago since moving here three months ago, but there’s an inescapable 2nd-class self-perception within the entrepreneurial tech community. The names of two best business blogs in town, both written by fantastic guys that have been very good to me, reek of inferiority complex: and Conversely, Austin TX, another city I recently fell in love with, clearly revels in their booming green technology scene staying off the radar of the general public with their “Keep Austin weird” credo. Chicago will never get over its ‘not New York’ status until it stops trying. (Full Disclosure: I’m a native NYer still trying to do the same)

Hertz car rental’s classic “We’re #2. We Try Harder” and Apple’s brilliant-till-it-wasn’t-anymore ‘Mac vs PC’ campaigns are perfect examples of reveling your role in the pecking order to the chagrin of the top dog. Instead of shying away and hoping you don’t ask the hard questions, they proactively address the needs of their core audience and glare a spotlight on their relative strengths. Ask a Hertz or Apple sales rep what makes them different and they’ll tell you everything they are that the top brand isn’t, not the other way around. People that buy their products and services feel like they’ve one-upped the chumps who blindly follow the market leader.

Another approach is to simply ignore the rest of the market in favor of an earnest emphasis on your product’s value. Take the (admittedly by them, I presume) entirely unsexy brand of Eddie Bauer. I was recently in the market for a new winter coat (Chicago will do that to you), and in the land of down jackets they repeatedly hit you with how their product provides superior warmth and functionality with classic styling that you won’t regret next season. If you want to buy a coat that you’ll never regret, but a coat from Eddie Bauer. “Ours down coats have the highest quality materials and tailoring. That’s it. The rest of the market can be trendy. We stick with what we do well.” Their retail reps don’t even think about the competition. Simple, effective and warm too.
There’s basically two strategies to succeeding by admitting you’re not the top dog. Either point out your obvious strengths, “It’ funny you mention them. We were actually created to provide a better solution by…” or stick to your guns “You can shop around all you want. You won’t find anyone better at this specific aspect of what we do.” Whichever one you choose, there’s no room for resentment.

Make people proud of their choices by never letting them feel like they settled.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Being Fearless Will Get You Everywhere @

I don't want to double-publish the same content, so check out this post I wrote on

Somehow it feels like I'm selling out my own blog...but they have a bigger audience. Forgive me. More 'exclusives' are in the works.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sales vs Marketing vs Sanity

It’s well documented to the point of cliché within the B2B blogosphere that sales and marketing rarely see eye-to-eye. Sales thinks marketers are a bunch of geeks and glamour snobs with no clue what it’s like in the trenches. Marketing thinks sales people are lazy and overpaid with no appreciation for the work done to create opportunities on their behalf. As strictly a sales pro to this point in my career, I’d like to think I’ve extended the olive branch of mutual appreciation in my day, but I’ve certainly had my ‘those dweebs just don’t get it’ moments. Now I’ve started a new venture wearing both hats, and…it’s more of the same. Sales and marketing still don’t understand each other. 

The goal of marketing is pretty simple: Touch as many hearts and eyeballs as possible. Sales too: Bring in the maximum amount of dollars.The more hearts and eyes marketing can touch, the more deals sales can bring in the door. This makes sense for agreeing with each other in a vacuum, but the nuances of each role are surprisingly contradictory.  

When I’m wearing my marketing hat, I meticulously craft my company’s message to convey a specific feeling. I focus on a singular mental image that plays on an emotional reaction I imagine a hypothetic buyer might need triggered to connect with my company. Even small changes to the gameplan require lengthy contemplation.

My sales hat is more ballcap and less fedora. Decisions are made from the hip because there’s simply no time to over-think the absolute of necessity. Time is not a luxury afforded to the salesman one step away from a meal on the table. Hit or miss, a shot must be fired. 

Ok, so let’s revise. Marketing is planning for the big picture. Sales is reacting to the immediate needs. 

Now it all makes sense. The two sides - despite working towards the same goal - tend not to appreciate each other’s efforts because their decision-making processes are so different. It’s not likely that you’d take the exact same shot given a few seconds to aim as one where you were given hours, but it’s also unclear which would be better. Are you more likely to make the perfect shot given an eternity to consider its trajectory or only a moment with a launch and a prayer?

The cerebral approach to marketing is a result on having time, for better or worse, whereas sales decisions are made with less consideration by necessity. Marketing is a thinking man’s game. Sales is for gunslingers. Anyone with time to think about it gunslinging will surely see that it’s a dangerous game, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a bullet scarred veteran with sympathy for sideline puffery.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if there’s no time for soldiers to think in a gun fight and no sense being callous in the war room, then I’ll have to appreciate the separate decision making processes for what they are – separate – and not expect them to align.

My new mantra:
Sell fast.
Market slow.
Make it last.
Go go go.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time To Suit Up Coach

So here it is…time to show that I can walk my own talk.  After spending the majority of my 20’s managing the sales performance of others in the corporate world, the site for my new business is up and running (, and it’s on me to prove that I can create sales in a new market armed only with the tools of my trade; a phone, inbox and internet browser. Gulp! Let the fun begin.

About a year ago I came to the realization that my entrepreneurial itch couldn’t get the scratching it needed relying on others to bring in the deals while enduring tedious meetings, so I found an industry I’m passionate about, reigned in my assets and decided to give it a shot.  A few gut checks and skipped paychecks later, I’m an entrepreneur, and it’s just as scary and invigorating as the books say it will be, only more so.

OK, OK. Let’s go through our pre-sale checklist:
-         -  Quality product that’s in high demand. CHECK.
-         - Well defined target customer base. GOT THAT TOO.
-         -  Marketing plan and the tools to pull it off. DAMN RIGHT.
-          - Clear and differentiating messaging. THE COMPETITION IS GOING TO HATE ME.
-         -  Price point that reflects value. FEELING GREAT ABOUT IT.

I’m a sales pro. I write a blog and consult about sales best practices. I’ve come on board as the third hire at a startup that turned into a 100+ headcount industry powerhouse before I left. This is what I do best! Yet I can’t seem to shake a dull sense of lingering anxious tension, urging me to head back to the land of salaries and employer-provided healthcare coverage.

Everybody says “good luck”, but their tone and demeanor feels more like a dire warning than well wishes.  I know, I know. They just want me to be safe, which some confuse with being happy. But safe was boring, and the chip on my shoulder weighs heavier than the strain of a bank account that (temporarily…I hope) keeps going backwards. It’s time to get selfish and self-absorbed. Websites don’t drive traffic, convert it to action and sign up vendors on their own. The internet is a big place without much respect for newcomers that don’t go out and earn it. Time to sell!

Selling is persistence, goal setting, staying positive and constantly refining a strategy that rarely goes as planned. It’s the thrill of a yes, the hope of a bite and the refusal to accept no. Selling is a blast, and man do I miss it!

All the clichés about failure are true. You don’t know what you don’t know, and most new businesses don’t last even a few years. Everything takes longer and costs more than you think too. So what? That’s got nothing to do with me. There’s also a ton of success stories from entrepreneurs no brighter or motivated than myself who put on the blinders and focused on creating the business and lifestyle they set out to achieve. Nothing happens in business until somebody makes a sale, and I’ve got just the man for the job staring back at me in the mirror.

I may not have the flashiest site or biggest budget, but I’ve got the best sales team in the industry. Watch me prove it. - Learn about green technology. Find the best companies to work with.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Find Your Sale, Then Your Career

Successful sales pros are not great at every type of sale.  They’ve found the sale that best suits their talent and temperament, then refined their skills and repeated.  Too many potentially great rainmakers take on roles that are not the right fit and either flounder in mediocrity or change career directions altogether in dejected frustration.  Just like all other trades, specialists are more likely to see peak results than generalist who take on the nearest challenge put on their plate.

A coworker recently asked me where I would rank on my team of 15 inside sales reps, and she seemed shocked when I told her “probably about 3rd or 4th”, but definitely not number one.  Just because I’m the in-house guru coaching everyone else on what they need to do to succeed, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for my own selling strengths.  Our sale has a relatively short sales cycle for a B2B technology (about three weeks) and favors high energy closers more than problem solving relationship builders.  It’s a transactional sale coordinated completely over the phone, and I thrive in a more complex sales cycle where trust is built in person.  Had I started my career in entry level inside sales, I may have picked a different line of work, thinking I would never be a top producer. 

Sometimes when I’m letting a poor hire go for underperforming I tell them honestly that this wasn’t the right fit.  They think I’m sugar coating tough news, but I’m actually being sincere in that they could excel in a different sales environment.  Oftentimes these are people who took the first sales job they could get out of college, spurred by their advisors observing their social nature and guiding them towards sales, who ditch sales for safer career paths with less upside.  It really just wasn’t right for them.  It wasn’t their sale!

This is a touchy subject, but the reality is that looks matter.  Given what seems to be the imminent demise of traditional broadcast media, maybe that ‘face for radio’ is a really a voice for inside sales.  Conversely, it’s no secret that attractive people have an easier time with outside sales.  Of course there are exceptions, but honestly considering your physical attributes can be a valuable factor in deciding career direction.

If you are the type of person that likes the schmooze but tends to abandon the relationship with little more than a solid first impression, then a shorter sales cycle is probably your best bet.  Or, if you tend to wait in the wings, tactically picking your spots with the best opportunities to nurture a relationship for the long term, maybe a complex sales cycle is your calling.  Prospects will simply feel more comfortable buying from a sales pro best suited for their purchasing process.

When lining up interviews, take a sincere look in the mirror, and think about what sort of sale is best suited for you.  Are you really a problem solver, or do you like to patch things up and move onto the next?  Do you like people, or do you tolerate them elegantly in concise doses?  Is the complex solution your thing, or do you prefer to keep it simple? 

Be honest with yourself and your interviewer.  There’s no sense trying to fool either one of you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sales is a lifestyle, not a job

I’ve come to understand that sales professionals will always be thought of as unintelligent and overpaid by the rest of their peers within any given company.  We talk a big game, walk around like we own the place and hand off our problems to the rest of the organization.  I’m also fine with that.

You see, while the rest of the company clocks in, clocks out and waits for their regular paycheck, we’ve taken the risk of being measured constantly and publicly.  We’ve decided to take our destiny into our own hands with low performance as a precursor to low pay or no pay at all.  There’s no coasting.  Succeed and you’ll be heavily rewarded.  Fail and you’ll soon be forgotten.  It’s “what have you done for me lately” every day.

Do I resent the fact that the individuals doing my dirty work hold contempt for my glory hogging?  Hell no.  I feel bad that they’ll never know the thrill of looking an unfulfilled quota in the face and kicking its ass.  Salaries are nice, but fat commissions checks are better, and settle with your own fate if you won’t leave the comfort of a sure thing for the anxiety of a deal on the brink.

Sales professionals take the job home with them.  The job is never done, because there’s always more you can do to support yourself or your family.  Nobody tells a sales professional that they should head home because they’re done for the day.  We don’t turn off our phones and kick back on the couch.  We stare at the screen waiting for the red light to blink, hoping it signals the next step for the next deal we bring in the door.  We wake up in a cold sweat, furious at ourselves for neglecting to do more than the last day.  The competition doesn’t sleep, so neither can we.

Vacation?  Sure, if you don't mind a dry pipeline when you return to a spot at the bottom of the barrel.  Hungover?  See how that headache feels at the end of the month.  Stressed?  Cry me a river.

I know this all sounds self-righteous, but if you’re reading this, you’ve probably felt the same mix of pride and shame as you park your shiny car next to the beater of those who chose to play it safe.  Sales professionals are not employees.  We’re contracted entrepreneurs.

Jealous?  We’re hiring

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Old Dog and The Pound

I was sitting with my grandparents during Saturday morning Shabbat services in sunny Delray Beach, Florida amongst a crowd of sweet geriatrics festooned in every imaginable machination of pastel costumery, when a sharp dressed man reminiscent of a mustachioed Gary Cooper approached.  As I have learned is the new custom in this healthily germophobic land of hand sanitizers, the man extended his clenched first to my grandfather as a greeting rather than shaking hands.  (We whippersnappers call this giving ‘The Pound’) 

A similar routine had occurred several times that morning, but I had enjoyed the irony of a gesture that was only five years ago reserved for generation hip-hop now being used out of perceived medical necessity by the golden girls and their hobbled hubbies in smug isolation until this fellow tapped me on the shoulder.  A bit startled, I locked eye contact making my best ‘we’re-both-cool-guys’ face and bumped knuckles.  Then this gentleman leans in with surprising vigor and says to me “Greet everybody with the same respect as the person who is most important to you.  Everyone will like you, and that’s how to be a great salesman.”

I ask my grandfather why he told this guy that I’m in sales and mess around with a blog about sales best practices, and he tells me “I did no such thing.  In fact, I barely know anything about him other than that he was a very successful menswear salesman in New York for many years.”  What!?  Maybe this guy’s thing is doling out unsolicited sales advice, but the moment felt almost cosmic in the context of an ongoing religious service.

So now I am left to extrapolate what wisdom this man would have shared relating to this comment had his career matured in the age of the blogosphere. 

We sales professionals can get so intensely focused on pleasing the main decision maker that we lose sight of the impression we’re making on other influencers.  Despite the constant reminders from every source of sales literature urging us to concentrate on VITO, nobody likes to make important decisions completely on their own, and the backing of a few confidants could make the difference between winning the deal or losing it to the brown-noser with low prices and a flashy presentation. 

If they’re with the person you are trying to win over at the time of introduction, they’ll probably get the chance to add their two cents when you leave the room.  Not letting anybody in the proverbial room get away without a direct smile and recognition is a no-lose habit worth reinforcing into second nature.  I imagine every advisor to the tri-state area’s fashion buyers of yesteryear appreciated it too.