Posts

Beyond the Sales Process: Interview with authors Dave Stein, Steve Andersen

BSPangleI have known Dave Stein for many years. He’s an expert in the sales field, particularly in evaluating sales training. He has always been a clear and incisive thinker, with opinions as well-grounded in data as they are in thoughtfulness.

His new book, with Steve Andersen, is called Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World.

Dave and Steve shared some thoughts with me about the book, and about the state of selling.

———————–

Charlie: B2B selling and buying have been transformed during the past 8 years—what changes have you seen regarding the role of trust in selling? And as salespeople seek to adapt to those changes, how are they doing?

Steve and Dave: Beginning in 2008, when the last financial crisis hit, the concept of increasing revenues as a business objective was forced onto the back burner in many companies and replaced, or at least supplemented, with a scramble to reduce costs. In the process, the procurement function in many organizations gained unprecedented power, became more strategic, and began reaching further into daily operations.

Mostly unprepared for this fundamental transformation in their customers’ business practices, many salespeople found themselves in over their heads, often floundering in their negotiations with “the new procurement.” Under pressure to produce, they responded by upping the ante, throwing more products and services at their customers, despite supply being greater than demand in most cases, and – most importantly – despite the fact that many of their customers simply weren’t interested in these additional offerings.

The result has been a dismaying drop in the degree of trust that many contemporary buyers are able to place in their suppliers.

Charlie: Shocking – who could’ve seen that coming!

Steve and Dave: Right! Anyway, throughout this challenging period we observed consistently that sales professionals and account managers who truly understood their customer’s world—their wants and needs, the potential impact of external drivers on their business objectives, and the internal challenges they faced in meeting those objectives—continued to collaborate with and create value for their customers. For those top performers, earning credibility and focusing on the customer is an approach that continued to pay off.

Charlie: Makes total sense. So, what precipitated the two of you collaborating on a book?

Steve and Dave: After meeting and working together years ago at a software company we became friends and kept in touch as our careers continued on what might be considered parallel but related trajectories. Steve eventually leveraged his experience and expertise in B2B sales to establish Performance Methods Inc. (PMI), an industry-leading sales best practices consulting organization, and Dave authored his first book, “How Winners Sell” and went on to found ES Research Group, Inc. (ESR), an independent advisory firm that focused on B2B sales training.

When Dave closed ESR several years back, Steve seized the moment and proposed that we join forces and share what we have learned and experienced with other B2B sales professionals. A co-authorship was born and it was based on a common perspective—that sales needs to evolve in order to keep up with the changes that buyers have adopted. We also share a real concern that the sales training industry all-too-often leaves the “guest of honor” off the guest lists at the sales training parties: the customer!

Charlie: Indeed – seller-centric sales training is not the right idea. In the face of that drift away from the customer, what impact do you hope this book will have on the reader?

Steve and Dave: In the past eight years, and frankly even in the period leading up to the recession, the idea of a strong, enduring customer relationship has withered and commoditization has reigned. In the fierce competition for customers, value, trust, and credibility have been pushed onto the sales “back seat,” while features, benefits, pricing, and a willingness to discount in order to win business sit up front. Overall, our observation is that this hasn’t been a period of growth for the B2B sales profession, and for that matter, for business in general.

We wrote Beyond the Sales Process because we firmly believe that it’s time to rethink what has become accepted as the new norm—that in business, relationships and trust don’t matter so much any more. We disagree: not only do they matter, but we provide evidence in the book that relationships matter now more than ever.

Charlie: As you might imagine, I couldn’t agree more.

Steve and Dave: As salespeople ourselves, we also know that it’s not enough to simply urge our B2B colleagues (who face these challenges on a daily basis) to change their approach; they must be equipped with how to make those changes. They need to know why it’s crucial to rethink their approach, and they need to know how to implement strategies that will lead to more wins and greater success for themselves, as well as for their customers.

Beyond the Sales Process provides what we refer to in the book as “actionable awareness”—proven strategies and tactics for developing, offering, and creating unique differentiable value that will directly address the customer’s external drivers, business objectives, and internal challenges, as well as their individual wants and needs. And we substantiate this by providing examples of industry-leading companies, their customers, and the actual people that are creating and co-creating this value together.

Charlie: Companies don’t focus enough on developing new business from existing clients. What do you recommend for salespeople, account managers, and sales leaders seeking to build their trustworthiness and grow their relationships with their customers?

Steve and Dave: Most sales book focus primarily on that small period of time when there’s a specific sales opportunity on the table, and that’s absolutely an important topic. But there’s another area that is too-often neglected—“after the sale,” you have an existing customer that has experienced your value. Will they want to work with you again? Did they realize the value that you and your organization promised to deliver? As the salesperson, are you going to stick around to measure and validate the impact you delivered? Are you willing to apply the lessons learned and adapt your approach?

Your past proven value can and should be leveraged to build and strengthen your future relationship with your customer and provide you with momentum for the future potential value that you will create and co-create together. The strategies we lay out in the third section of Beyond the Sales Process provide a clear roadmap for how to make this happen.

Charlie: In your book, you frequently use the word “trust.” Since you know trust is near and dear to my heart, how do you respond to those who believe that relationships in sales don’t matter much anymore? How can you make time for trust in our high-pressure, fast-paced B2B world?

Steve and Dave: We’ve interviewed hundreds of customers over dozens of years, and not a single one has ever told either of us that relationships don’t matter. Credibility is a critical success factor for the contemporary salesperson—so as far as we’re concerned, the real question to ask yourself is this: how can I expect to be successful if I don’t make time to build trust?

This is not just a theory or a philosophical argument. Over and over again, the numbers show that it is considerably more costly to pursue and acquire a new customer than it is to grow your relationship with an existing one. And, when a customer trusts that you have their best interests at heart, there’s a good chance that they’ll want to talk to you, to consult with you, and to hear what you have to say before they start developing requirements for their next specific opportunity. If you haven’t developed a relationship with your customer based on trust, you can expect to hear about their next opportunity at the same time that your competitors do, or worse, you’ll realize that your competitor may have been able to influence your customer’s thinking and view of success while you were waiting for the RFP to arrive.

Before there’s a sales opportunity, the savvy salesperson realizes that they have an opportunity to build trust and credibility by understanding the customer’s world, how they define success, and by visioning value creation together. On the other hand, once the customer is in buying mode, they’re under a great deal of pressure, they’re stressed, and the opportunity to engage differently, explore possibilities, and vision success is lost. If you haven’t already taken the time to establish customer mindshare, you are just one of many providers clamoring for your customer’s attention, and you’ve missed a golden opportunity to build trust.

Charlie: You obviously put considerable work into creating, vetting, and getting approval for your case studies. How were you able to get companies such as these to contribute with such depth? What was it was like working with these industry leaders to capture their successes and best practices?

Steve and Dave: We’ve built trust with these companies over the years, and it’s reflected not only by their full participation in the case studies but also in their willingness to have their own customers to take part. They demonstrate that the twelve proven strategies actually work by using them to create trust-based relationships with their customers themselves. They have embraced the idea that it’s not about control or manipulation, or a methodology that every reader or company has to follow in lockstep, but instead an approach that puts the customer first and creates value for everyone involved. It was an absolute pleasure to work closely with these smart and successful industry leaders, their people, and their customers to give our readers insights and actionable awareness that they can use to ensure their success with their own customers.

Charlie: The market is responding favorably to the concepts in your book, including the notion of engage, win, and grow with your customers. How is this idea more inclusive, holistic, and customer-oriented than traditional sales approaches that have been around for a while?

Steve and Dave: Focusing on benefits rather than features has long been accepted as the “right” way to peddle one’s offerings, but we think it’s an approach doesn’t go nearly far enough. How can you sell on benefits to the customer if you don’t know what they value? How do you establish credibility when it’s obvious you haven’t taken the time to understand the world in which they live? How can you build on the value you’ve created after the sale closes to grow trust and credibility, and to expand your relationship with the customer? In Beyond the Sales Process, we look at all of this, and we equip the reader to implement a new, more contemporary approach for engaging, winning, and growing your customer relationships, and for selling in the customer-driven world in which we live today.

Charlie: That’s a great statement of the value of relationships in selling, and its linkage to some of the more traditional aspects of selling. Thanks guys for taking the time with us today, and best of luck with this excellent new book.

Trust-Based Selling Between Cultures

The hardest thing about describing Trust-based Selling to Americans is the idea that the first step in selling has nothing to do with selling. They just don’t get it. Maybe this will help.

Jim Peterson—lawyer, accountant, former newspaper columnist, blogger—told me this delightful story about himself.

I’m an American, and had moved to Paris as an expat, to be senior in-house counsel in Europe for my global firm. The dossier included oversight of our litigation, disputes and risk management.

I inherited a very large piece of pending litigation: we were one of the several defendants — the lead plaintiff was a large French bank. The case had been going on in the course of Germany for several years — but it was then dormant.

I got from the files the name of my in-house counterpart at the bank — whose office was near mine in Paris — and invited him to meet over lunch. The ground rule was–no discussion of the case or its details or merits, since I had no background on the matter and there was no activity then or on the horizon. We did in fact meet up — had a fine and proper French meal including a good bottle of wine — and parted company.

The case ran on in Germany for a year and a half or so. Eventually the local lawyers for both sides called to say that it was time for a settlement, but that they were at an impasse and there was no prospect for fruitful discussions.

I went back to my phonebook. I called the bank’s lawyer in Paris, got caught up on the current status, and asked for a meeting. In a Paris conference room, in about an hour, a successful resolution was reached.

To the French, relationships are vitally important in the conduct of business of all kinds. This could not have happened if we had been coming together for the first time. (The American mis-apprehension about the rudeness of French shop-keepers, waiters and taxi drivers is misplaced — they simply don’t know or have any relationship with a new arrival. By taking the time to be courteous and conversational, ahead of the desire to transact business, the entire atmosphere can be changed. And even more so when you become a repeat customer.)

We Americans, with characteristic brevity and impatience, have an urge to “get on with it.” We consider this a virtue, despite the fact that this approach will often leave us frustrated and will yield sub-optimal results. Neither does this alter our belief that we are results-driven.  But the truth is: slowing down rather than rushing to finish in time to catch the afternoon plane will often yield a better outcome.

By extension, I have used variations on this approach even in the American context — where the investment of a small amount of time and effort is often seen to bear fruit.

Jim is not alone. One Japanese bargaining technique (as per Riding the Waves of Culture, a great book) is to wait until the Americans have confirmed their return flights before demanding an additional item or making a small concession in their position. The urge to hold to a preset plan is so strong that the Americans will jump at the offer rather than reschedule.

The point is not just that Americans are prisoners to our own US-centric views of culture, but that we are mistaken even about our own culture. The simple powerful truth, anywhere in the world, is that people prefer to do business with those with whom they have some kind of relationship. The mechanics of that differ; the principle does not. Tons of sales are left on the table in the US because of an inability to deal with relationships.

Want to sell? Then first Stop Trying to Sell.

This truth is no less truthful for being a truism: People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.

The best sales begin with relationship. Deal with it.

This post first appeared on TrustMatters.

Giving Prospects the Confidence to Hire You

When it comes to selling – many of us focus on our fears.

“Will they buy?”

“Are my services priced right?”

“What are they looking for?”

“Will they go with me?”

These questions inevitably lead to a dance that involves both buyer and seller, a delicate tip-toeing around the heart of the matter. We try to talk about needs, solutions, benefits, values.

But a buyer is not looking for those things alone. Above all else, a buyer is looking to feel confident that they made the right decision; that their business or needs are in the right hands.

Are you giving your prospects the CONFIDENCE to hire you?

——–

A western journalist visiting the old Soviet Union, so the story goes, asked a worker if he was being paid well. The worker said, “It’s all pretend. We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

Do you sell consulting? IT services? Accounting? Financial planning? Legal services? Then you too play a game of pretend – with your would-be clients. They pretend to care about your qualifications. You pretend to listen to their questions. You pretend to write a unique proposal. They pretend to read it. You pretend to sell. They pretend to buy.

All the while, behind the game of pretending, an unspoken and important vetting process is taking place.

For example, a company about to spend big on a CRM system, or make an investment in leadership training, or change its sales approach, will ask about the benefits of what’s being sold. The prospect will want to know the answer and they will pretend it matters most.

But what they really want to know is – will we have the confidence to sleep well at night given the choice we make?

And yet, this search for confidence – the thing that matters most – isn’t what’s actually discussed during the sales process.

Instead, prospective clients have been seduced by the trappings of “hard business.” They think “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” and they try to reduce decisions to metrics. That’s how we end up with clients wanting to know all about our qualifications – despite the fact that our qualifications were what already got us in the room in the first place.

And so, we all pretend that buying and selling is about talking. About words and numbers. About qualifications.

But it’s not. The fact is, clients make huge, complex, intangible decisions very much on the basis of gut, emotion, feeling, opinion, Kentucky windage, call it what you will.

As sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer says, people buy with the heart, and justify with the brain. It’s not about rational decisions, but about decisions rationalized.

The truth is this: people vastly prefer to buy what they need from people they feel good about. People they trust. People who they believe have their clients’ interests at heart, not just their own. People who make an effort to honestly listen to their clients. People who actually seem to care.

This goes beyond “people buy from people they like,” or “people buy from people similar to themselves.” It’s way more than schmoozing and finding out common interests.

It gets to the guts of the matter:

  • Do you actually seem to give a damn about me?
  • Do you act like you care about me?
  • Are you working your own agenda, or will you actually listen to mine?

Sales process designs won’t get you there. Metrics and CRM systems won’t get you there. Motivational speeches won’t get you there.

But two things will.

1. Genuine, Honest-to-Goodness Listening

That’s listening for real. Listening not to find out data, but to find out about the client. Listening not to make or confirm a hypothesis, but to understand another human being. Listening not to find out client needs, but to find out what makes a business and a person tick. Listening not so you get answers, but listening so that at the end of it, the other fellow feels heard. Listening not to provide great answers, but listening to earn the right to offer those answers later.

I’ve heard this called yellow-pad listening; no proposal or talking points in front of you, just a blank pad ready to take notes if necessary as issues come up. Whatever you call it, remember another old truism that is still true: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

2. Sample Selling

People don’t buy ice cream from verbal descriptions; they buy it from taste. Referrals may get people in the door, but samples sell them. We don’t use samples selling nearly enough when it comes to selling the intangible.

Give people a taste of what you do. Assume you’ve got the job, and start working it in the early stages. Don’t say how good you are at tax planning, grab hold of some business issues and show them how you do it — on their data.

If a voice in the back of your mind (or your boss in the front) says, “don’t give it away,” recognize that they are wrong. There is an inexhaustible supply of problems in this world. Giving away a few solutions doesn’t diminish your value — it earns you the right to solve more of those problems.

If a client shows a pattern of stealing ideas from you, quietly drop them. After all, that’s the kind of client you’d prefer your competitors to have. Place your focus instead on those clients who want relationships of mutual benefit.

* * *

Listening and sample selling. These are actions, not thoughts. Deeds, not qualifications. Results, not process designs. Most of all, they demonstrate your devotion to your client.

After all, would you rather buy from someone who says, “Trust me”? Or, from someone who shows you why you should?

This post first appeared on RainToday.com

The Purpose Of Sales

Do you hate selling? Do you distrust salespeople? Do you find the whole concept, premise and purpose of sales to be somehow distasteful?

You are far from alone. Even the dictionary is loaded with secondary and tertiary meanings of “sales” that suggest selling is considered manipulative, conniving, even morally offensive.

This revulsion toward sales isn’t limited to our lives as retail consumers. In business, many buyers of goods and services are deeply suspicious of those whose job it is to sell. But the issue can be even more acute for the sellers than it is for the buyers.

Consider the case of complex professional and intangible services. The people who sell such services are highly intelligent, and even more highly educated. They have invested enormously in their technical education, and are justifiably proud of their proficiency and expertise. But they are even more proud of their objectivity, devotion to quality, and service to their clients.

The last thing they want is to be seen as “salespeople.”

And so they struggle. They strike the word “sales” from their vocabulary, talking instead about “business development” (note: even the grammar is instructive – the use of the passive voice, rather than the direct verb ‘to develop business’).

They abhor talking about price, and are apologetic about it when it can’t be avoided. They are proud of their qualifications, and believe (hope?) that their resumes will suffice to do the job of selling for them.

And yet it never seems enough for the feckless professionals. They are stuck with the undeniable proposition that they are being held accountable for getting their clients to fork over filthy lucre in return for the timesheet they hand in. They are confounded by the inability to distinguish themselves from the used car salesman, both in the minds of their clients, and – perhaps worst of all – in their own innermost thoughts.

What’s a poor professional to do?

The answer – amazingly – is at once simple, profound, and easily accessed. It lies in fundamentally redefining the purpose of sales – beginning in our own minds.  Let’s start by trying to understand the purpose of sales.

The Purpose of Sales

You may think the purpose or goal of sales is obvious – to get the buyer to buy, to get the sale, to get the buyer to hand over the money. Indeed, that’s what most people believe – and it’s precisely the source of the problem. It all starts there, and heads downhill fast.  Here’s why.

If you believe the purpose of selling is to get the sale, then you have made three key assumptions. First, that the ‘purpose’ of selling is one-sided – all about the seller. Second, that value to the buyer is per se irrelevant, as long as it’s enough to result in a sale. And third, that selling is essentially competitive – that you fail if you don’t get the sale, whether the loss is to a competitor or to the ubiquitous DND (Did Not Decide).

Those assumptions just fuel buyers’ paranoia. They enforce the notion that sellers do not have their buyers’ best interests at heart, that ‘the deal’ is all that matters, and that you can’t trust anything sellers say. It’s the kind of attitude that fuels sales ‘wisdom’ like “buyers are liars,” and “there are no be-backs.”

And those are just the key assumptions. There is a host of secondary implications which also follow from believing the purpose of selling is to get the sale. For example, it suggests that sales efficiency is key – that salespeople should work to qualify their leads so they don’t waste unproductive time. For example, it suggests that you should be very careful about giving away ‘free samples.’ And especially it suggests that you should never, ever refer a competitor to a client.

All of these are equally pernicious beliefs. It’s easy to characterize them as just traits of used car salesmen, but those beliefs are equally held by serious B2B salespeople, and taught in many ways by well respected sales training programs. Of course, that doesn’t make them better. They are still the source of all the negativity held by so many, including by salespeople themselves.

So – what is the alternative?

The Striking Alternative

Instead, try this simple statement on for size.

     The purpose of selling is to improve the buyer’s business. 

If that doesn’t sound radical, consider the implications. It means, for example, that if the product doesn’t improve things for the buyer – if the buyer is kidding themselves, in other words – then you shouldn’t sell it to them. That’s a little bit radical.

Much more radically, it means that if a competitor truly has a superior solution for a given client, you as the salesperson should actually recommend the competitor.  (Rest assured that the willingness to do so endears you so strongly to the buyer that you’ll virtually guarantee future sales).

But the radical implications aren’t the point. It is the day to day matters, the little things, that truly make the difference.  If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you’ll forsake that absurd acronym, Always Be Closing. Instead, you will Always Be Exploring, to make sure you help your client find a solution. This means the end of artificially-driven period-ending sales contests and forced attempts to close deals; instead, you focus on good decisions, in the appropriate timeframe – the client’s timeframe, not yours.

If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you won’t shut down the minute it appears your lead is not going to buy. Instead, you’ll spend another five minutes to help them look elsewhere for solutions from other businesses or different providers (and you’ll be amazed by the marketing payoff of that so-called inefficiently-spent sales time).

If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you won’t have problems with cross-selling. Instead, you’ll pursue it with a good conscience because you know what you’re seeking is in the client’s best interest.

You won’t have problems with pricing, because you’re not trying to put something over on someone – your goal is pure, and your firm needs a fair price to continue doing that truly good-for-client work.

You won’t have a problem with transparency regarding pricing, contracting or service policies, because those policies will likewise be truly aimed the betterment of the client’s business. And if they’re not aimed that way, then you’ve got a strong argument to make internally that sales shouldn’t bear the brunt of customer resentment – the problem lies elsewhere, and sales can be a force for client-focus good.

The Bottom Line of the Alternative

When you see the purpose of selling is to improve the client’s business, things change fundamentally. Your goals are no longer in conflict with the client – they are precisely and profoundly aligned. Your clients have every reason to trust you – and no longer to distrust you.

Selling is no longer about competition – with your clients, competitors, or your partners. It is about collaboration, in ways that can unify your sales organization. The sale itself becomes not the goal, but a byproduct.

And here’s the ultimate paradox. If you re-conceive the purpose of selling in this way, your clients will recognize it very quickly – even instantly, in some cases. Think about it from your own perspective as a buyer. How would you react if you ran into a seller who behaved in ways such that:

  • you can believe what they tell you
  • you can depend on their promises
  • you can confidently share confidences with them, and
  • you can be sure they have your best interests at heart?

The answer is clear: this is someone you would buy from.  And so, this approach to selling is paradoxical. By your very willingness to forego the sale (by making it no longer the object of your sales activity), you actually increase the likelihood of buyers buying from you.

But there is a catch. You can’t work the paradox against itself. You actually have to be willing to forego “getting the sale” as your objective in order for it to come true. After all, you can’t fake trust. But then – why should you even try?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Trust & Selling

What is it about selling?

It can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste the mouth – whether you’re the seller or the buyer. Why is that? I think it comes down to a few things – but mainly how we approach the sale and what we bring to the relationship between buyer and seller.

You may know “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In game theory, it’s a classic conundrum. As Wikipedia states, it “demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so.”

It turns out that the solution to The Prisoner’s Dilemma is also the solution to a great many sales problems—those in which your customer doesn’t trust you. Are you living in the Dilemma? Or are you living in the solution?

The Dilemma of the Prisoner

Here is a classic version of The Prisoner’s Dilemma:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal:

  • If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence.
  • If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge.
  • If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence.

Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

What’s a poor prisoner to do?

If you analyze the situation rationally (the way a game theorist or economist defines that term), your odds are a lot worse if you remain silent—either you get 10 years or six months. But if you rat on your partner, you either get out free or—at worst—five years.

So, reasons the economist, Option A’s average “value” is five years and three months in prison. Option B’s average is two and a half years. “Ah ha,” says the economist’s rational player, “I’ll go for Option B.”

Of course, the other player does the same math and comes to the same conclusion. As a result, each gets five years in prison—a total of 10 prison-years between them.

If only the prisoners had cooperated with each other; they could have each gotten out with just six months in prison—a total of one prison-year between them.

The question is: why don’t they cooperate?

At least, that’s the economists’ question. In the real world, cooperation is quite common.

So the real question is: why do so many people listen to economists?

The Dilemma of the Salesperson

Before answering the Prisoner’s Dilemma, let’s note the similarity with The Salesperson’s Dilemma.

The salesperson has a similar series of trade-offs. For example:

“I could take some extra time to study up on tomorrow’s sales call, getting to know more about the prospect. That would improve the odds of my getting a sale tomorrow.”

“On the other hand, I could make another cold call with the time saved if I don’t spend it studying up for tomorrow’s call.”

Or, another example:

“I could tell them we have very little experience in this area, which would increase their sense of my honesty, which would help me in the long run.”

“On the other hand, experience might be the key in getting this job, and I’d better make the best case I can and fudge the rest.”

Still another:

“I could share a lot of my knowledge with them, which would really impress them and make them grateful to me.”

“On the other hand, if I give it all away in the sales call, they’ll just steal my knowledge and not pay me for it—I’d better wait until after we have a signed contract.”

And one more:

“I could go out on a limb and make some really far-sighted observations that would help them—it would go way beyond what they asked for.”

“On the other hand, we don’t have much trust built up yet. They might see that as presumptuous or unprofessional; I’ll just answer the questions they asked.”

Just like with The Prisoner’s Dilemma, if the salespersons continually choose Option B, they will sub-optimize. They will do cold calls, leading with no relationship, taking no risks, treating the customer like a competitive enemy, and offering no great help.

In other words, they’ll lose. Just like the prisoners.

In theory, the prisoners are identical, whereas the salesperson and the customer are distinct. But that’s theory. In the real world, sellers somehow tend to find buyers who are similar to them. Sellers who are fear-driven and guarded somehow often find buyers who justify their worst fears.

Both seller and buyer often operate from the Prisoner’s script. And the result is just as sub-optimal.

The Prisoner’s Solution

As postulated by economists and game theorists, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is usually presented with two key assumptions:

  1. The game is played only once
  2. The players do not know each other

The solution lies in changing each of those assumptions. If you tell the players the game will be played 10 times, cooperative patterns begin to emerge. If it’s played 100 times, cooperative strategies take over.

If the players are given information about each other, they become less abstract to each other. If the information is personal, then the relationship changes tone as well.

These two dimensions—time and relationship—are critical. Without a sense of continuity over time, and without a sense of personal relationship, those playing the game will opt to “rat out” each other—even knowing that the result, system-wide, is negative for them on average. But given time and relationships—the optimal solution emerges. Everyone is better off.

In other words, the solution to behaving stupidly is to develop personal relationships over time. Now let’s see how that insight applies to selling.

The Sales Solution

The sales solution should look pretty obvious now. Suboptimal behavior is the result of short timeframes and shallow relationships. In a Prisoner’s Dilemma world, both buyer and seller fear each other, suspect the worst, don’t have relationships beyond the transaction, and are interested primarily in their own self-aggrandizement, without regard to cost to the other party.

If that sounds familiar, just look at this quick list of sales topics that are hot these days: sales automation, lead screening, CRM, social media lead generation, multi-channel messaging. Think about the last step in nearly every sales process model you’ve seen—closing. Think about some of the trends in procurement: online, blind auctions, and RFPs.

What all these subjects have in common is a view of selling that is a) transactional and b) impersonal. In other words, they have short timeframes and weak relationships—two things sure to hurt sales.

Selling benefits from longer timeframes and better personal relationships. If you can stop thinking like an economist and work to eliminate the fear you and your buyers have, you’ll benefit from the long-lasting trustworthy relationships that develop as a result.

This post first appeared on RainToday.com

Fear and Loathing in Sales

Why is it that, when it comes to sales within a service-based industry, the very thought of selling seems to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth? Below, we dive into why the fear of sales creeps up on those of us “rewarded” with the extra task of “business development.”

Let’s dig a little deeper into the root cause of the fear and loathing that so often seems to accompany sales.

——

Some people seem born to sell. They enjoy the challenge, the meritocracy of the numbers, the feeling of controlling their destiny, and the social interaction that comes with sales. They like selling, and they are good at it.

But that isn’t true if you’re a professional who sells services. If you’re a management consultant, accountant, lawyer, human resources professional, financial planner, or technology consultant, let me ask you a question: did you set out early in your career with the goal of being a salesperson? No? That’s what I thought.

Fear and Loathing in the Professional Services Sales Business

The biggest difference between professional services salespeople and other salespeople is the former’s general distaste for selling. Fear and loathing is often not too strong a phrase. A professional is generally hired, trained, rewarded, and promoted for subject matter mastery.

Up to a point, that is. At some point, like a cruel joke, they are “rewarded” with the additional responsibility of selling. Little wonder, then, that the word “sell” is a four-letter word in the professions; most firms prefer the euphemism “business development,” conveniently phrased in the passive voice. After all, they reason, clients buy from us because of the quality of our work. Our sales strategy is to aggressively wait for the phone to ring.

Fear of sales runs deep, yet few professionals can really succeed without confronting and overcoming their apprehension. And so people who thought they had chosen cold hard data and logic as their career end up having to self-psychologize to remain effective—yet another distasteful venture for a content lover.

The Source of Our Fears

Most professionals were attracted by the intellectual aspects of their career. They were bright, with good minds, and the professions worship intellectual achievement. Since clients are often from the same profession, both buyers and sellers share the same delusion—people buy solely through a process of rational decision making. No self-respecting in-house counsel or vice president of strategy would admit to hiring an external advisor based on vague criteria like trust or chemistry.

And so both parties contribute to the myth that services them both: clients buy value propositions, packages that deliver positive net present value, and providers who make the best business case. If one firm loses, they can feel secure that it was probably not their fault—it was just price. And price is the easiest reason for the client to give to the also-rans. The delusion continues.

To contemplate that things don’t work this way is a threatening idea to professionals. It suggests clients aren’t buying their expertise, but their personalities—which feels unfair and rather scary. Since the seller is often the deliverer, it suggests that rejection is far more personal than it is for the seller of a widget. Finally, to lose is the ultimate failure. It means your expertise, the thing you have prized all your life, just wasn’t good enough. And by extension, neither were you.

No wonder professionals loathe the need to sell.

Overcoming Fear and Loathing

Unfortunately, the sales world is all too full of salespeople willing to teach professionals how to sell. They and their professional clients buy into yet another myth: the idea that sales is sales and best practices cut across all industries. And so sales programs that teach closing techniques to manufacturer reps and clothing suppliers founder when they try to close chief financial officers.

What’s true of closing is also true of sales cycles, CRM systems, pipeline analyses, and sales efficiency programs. What works in “regular” businesses falls flat in professional services, and it accentuates the already bad taste in the mouth for selling.

This deep psychological aversion to selling cannot be overcome by behaviors, tips, techniques, processes, and tools alone. It must be addressed at the mindset level. While you can partly act your way into right thinking, in the fog-sculpting world of professional services, you must also think your way into right acting. It starts with re-conceiving the very purpose of selling.

The Purpose of Selling Is…

In most businesses, that is a simple sentence to finish. The purpose of selling is to get buyers to buy the seller’s products. Both buyer and seller know this, and they easily accept the rules of the “game.”

In the professions, we need a very different purpose—that of client service. By this view, the purpose of selling is to make the client better. The sale is not the goal; the sale is a byproduct of successfully helping the client improve. The sale is an indicator, not an objective.

Taking this definition seriously has serious implications. It means transactional selling is all wrong—transactions are just points along the way of a relationship. It means we don’t compete with our clients—we collaborate with them. It means our timeframe must be long, not short.

Most of all, it means we don’t sell by selling. We sell by successfully helping the client to see new possibilities and trusting that the clients we help will, with predictable regularity, prefer to do business with us. It means detaching from the outcome of the transaction and trusting in a broader pattern of human behavior.

If that sounds like selling based on trust, that’s exactly right. It’s the same powerful dynamic recognized in concepts such as customer loyalty. The economics of trust are compelling.

Perhaps best of all, though, is the message this viewpoint offers the professional. Rightly conceived, the only difference between selling and delivering is getting paid. When we think of sales that way, the fear and loathing can slip away—we are all comfortable with client service as a model for delivery. Selling is the same: the right way to sell professional services is to aggressively do good, and then, at the right time, ask to be (well) paid for doing so.

That view of selling isn’t to be feared. It’s a view we can feel good about, while generating a powerful business model at the same time.

If Selling Is Too Hard, You’re Doing It Wrong

Salespeople are frequently fixated on athletic metaphors. Try these two:

  • No pain, no gain
  • The harder you try to hit the ball, the worse you do.

So – which is it? Effort – or form? Grit – or ease?

Many fine sales authors will tell you that an essential ingredient in selling—perhaps the essential ingredient—is effort. Gumption, grit, hustle, sweat—whatever the word, the image it conveys is that success in selling is tough. No pain, no gain.

Selling is a lot like football, this view says: the team that exerts the most effort is the team that wins. And there is a lot of truth in that viewpoint.

But consider another truth. Think about hitting a golf ball. As anyone who’s tried doing that can attest, the quality of your golf shot is in inverse proportion to your effort. That pleasing “thwock” of a well-struck iron almost never comes from trying hard.

Instead, the “trick” in golf is not how hard you swing—it’s how smooth, relaxed, and “at ease” your swing is. If you’re swinging too hard, you’re almost certainly doing it wrong. And there’s a lot of truth in that viewpoint as well.

I’ve learned that most dichotomies like this are false. Selling isn’t only like football or like golf. It’s both, in different aspects. But that’s a different article. This article is about just one side—the golf side, if you will, where if you’re working too hard at selling, you’re doing it wrong.

Adam Smith, Competition, and Selling

Blame it on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, if you will. The Scottish moral philosopher and economist famously claimed that by the self-oriented struggling of the butcher and the baker, the “invisible hand” of the market makes itself known by balancing out all for the greater good. Out of individual selfishness grows the maximum collective good.

While Smith has been unfairly characterized as arguing against regulation and in favor of unfettered free markets, there’s no question that his powerful formulation rhymes with competition—individuals seeking their own betterment. Perhaps ever since, business has been full of metaphors from war and sports. And nowhere are those metaphors more prevalent than in sales.

Here’s a partial list for just one sport alone: pitch, curve ball, hitting cleanup, bottom of the ninth, pinch hit, get our signals lined up, strike out, bases loaded, don’t swing at the first pitch, home field advantage, double play, we’re on the scoreboard, leaving men on base, pop-up, foul ball, home run hitter, shut-out, and so on.

Here’s the thing about sports metaphors: they’re all about competition. Real Madrid vs. Barca. Yankees vs. Red Sox. All Blacks vs. Wallabies. Seller vs. competitor.

And—most of all—seller vs. buyer.

Selling without Competition

It’s hard for most people to even conceive of selling without that competitive aspect between buyer and seller. Isn’t the point to get the sale? Isn’t closing the end of the sales process? If a competitor got the job, wouldn’t that be a loss? And why would you spend time on a “prospect” if the odds looked too low for a sale?

When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work—particularly because much of it is spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. And getting other people to do what we want them to do is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

There is another way. It consists in simply and basically changing the entire approach to selling.

The first approach is the traditional, competitive, zero-sum-thinking, buyer vs. seller—the age-old dance that to this day gives selling a faint (or not-so-faint) bad name. It is one-sided, seller-driven, and greedy.

The new social media capabilities have not made this approach to selling go away—they have empowered it. Just look at your inbox, spam filters, LinkedIn requests, Twitter hustles, and pop-up ads on the Internet.

And boy do you have to work hard to sell that way.

The second approach is different. The fundamental distinction is that you’re working with the buyer, not against the buyer. Your interests are 100% aligned, not 63%. If you do business by relentlessly helping your customers do what’s right for them, selling gets remarkably easier.

You don’t have to think about what to share and what not to. You don’t have to control others. You don’t have to white-knuckle meetings and phone calls because there are no bad outcomes.

Selling this way works very well for one fundamental reason: all people (including buyers) want to deal with sellers they can trust—sellers who are honest, forthright, long-term driven, and customer-focused. All people (including buyers) prefer not to deal with sellers who are in it for themselves, and constantly in denial about it.

This is the golf part of selling: the part where if you lighten up, relax the muscles, let it flow, you end up with superior results. And there’s a whole lot of truth to that view. If you’re working too hard, you’re not getting the sale.

This post first appeared on RainToday.com 

Clients Don’t Buy Solutions, They Buy Problem Definitions

You’re familiar with the old idea that people don’t buy products, they buy solutions – not drill-bits, but holes, in Ted Levitt’s classic formulation. This idea became closely allied with the commonplace view that we should be selling value, and packaging up ‘value propositions.’

But when it comes to complex services, Uncle Ted understated things.  The very idea of what is behind the “sale” in the first place needs re-examining.

So here’s a provocative statement: People don’t buy your value proposition – they buy your problem statement – and give you the sale as a reward for having defined it in a way such that the buyer can see the road to success with greater clarity.

Value: The Usual Suspect

If sales were like the movie Casablanca, and you rounded up “the usual suspects” for getting the sale, at the top of the list might be “demonstrated value.” Salespeople like to think that the reason they got the job was they did a better job at “adding value,” “demonstrating value,”  convincing customers of the “value proposition” they put forth. “Go with us,” salespeople say, “and you’ll get the greatest expected value.”

We impute this decision-making process to our customers, too. If they bought from us, it must be because we did the best job of creating potential value – maybe modified just a bit by their confidence in our ability to deliver on the value we promised.

This value-centric view of selling confirms all the biases of today’s salespeople: it’s a matter of producing challenging ideas, grand scopes, clearly articulated solutions. The winners are those who conjure up the right mixture of smarts, expertise, and hard work.

So we like to believe.

The Truth: It’s the Problem Definition

My old colleague David Maister once said, “The problem is never what the client said it was in the first meeting.” And while at the time I thought he was being slightly hyperbolic, I came to believe he was, in the real world, exactly right. A perfectly defined problem rarely requires outside expertise – it just needs a purchase order.

Consultative sellers get called in for other reasons.

The reason is, buyers – consciously or unconsciously – want the benefit of sellers’ expertise. They are open – more, or less (often less) – to learning from the seller. Yet arguably the most common error of sellers in consultative sales situations is – they blindly accept the customer’s definition of the problem.

If the problem definition is wrong, then a solution based on it is going to be wrong as well. Worse yet, a fully worked out proposal grounded on a faulty problem definition becomes increasingly tenuous. Buyers acutely and painfully recognize this, and this fact explains why so many consultant CRM systems are full of entries that say “died” instead of “lost.”

Clients don’t want to admit the definition was wrong from the get-go, so they simply stop returning calls, the sellers get resentful – and everyone goes off to try the same thing all over again, getting, of course, the same results.

The problem definition is the heart of the matter, for two reasons. The obvious reason is if you don’t solve the right problem, you’ll just make things worse, and as noted above, that becomes increasingly clear to all concerned.

But there’s a deeper, psychological reason.  If you as a seller can truly engage a buyer in a joint process of discovery, you then trigger something magical: a willingness to explore openly the true issue, and a willingness to engage your expertise in the pursuit.

The result is huge: an expertise-based joint journey of discovery, with a greatly enhanced likelihood of a better problem definition, and a vastly higher level of acceptance of that problem definition.

Getting There is Way More Than Half the Battle

A joint discovery of problem definition requires an openness and a willingness to collaborate on the part of the client. No client I’ve ever met starts out that way – no client has ever come to me and said, “Gee, Charlie, we’re really not sure what’s wrong here, but we kind of hope that maybe if you talk to us, things might get better.”

Instead, clients come to sellers with the usual set of highly defined problem definitions, desired solutions, and specifications for how those solutions must be tailored to their organization. It takes a great deal of skill to get to the point where you can mutually confess imperfection, and go on a joint journey.

It’s the opposite of that old “I’m OK, You’re OK” paradigm – it’s more like “I’m a Fool, You’re a Fool, Let’s Figure This Sucker Out Together.”  (And you don’t get there by quoting Maister about how their problem definition is wrong, either).

Having gotten to a point of mutually confessed imperfection, the best problem definition begins.  And when you do get to a great problem definition, the amazing thing happens.

The client doesn’t buy the best solution: instead, they reward the firm that did the best job of helping them define the problem. You’re not getting paid to do the job – you’re getting rewarded for having created the best ah-ha for the client – the ah-ha that says, “Ah, yes – thatis indeed precisely the issue that we’ve been having all along here. That’s the heart of the matter.”

Having gotten that ah-ha, why in the world would a customer then hire someone else to deliver on the vision you’ve jointly created?  Why would you trust anyone but the ones who created the bond with you to develop the insight to actually get you over the river?   You just wouldn’t, that’s all.

Clients don’t buy value: they buy the people they have come to trust. In particular, they hire those who have helped them define their problem in a way that they can finally see their way clear to a resolution of their issues. The project, the sale, is not “the thing” – it is simply the currency of reward for having best-defined the problem.

This post first appeared on Trust Matters. 

Buddhist Capitalism vs Competitive Selling: the Power of Trust and Collaboration

When you think of capitalism, you probably think of competition as a central, driving force. We have enshrined the value of competition in our antitrust laws. We view competition between providers as a way to increase innovation and reduce costs; in today’s parlance, competition is what yields creative disruption.  Adam Smith is frequently (and somewhat inaccurately) cited as the prophet of competition in his concept of the “invisible hand.”

At a micro-level, we have also glorified competition. Athletic competition is seen as a metaphor, as well as a proving ground, for competition in business. Businesses line up to sponsor major athletic events and athletes.

And nowhere in business is competition more revered than in sales.

The truth is much of what we think about competition is dysfunctional, suboptimal, and actually destroys value. By contrast, what I’ll whimsically call Buddhist Capitalism shows another way that adds more value. I’ll explore this theme first at the business world level, then at the sales level.

Business Competition in the Real World

In the real world, pure competition leads directly to monopoly. Competition is inherently unstable, resolving to dominance of one more powerful firm over all the others. What we call “competition” in the modern Western world is a finely tuned mix of rules and regulations, as well as a few customs, that serve to keep behavior within socially acceptable bounds.

If you doubt this, think of what the U.S. economy would look like in the absence of the FTA, the FDA, the FAA, the SEC, or the FDIC. Or just look back a few decades in the history books. Maintenance of a state of competition depends enormously on the power of the referees.

Pure competition, even where regulatory regimes are strict, rarely exists. There are imbalances of labor, education, geography, and a hundred other variables. The point is in nearly every industry, there is an imbalance of power, exploited by one party at the expense of the weaker parties. “Competition” in the real world is more or less about zero-sum games, with one party holding the stronger hand.

The definitions of “capitalism” have been hijacked by extremist theoreticians in recent years: people such as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Alan Greenspan, who believe in a moral purity produced by competition. (Never mind that an ethics built on selfishness isn’t worthy of being called ethics in the first place.)

Buddhist Capitalism

By contrast: imagine an economy relatively unencumbered by laws and regulations, but where trust and custom abounded. An economy with not nearly as many lawyers, but with fewer legal battles. An economy where the frictional costs of competition (and the regulation of competition) are lower, and innovation is higher.

You get such an economy when you introduce the concept of trust and collaboration. Zero-sum games shift to 1+1=3 games. Stephen MR Covey Jr.’s book The Speed of Trust is all about this: when trust is present, speed goes up and cost goes down.

If my Buddhist friends will forgive me the crude colloquial language, I’ll call this Buddhist Capitalism. What I mean is that it focuses on collaboration, not competition; on getting along harmoniously rather than vanquishing; on letting go attachment to outcome rather than obsessing over goal achievement.

It’s far from crazy. The lesson of the Prisoner’s Dilemma work in game theory is that a collaborative strategy always, always beats a competitive strategy if played long term. Research shows that collaboration produces more innovation than solitary introversion. Collaboration and trust build on each other, increasing knowledge of both parties to the point where they can jointly add value, cut costs, and reduce risks.

It may sound like a Beatles song—the more you give, the more you get—but it’s no less true for being musically suggestive.

Buddhist Selling

What does all this have to do with sales? Selling is just the micro-version of the same thing. We as human beings have a primal desire for survival, which can easily revert to competition. But we have an equally strong desire for connection, collaboration, and cohesion.

Except for pure commodities (and not even water or electricity is a pure commodity), buyers prefer to buy from sellers they trust. Trusted sellers have their customers’ interests at heart, ahead of their own. They play the long game because they know that the best way to long-term success is through their customers’ success, and, therefore, no particular sale is worth sacrificing the long-term relationship.

Trusted sellers are also not attached to a particular outcome. They don’t keep meticulous score at a detailed level, and they are willing to let their agenda be influenced by client needs. Finally, they keep no secrets from their customers because they see their interests and their customers’ interests as one and the same, and the value of shared information to both parties exceeds the value of secret information privy to just one party.

Of course, these attitudes are hard to come by in a world that prizes competition. Sellers everywhere are taught to compete not only with their competitors, but also with their own customers (that’s not a joke – go read Mike Porter’s Five Forces model of competitive strategy). Not getting a sale is considered bad form, if not unacceptable. Metrics in sales are short-term, incentives are largely extrinsic, and motivation basically consists of war chants.

But a seller who can “think Buddhist” will outperform a competitive seller over time because customers prefer to deal with sellers they trust. And they do not trust people who are in it for themselves.

The ultimate irony: by being willing to forego a sale and do the right thing, the “Buddhist seller” will end up selling more than the competitive seller.

 

This post was originally published in RainToday.com 

Perfect Pitch in Sales: 9 Rules

The dog and pony show, the beauty contest, the shoot-out. You may just call it “the pitch.” The term is especially common in some industries—advertising, executive recruiting, some law firms—but we all know it.

Typically we think of it as an event—a rather formal presentation by several professionals made to several members of the client organization that typically lasts 30 to 90 minutes. Secondary characteristics of a pitch often include PowerPoint and a timeslot among a few other competitors who are pitching on the same day.

Let’s be clear: there is no single perfect pitch, since the winning pitch is situational to you and your client. Still, there are some guidelines that hold true. Here are nine rules for perfecting your pitch.

1. When the Best Pitch Isn’t a Pitch

Sometimes the best pitch is one that never happens because both parties choose an alternative.

Think of a pitch as a blind date where each party is cautious. The quietly cautious buyer wants control and seeks it in an impersonal, formal event. The seller also wants control but expresses it by being assertive. One fears being “sold;” the other fears losing. When both parties are fearful, decisions get made on process, features, and price.

Both parties are often better off starting from a strong relationship. Though both know this, they don’t admit it. Sellers may try to go around pitch events. The trick—not really a trick at all—is to explore the possibility of meetings before the pitch during which personal relationships can be established. It’s critical that this be done from a position of respect and honest concern for what’s right for the client.

Sometimes the client then abandons the pitch idea altogether because they find one competitor that seems to understand them uniquely. That’s generally a good outcome for both parties. Do NOT try to force this outcome—you’ll jinx if it you do.

2. The Pre-Pitch Warm-Up

Your objective shouldn’t be to avoid the pitch, but to produce a good outcome for both parties. Any pitch will be improved by prior conversations with as many client people as possible.

If you are meeting the client representatives for the first time at the pitch, your odds are even less than one divided by the number of competitors. It’s less because with total strangers meeting each other, the “none of the above” option frequently appears on the table.

Of course, not every client wants to meet you in advance. Often the intent of the pitch is to prevent such meetings in the first place in pursuit of an “independent, fair” competition. Pushing too hard for meetings can appear distasteful.

How do you know how far to push the suggestion for prior meetings? Simple—ask the client. Point out the advantages of offering all competitors a chance to talk with them in advance, then gracefully yield if the resistance is too strong. You get a few points for offering if you do it respectfully—just don’t push your luck.

If you can talk to people in advance of a pitch, you’ll improve the quality of the pitch for both you and client. Of course, you learn valuable information, and you get to call people by name. But it goes much further than that because the next key to a great pitch is interaction.

3. Interact in the Pitch

Nearly always the client says, “Tell us about yourself.” And nearly all sellers assume that’s what the client wants—after all, they said so!

But the truth is, listening to someone—anyone—talk about themselves for 30 minutes is incredibly boring. Even more important, listening to others does not persuade human beings—they become persuaded by listening to others who have previously listened to them.

Letting clients be heard is critical to successful pitches. If you can’t do it before the pitch, then dare to be great and engineer listening into the pitch. Here are several approaches:

  • Tell the client ahead of time you’d like to ask for reactions
  • Build in “and what about you?” questions into your pitch
  • Offer data about similar situations and ask for comment
  • Ask the client if they’d consider a “first-meeting” approach. Instead of a standard pitch, offer to treat the pitch like a first meeting, as if you’d already been hired, and allow five minutes at the end to talk about how it felt. (This is not a crazy idea; I know of two success stories using it.)
  • If you’ve had any prior-to-pitch conversations, refer to them.

Remember: what you say in the pitch matters less than whether you have listened to them first.

4. Have a Point of View

Your qualifications, credentials, and references are worth absolutely nothing if you can’t show relevance to the client. To walk in without a point of view on the client and the issues facing them is arrogant, disrespectful, and selfish. Those are strong words; let me back them up.

If you want this job, you’ve (hopefully) thought about what you’d do if you got it. If so, why wouldn’t you share it? The probable answer is because you’re afraid you might have gotten it wrong.

But that fear is all about you. Now is the time when not to take a risk is risky. The client wants to see if you’ll do some homework on spec and if you’re willing to engage in real-time thinking about it. They want some sample selling. Showing up with nothing but a track record is like going on a blind date with just a list of past dates. It’s no better as a pitch strategy than as a dating strategy.

5. Collaborate on Talking Price

Conventional wisdom says don’t quote price until the client has heard benefits so that they can properly calculate value. This makes theoretical sense, but it ignores human psychology; price is the elephant in the room during the pitch.

While everyone listens (or pretends to listen) to your pitch, they are all mildly pre-occupied with what your price is going to be. That pre-occupation is death to their ability to listen to you, so air it.

When you walk in, place a five-page pile of paper on the table, saying, “This is the price part of our proposal—the bottom line and four pages of backup explaining it. We don’t want to focus on it, nor do we want to keep it from you. At any point in the conversation today, you can ask us to turn the page over, and we’ll talk about it. Wheneveryou want.”

The point is not when you talk price; it’s about who makes that decision.

6. PowerPoint Pointers

There seems to be an emerging consensus among presentation professionals that looks like this:

  • Most presentations are written as leave-behinds: build your pitch on the presentation, not the leave-behind
  • Less is more: limit yourself to several bullets
  • Don’t read aloud what’s written: get a picture and talk from that
  • Visuals are great, great, great: use photos, not clipart
  • Except for the title page, lose the logos and backgrounds

7. Handling Qualifications

Most big sales these days follow a two-step process: screening and selection. Most screening is done on credentials. That means if you’re in the pitch, your credentials got you there. The pitch is the sale you already got; stop selling it.

If the client specifically requested a section on credentials, don’t embarrass them by fighting it. But you can touch briefly on credentials, with a large leave-behind set of documents. Go through them only if the client insists.

8. Dissing the Competition

This is an easy one. Don’t. Don’t do it, don’t go there, don’t even think about it. If asked, demur, with, “We respect our competitors. You should talk with them. But they can speak well enough for themselves without our help.” Taking the high road never hurts, and it usually helps.

9. When to Ditch the Pitch

Imagine a pitch where an obstreperous client takes you off script away from the PowerPoint or raises a point well in advance of when you had intended to address it.

Disaster? Not at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is client engagement—exactly what you want—cleverly disguised as an objection. Greet it with open arms. Ask the client for permission to go off script and deal directly with the issue raised for as long as the client wants.

Remember: despite what the client said, it’s not your PowerPoint they want to see—they want to feel how it will be for you to interact with them. If you respect their wishes, move your agenda to fit theirs, and respond directly with relevant content, you will address precisely that desire. And you will more likely win the pitch than someone who stayed on (Power)Point.