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Under-Promise and Over-Deliver for Clients? BAD Idea (Episode 30) Trust Matters,The Podcast

For our 30th episode, a tech expert asks if it is a good idea to OVER-DELIVER for a client and exceed their expectations.

This week’s episode touches on our own reputation, business development, and managing client relationships.

To learn more about the topic of managing expectations, read this blog post:

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.
Email us at: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other week.

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Trust-based Networking and the Paradox of “Collateral Benefit”

A (seemingly) simple question: What is the goal of business networking?

  • The goal of most business networking is to make new connections in order to get more business. 
  • The goal of trust-based networking is to help others develop their businesses.  The “collateral benefit” of trust-based networking is that others then help you.

When it comes to networking, injecting trust into the picture creates a sort of paradox. It’s exactly the same paradox that arises when we think about injecting trust into selling, or advice-giving, or getting people to review your books. 

That paradox was expressed well by Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, and a host of others: basically, the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. 

It’s easy to forget how radical that proposition is; and how infrequently people actually do it. 

(This topic will be explored in much greater depth in our next free Trust Matters Webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of  It on January 29th at 11AM EST)

(Meanwhile, you might want to check out our eBook The Do’s and Don’ts of Trust-based Networking)

 Current Networking Practice

Ask yourself: when you go to a meet-up, start looking through LinkedIn, or scan a rough lead list –  how do you proceed? Here’s what usually happens:

  • You search and scan in advance for those you’ve profiled as most likely to be prospects – focusing and prioritizing to narrow down a wide list of leads
  • You focus on honing your elevator pitch
  • During interaction, you focus on finding pain points (waiting to offer solutions at a later time).

If that roughly resembles what you do, then please take note: all three of those benign-sounding activities share one trait – they’re all about you. They are not activities that put Dale Carnegie’s insight into practice. 

Trust-based Networking

What if you were to try something entirely different? For example:

  • You search and scan for pairs of people both of whom you know, but who don’t know each other – and who could each benefit from the introduction
  • You focus not on your elevator pitch, but on a really great question you’d like to know the answer to (better yet, ask the question in the form of a Risky Gift)
  • You focus not on pain points, but on being genuinely curious and seeking perspectives. 

Those are very different activities: they’re not self-focused, they’re other-focused. And, they are more likely to result in relationships and in interesting conversations. It is those relationships and conversations that result in true connections of interest – and before very long, in leads and business development conversations.

The “collateral benefit” of behaving this way is – leads and sales. In fact, more leads and more sales than if you go in with the usual self-centered approach of trying to get leads and sales directly. 

But the paradox must be respected: if you engage in these other-focused activities as mere fig-leaf cover for your true goal of getting more sales – it won’t work. We all see through such base motives. You actually have to commit to the alternative goal – that of helping others.  

A good test of whether you’re really committed is your choice of metrics: do you measure the result of networking by how many entries you generate for your CRM system? Or instead – by tracking how you’ve been able to benefit your new acquaintances. (Hint: what would Dale say?)

 

Learn much more about this strategy at our next Trust Matters webinar: Network Like a Trusted Advisor: Take the Work (and Stress) Out of It, January 29th (11AM EST) delivered by my partner and co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, Andrea Howe, together with Stewart Hirsch, our head of business development and leadership coaching (and CEO of his firm Strategic Relationships). Sign up for the (free) webinar here.

Question Obsession: The Consultant’s Nemesis

Do you go into sales meetings – even meetings with your existing clients – with a slew of prepared questions? Do you constantly find yourself asking question after question in a meeting?

You may be thinking, “Duh, of course. Aren’t we supposed to? How else are you going to demonstrate value added, explore hypotheses, prove your expertise?”

But let’s explore this apparent no-brainer. The fact is, Question Obsession can actually be detrimental. Lets explore why and how.

Consultants and salespeople (especially consultative sellers and sellers of consulting) have learned one mantra, and we love repeating it. It is the mantra that says, “Listen first; talk later.” In other words, it’s all about the question. Ask a great question, the logic goes, and all else will fall into place.

That is the great lesson of Sales and Consulting 101. And I have no beef with it.  The problem is – if you never graduate from 101, you will end up in quicksand because an obsession with questions alone ultimately leads nowhere.

The Obsession with Questions

There’s good reason for the Sales 101 and Consulting 101 lesson of focusing on questions. Go no further than Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling, in the case of sales, or Peter Block’s classic Flawless Consulting for consultants. Each one shows with wisdom and data that artfully posed questions generate dialogue and interaction, and that is always superior to pre-emptively beating up the client with the answer.

Of course, we often forget our 101 lesson and go into meetings with answers blazing. But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about the downside of obsessing with questions. It’s what happens when we turn the 101 lesson into a mantra, and we begin to focus on questions alone.

Is questioning an obsession? Try doing a web search on “Top Ten Sales Questions;” you’ll get millions of results.

Now ask yourself whether you recognize these themes:

  • Should I ask open-ended or closed-ended questions?
  • Should I ask about implications or needs?
  • Should I ask about the client’s opinions or offer “challenger” questions?

As one sales website puts it, “Get the answers to these questions, and take action based on those answers, and you’ll get the sale. It’s that simple.”

No, it isn’t.

The sales version of question obsession manifests in lists. The consultant version of question obsession manifests in the Great Keystone Arch Question—what is the central supporting element?

You can recognize this form of obsession because it leads consultants speaking among themselves to say things like, “If we can set the data up right, we can frame the discussion such that when we finally pop the Keystone Arch Question, the whole logjam will be released. They’ll feel the pain, envision the solution, and fall all over themselves in a rush to buy our solution.”

No, they won’t.

That’s because good questions are necessary—but not sufficient. You have to have them, but they won’t get you to the end zone.

If all you do is focus on questions, you’ll end up obsessed with yourself, with your solutions and products, and with how clever you are. That’s called high self-orientation, and it will kill trust and sales both. Question obsession is quicksand for salespeople and consultants alike.

Beyond Question Obsession

The narrow purpose of a question is sometimes to get an answer. But there are broader purposes to most questions, and certainly a broader purpose to the art of questioning itself. One is to create a greater sense of insight for the client. Two others are to improve the client relationship and to give the client a sense of empowerment.

These goals are best accomplished not so much by focusing on the “what” of the question but on the “how.” Some examples:

  • Questions to create insight: Consultants often come up with “insights” that only an MBA could understand or that leave the client feeling helpless. These are not useful insights. We don’t want to leave our clients saying, “Gosh, that’s really smart. How will I remember that?” Rather, we want them to say, “Oh, my gosh, of course! it’s so clear when you put it that way, isn’t it?” Our objective is to create insight, not to demonstrate that we have it.
  • Improve the relationship: The better the relationship—buyer/seller or consultant/client—the better everything else gets. Innovation, profitability, time to market, and insights all improve with relationships. Great questions allow the parties to get closer together, more comfortable sharing the uncomfortable, and more willing to take risks by collaborating. Questions such as, “Let me ask you, if I may, do you personally find that scary?” have nothing to do with “content” insight, but they are critical to advancing the relationship.
  • Create client empowerment: The point of all this questioning is not, ultimately, to understand things. It is to change them. And change will not happen if the client feels the insights are threatening, depressing, or out of his control. The key to action is to help the client see ways in which they can change, take control, own, and improve their situation.

It’s not what you ask; it’s how you ask it. All three of these broader objectives have little to do with the content of, or the answer to, a business question. Instead, all of them focus on the outcome of the question-answer interaction. From this perspective, it is not what you ask that is important, but how you ask it. We need to get past the Q&A outcome, which is just about knowledge, and focus on the outcome of the interaction, which is how we help our clients drive change.

Avoid the quicksand: get past questions for questions’ sake, and focus on real business outcomes.

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.

4 Behaviors that Help Delivery People Be Better Business Developers

It’s an age-old challenge in the consulting industry: how to get your delivery people to develop more business. After all, who’s in a better position to bring in more work than the people who labor side-by-side with the client? But first there are barriers to break through. Read on for four specific strategies that will help your delivery people execute on both project plans and business development plans.

Old Problem: Those Closest to The Client Don’t Want to Sell 

The other day I was chatting with Jonathan, the Chief Growth Officer for a boutique consulting firm. He spoke about the long-standing challenge of getting delivery people to think and act like business developers.

We talked about how:

  • Many are 100% focused on delivery. They’ve got their eye on their target: project results. So they naturally pay the most attention to delivering on project promises, sometimes missing what’s in the periphery.
  • Some don’t see business development as their job. This mindset is common and understandable: Generating new work is for salespeople or business developers; delivery is for project teams. And there’s certainly a case to be made for spending time where you excel and have expertise.
  • Some aren’t sure how to sell. They may have a “deer in the headlights” reaction at the thought of selling, even though they know they should be looking for new opportunities, and even though they genuinely want to get better at it.
  • No one wants to be seen as smarmy. They’ve developed trust based on project execution and may see it as a breach of that trust to switch to “sales mode.”

Looking through the lens of delivery, all of these perspectives make sense. And all of them hinder business growth—for consultants and clients alike.

New Mindset: It’s a Disservice Not To Sell 

One way to get delivery people to develop more business is to change their mindset—to help them think their way into behaviors that will naturally open doors. I think that’s the right place to start. Make it your job to remind them—again and again—that everyone in the organization has a higher obligation than delivery: client service. “Selling” then, is part of the professional obligation to serve the client. Not paying attention to the clients’ business needs as a whole is a disservice. Don’t miss an opportunity to beat that drum.

I also believe that’s the beginning and not the end. Overcoming the concern about being seen as smarmy—which I suggest is the biggest barrier—will take more than a steady drum beat.

New Approach: Behaviors That Take the “Sell” Out of “Selling” 

Let’s be honest: selling is perceived as a less-than-meritorious endeavor more often than not. There are widely held stereotypes on the part of buyers and sellers alike that influence our thoughts, feelings and actions when we’re on either end of anything that feels like a sale.

Delivery people may falter because they’re just not sure how to approach opportunities in an un-smarmy way—even if they’re clear it’s the right and good thing to do. You owe it to them to provide specific tools and approaches to help take the “sell” out of selling. Try these four:

1. Ask permission. Telling a client about new opportunities to improve their business is a hundred times easier when you have set the expectation early on that you’re going to do it. At project kickoff, this could sound like this:

“Aria, we’re going to be working together closely for four months. We are totally committed to achieving the results we’ve defined in our project plan. Along the way, we might see opportunities to improve your business that fall outside the scope of our work. Would it be OK with you if we bring those to your attention when we see them?”

Then when the time comes, it’s natural to start with, “Aria, remember when we said…”

Anyone on the team can set this expectation and anyone on the team can follow through.

2. Sell by doing. One of the reasons sales gets a bad rap is that it’s seen—fairly or unfairly—as a process of mostly talk and little action. Selling by doing is a distinct approach that gives your client the actual experience of working with you. This is particularly valuable for professional services and is an easy transition when delivery people are already working shoulder-to-shoulder with a client. It gives the client a taste of what it might be like to go in a new or different direction, without obligation or pressure to move forward.

3. Sell the right solution, not your solution. The purpose of traditional selling is to help others buy from you; the purpose of trust-based selling is to help others make the best decision for them right now. Suggest that your delivery folk unreservedly explore all options with the client—not just your company’s solution. This frees them of the concerns they feel about having a company agenda. A trusted advisor, after all, is a safe haven for tough issues, not just ones for which you have a product or service or that fall within the scope of your work. Paradoxically, the chances are excellent that you’ll win more client loyalty—and more business in the long-run—when you approach opportunities with this mindset and the behaviors to back it.

4. Use caveats. Sometimes we feel things even when we know we “shouldn’t”—like feeling awkward or smarmy when it’s time to talk about being of greater service. Suggestion: say something about that. “Geez, at the risk of coming across as salesy…” That’s what we call a caveat, and it’s a conversational jewel. It dispels the yuck that you’re feeling and communicates that you care about how your message is received. It simultaneously smoothes over what could be an awkward shift for the client—although truthfully is more likely awkward for the one delivering the message.

Taking the “sell” out of selling—employing four specific strategies to reduce the perception of sales as smarmy—leads to greater value and better results.

Isn’t that the ultimate delivery?

Leading with Trust: Story Time

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new Story Time series invites you to pause for a time-out from your hectic day to gather ‘round for an insightful tale. Today’s anecdote sheds light on an unexpected approach to developing new business with trust.

The Magic of Stories

Stories tell the lessons of leading with trust in a vivid and memorable way. They help us make sense of what it means to trust and be trusted. Stories appeal to the heart as well as the head, they bridge the gap between differing audience types, and they provide meaning and order to our existence.

They also inspire what every leader wants—action—by providing intellectual insight into specific trust behaviors to adopt, along with the emotional motivation to do so.

A New Anthology

Our upcoming book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), is infused with a multitude of stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness. Over the next several months we’ll share a selection of stories from the new book with you.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on developing new business with existing clients. It vividly demonstrates the personal nature of trust and the value of adopting a long-term view.


From the Front Lines: In It for the Long Haul

A savvy private wealth manager in Canada told me the long-term view he takes with his clients.

“I once offered to do some free investment planning for a client’s 12- and 14-year-old children. My co-worker was confused why I was wasting my time with children.

“’Are you kidding?’ I said.  I regularly meet with clients’ children and explain the concept of saving, investing and risk.  Even at the ages mentioned I have had success in making the experience relevant for the children and ultimately appreciated by the parents.

“I believe in long-term focus and relationships. While working with clients’ children has resulted in referrals (a happy outcome to be sure) that is never our primary intent. Our purpose is to build long-term relationships by continuously delivering a remarkable experience for our clients and their families.”

—As told to Charles H. Green

Excerpted from The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust by Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe. Order your copy today!

The Shortest Route to Sales is Not the Direct Route

I’m told that the old tale of the frog in boiling water is false.  Supposedly, a frog placed in a pot of cold water will stay put, even when the water is gradually heated—all the way up to the point that the frog itself boils along with the water.

Even if it isn’t true, it ought to be.  Because it’s a wonderful metaphor for the biggest single thing wrong with sales.
 

The Single Biggest Mistake Made in Selling

Business in general, but particularly sales, has fallen into the trip of “more is more.”  More detail is better.  Greater frequency is better.  More measurement is better.  But gradually, like the mythical frog, the system can produce the opposite of what was intended.

The implicit assumption—increasingly explicit in large systems, projects and sales management tools like Salesforce.com—is that if you can break things down into constituent parts, then you can manage the whole just by micro-managing all the parts. 

This is not a dumb idea.  It’s the concept of division of labor; it’s what makes massive projects possible.  There’s a lot to like about it.

But there’s one huge thing wrong with it—the belief that the goal of the process is the sale itself.

Suppose you’re a customer.  Suppose the person selling to you is entirely driven by a system, process, and mindset that their goal is to get you to buy.  Now, if that is their over-riding goal, then by definition, your goals must take second place if there is ever a conflict. 

And oh, yes, there will be conflicts.  With sellers managing zillions of bytes, items, events, meetings, decisions, calls, qualifications, they frequently have to decide–shall we do what the customer wants?  Or what we want?  It’s a no-brainer for the system; make the decision that objectively maximizes the chance of us getting the sale.

By this view—the dominant view of selling—you the customer are an object, a poker chip in a competitive game.  No matter how good sellers are at interpersonal skills or consultative selling, the inescapable point of this approach is that the customer is a means to the seller’s ends. 

You may be thinking, ‘well, duh, that’s the nature of selling!”  Well, no, it isn’t.  It isn’t even the most effective approach to selling. Breaking down the process into innumerable smaller pieces doesn’t fool the customer–but, froglike, it allows the seller to believe he is effectively selling.
 

The Goal of Great Sellers is Not to Get the Sale

The whole problem arises from the beginning assumption that the goal of sales is to sell.   The really successful salespeople—whether in professional services or jet engines or new cars—realize the paradox at the heart of sales:

The true goal of sales is to help the customer.  The sale is a byproduct of helping the customer—not the goal itself.

The distinction is not trivial; it makes all the difference in the world.  If I as a customer learn that you are willing to put my needs ahead of your own, then—paradoxically—I trust you. 

And if I trust you, I will buy from you. 

That simple logic–you put my needs before yours, I trust you, I buy from you–turns out to yield more powerful sales results than the most elaborate of methodologies all aimed at achieving my needs first. 

The best sales systems/processes in the world are based on breaking down the process of getting a sale.  But in so doing, they break down the one critical element—trust—that drives the most, and the biggest, and the most profitable sales. 

It’s truly a paradox.  The best sales come from consciously not trying to get the sale, but in being willing to subordinate your interests to the customer’s. 

You get the most by trying not to get the most.  The best sales come from not trying to sell. 

Buddhism?   A Beatle song?  Maybe, but also a powerful business model.  And every great salesman knows the truth of it.

The problem is, all those pretty good salespeople are slowly boiling–and not noticing.
 

62 Sales Tips for a Recession – Based on Trust

 We’ve been exploring a 5-part series on How Trust Principles Can Recession-Proof your Business Development:

  1. The Trust Perspective
  2. The First Trust Principle: Client Focus
  3. The Second Trust Principle: Collaboration
  4. The Third Trust Principle: The Long Term View
  5. The Fourth Trust Principle: Transparency

Today we have have aggregated all 62 Specific Sales Tips in one post for your convenience. You can also download 62 Specific Sales Tips as a pdf for easy reading and forwarding to friend.

Organized by the Four Trust Principles (Client focus, Collaboration, Long Term, and Transparency), here we go—from 1 to 62.

 

How to Succeed in a Recession with Client Focus

 

1. You’re a staff strategist or a line marketer. You have one mandate: Focus. Downplay new lead generation—recessions are time to dance with the one who brung you. Good strategists know saying yes to one means saying "no" to others. Resist the temptation to go RFP-hunting. Let your #1 customers know who loves them, and show it.

2. You’re a financial planner. You fear client phone calls in a recession—they mean withdrawals. Do the opposite—call your clients. Give them life advice, like "next year is not the time to retire after all." In times of fear, those who reach out to hear the pain are those who gain later.

3. You’re an accounting firm. It’s tax season. Everyone thinks you’re busy. Surprise them with something free:  a 2-3 hour clinic for your clients’ kids who are now college graduates on how to do their own taxes.

4. You’re a CPA firm. Offer to "spotlight" your client’s human interest / charity / goodwill story on your firm’s blog or newsletter.

5. You’re a restaurant owner. You know who your good customers are. Surprise them next visit and pick up the tab. Quietly. After the meal.

6. You sell insurance but don’t track your clients’ payment status because you already got the commission. Start tracking them now. In a recession no one wants unintentionally lapsed LTD or long term care policies.

7. You’re majority owner of a private company. Take off your shareholder hat and put on your investment hat. This is when you grow share by growing trust. Draw down on the shareholder account to invest in the employee, customer and supplier relationship accounts.

8. You provide tech support to home businesses. That green stuff about lowering electrical costs is a lot more interesting to customers than it was 6 months ago: bone up on it.

9. You’re a doctor, and recessions mean more scrambling for less insurance money. When you have good test results for a nervous patient, don’t wait for the next visit. Call and celebrate with the patient for a few minutes.

10. You’re a one-person consulting shop. Recessions drive changes in customer needs. Can your firm change on a dime to meet new client needs? Of course you can, you’re a one-person firm. Figure out what those new needs are, then go talk to the client.

11. You’re in corporate sales and your funnel has slowed to a crawl. Do your research, then offer your prospect three ideas that can reduce costs in the next quarter without any extra work.

12. You’re anyone. In a recession, customers are more worried and self-focused than usual. Go take that course on listening and empathy you’ve been putting off.  It’s twice as important now, and you’ve no longer got the excuse of being too busy.

13. You’re a practice area head in a professional services firm; project or client relationship managers report to you. When was the last time you visited the top 3-4 clients? Go visit, with your client manager. Your agenda? "Just wanted to hear what’s new with you. Besides our own services, what can we do for you?" And don’t even think about charging the time.

14. Your customers are in retail (or chemicals, or telecom—whatever). Ask yourself what’s changed, new, and critical to them because of the recession. Now ask what you can do to help. ("Increase sales" and "cut price" don’t count). Then redesign your offerings.

(Example: For us, professional services firms are big clients. They are cutting back discretionary travel and training. The "obvious" answer is webinars. But as one client says, "There’s only so much webinar you can take stuck in your cubicle from 9 to 5. We’re being webinar-ed to death." Our solution? The Onsite Offsite(TM). The best of offsites, minus the costs, but without the compromises of conventional one-way datapipe solutions).

15. You’re a consulting firm. Don’t succumb to the "hey, we’ve all got to pitch in here, can’t you lower your rate for us" argument. Pitch in, yes. Make strategic investments, yes. Re-tool your offerings, yes. But don’t lower your rates. It just says you had "padding" before. And an insolvent consultant is no help to clients.

16. You’re a law firm.  Offer a series of brown-bag talks given by partners on recession-relevant topics. Invite your existing clients.

17. You’re a development director for a charitable organization. Your donors are your customers. Instead of asking them for money, turn the tables: ask how a particular donor is affected by the recession. How can you add value to his or her life? With whom can you put them in touch?

18. You’re a systems firm. Your tech leaders need speaking training. Invite three clients to join so they can learn too.

19. After a long day at the office a longtime client contact calls to tell you he’s been laid off. You have to leave, but offer to speak later that night, to help out in any way you can.

20. Some of your customers sell to other customers of yours. Make introductions, then make more.

21. You’re an accounting firm. Hold topical lunchtime 60-minute phone calls for five of your medium-sized clients’ treasurers on recession-relevant topics. You run the logistics and line up the topics. And don’t wait until after tax season, they’re hurting now.

22. Just to practice Principle 1 Client Focus, go drop dimes in someone’s parking meter, or pay the toll for the guy behind you. It’s cheap behavioral training for client focus. And it makes two people feel good.

How to Succeed in a Recession with Collaboration

23. If you’re a consultant of any type, write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

24. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people—including those you used to think of as competitors.

25. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of "where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?"

26. Answer the question the customer asked you, not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor—collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

27. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss "what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?" Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

28. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

29. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

30. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying "working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these." Actions speak louder than words.

31. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, Legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.

32. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

33. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

34. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

35. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

36. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople. Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

How to Succeed in a Recession with a Long Term View

37. Buy two tickets now for a major cultural or athletic event scheduled for mid to late 2010. Send one to a highly favored customer or client, with a note saying "We will get through all this, together, and I look forward to celebrating with you once we do. Keep this ticket in a safe place, because mine is the seat next to yours."

38. Pick your top 3 clients, and strategize internally on how you can strengthen your relationships for the long run. Then go discuss those plans with those three clients, telling them exactly what you’ve done, and why.

39. Help everyone you know who has been laid off–provide advice, contacts, and/or just listen. These are people who are potentially great customers down the road, but don’t do it for that reason, do it because you care.

40. If you’re a consulting organization, now is a great time to establish your alumni network. And if you already have one, kick up the level of involvement. Host cocktail parties in various locations. Establish or update the directory. Get your alumni an intranet page, or a devoted Facebook group or other aggregation. Facilitate their networking.

41. If you’re a lawyer or consultant and not using social media to connect with your clients, now is the time for this type of investment–build your network and help your clients build theirs.

42. If you are one of the many unfortunate individuals who has lost a job, don’t burn bridges in anger, hurt or frustration. You’re now selling you. Keep the long term in mind. Join the alumni network—or offer to help create one. Use social media. Begin networking ASAP. Leaders don’t like causing hardship—they prefer to help. How you act in the days after a layoff advertises your trustworthiness.

43. If a key customer is in the middle of an important job with you and they can’t afford for you to finish it, talk it over with them and offer to defer payment until such time as the customer can pay. That could be a long time. But if the relationship is good, this generous offer creates trust and greatly reduces the risk of nonpayment. And the cost of financing these days is very low. It doesn’t cost much to be generous, it lowers credit risk by creating trust and reciprocity, and showing a little faith and courage does wonders for the relationship.

44. Consider what you can offer your clients’ children. Seriously. A financial planner in Canada offered free investment planning education to a client’s 12 and 14 year old children. His co-workers chided him because there were no fees associated with it. His response was, "Are you kidding? Their father loves me for it; that’s good for referrals. And someday his kids will inherit a lot of his wealth. I’m in this business for the long haul—my lifetime and the lifetimes of my clients."

45. If you offer a client a special "one off" deal, be clear about why you’re doing it. For any deal you craft now, imagine doing the same deal 100 times under similar circumstances. Would you? Would your client? If you didn’t answer "yes" to both, go back to the drawing board. Don’t worry about what you’re going to "get" in the near-term, or even from whom. It all works out in the end when we’re willing to do what’s right. And the end is what matters when we’re living this principle.

46. If you’re a leader, be prepared to lead in a most personal way. The month after 9/11, Koh Boon Hwee, then-chairman of Singapore Air, described the US airline industry’s reaction to the drop in travel: "They laid off huge numbers of employees." By contrast, at Singapore Air, Koh took a massive pay cut, his direct reports took sizable hits, and everyone took a significant but smaller pay cut. He laid off no one. It’s no wonder that travelers, employees and shareholders alike are loyal to such companies. They live the trust principle of long-term focus, and are richly rewarded for it.

How to Succeed in a Recession with Transparency

47. Once you develop your plans for addressing the recession, share your information and concerns with key customers, including how your plans could affect the relationship. This can create an intense, positive discussion.

48. If you have layoffs that affect customers, let them know immediately, together with succession plans for customer contacts. And don’t try to shut off customers from dialogue with their former contacts in your firm; give closure room to work. If you’re afraid of what the employee will say, then you have bigger problems to work on—trying to hide it will only make it worse.

49. If you come up with an approach to the economy that could help other companies—yes, even competitors—share it publicly. Be the company that cares enough about people to share the innovative ideas that could help pull us all out, or reduce the pain that individuals will bear.

50. Share your cost structure with your customers. This will eliminate any suspicions they have about your pricing. They will also appreciate your candor and come to trust you more.

51. Don’t BS your customers about where your own company stands—financially and otherwise—because you’re afraid of looking bad or making your clients/partners worry. Tell it like it is. They can handle the truth. Leave spin control to the ordinary companies out there. When fear rules the land, truth-telling serves as an anchor to those who don’t know what to think.

52. Share personal information about your staff with potential clients. Pictures and bios make it far easier for customers to know who they’ll be working with, or who they’ll be speaking with on the phone. Human to human. It makes it all personal. If you’re holding back because search firms might poach good people, remember—in a recession there’s not a lot of hiring going on. Right now, making customers feel safer is more important than holding rare hiring raids at bay.

53. In sales conversations, compare your product or service to others. Include all relevant information—the good, the bad, and the ugly—to help your customers make informed choices. Do not even think of spinning it—you cannot spin and be transparent at the same time. Realize that some buyers will go with your competitors as a result of what you’ve shared. Deal with it. You’ll end up with more and better in the end.

54. During your next client visit, ask yourself:  is there an elephant in the room? A hidden objection, a pricing concern, a weakness, a broken promise? Take the risk, do the counter-intuitive thing and say something like, "Hey, I might be way off-base about this, but if I were in your shoes, I might be wondering … Is that an issue/concern for you?" You have to unlearn some old bad habits to be transparent. But there are few faster ways to build trust.

55. Now is the time to ask for feedback from your clients. Honest feedback. Really honest feedback. Now is also the time to offer feedback for your clients. Honest feedback. Really honest feedback.

56. Tell the truth about your own emotional reality. If you’re stressed/worried/anxious … saying so will build intimacy. We’re not advocating a public panic attack; we all have to manage our emotions well during tough times. But to an extent we’re all in a similar boat right now and being real about it has its own rewards. Not the least of which is you are far more likely to get the straight scoop from your client about his/her reality, which puts you in a much better position to be of service.

57. Consider sharing information about your backlog, prospective orders, or plans as they affect vendors and suppliers. In a recession, having advance, non-binding discussions about the future is invaluable to those who sell to you. Help them and they will help you. Clam up and refuse to discuss, and you just frustrate them. We normally avoid this kind of disclosure out of fear for losing some competitive edge. That fear is vastly over-stated, and more than compensated for by the supplier loyalty you engender by being willing to open with those who serve you.

58. Your company wants to purchase a complex piece of equipment, but it’s too expensive. Your vendor wants to sell it to you, but doesn’t know how to make it less costly based on your specs. If you are both transparent—why you need it, what it’s worth to you, what it costs them, and how they make it—then together you can find a way to make it cheaper. That’s collaboration—but what enables collaboration is transparency.

59. Share information about your product development plans. Amazon just got slammed on their own blogs for giving their customers no advance warning and no price break for the new Kindle. Amazon will do just fine, thank you, but who needs the bad publicity? Yes, that’s the industry norm in electronics—but that hardly makes it right to tick off your existing customers in a recessionary time.

60. When your client asks you a question such as, "Do you have experience in…?"answer honestly and completely. If you aren’t right for a project, it’s ok. Put your scarcity mentality, which drives your fear of losing the sale, on the back burner. It’s better to address that up front, then for your client to find out later. You should always do this, but in recession-based times of fear and suspicion, the power of transparency in service to the customer is magnified.

61. It’s a naked world—you really can’t hide anything anymore thanks to emails, meetings at Starbucks, cell phone records. You may be practicing transparency unintentionally. But "oops" moments make you look deceitful, especially in sales. So, don’t do that. Don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t mind everyone reading in the newspaper. Honesty and lack of spin in sales in suspicious downtimes is so refreshingly counter-intuitive that your sales will increase.

62. Share your product development plans with your customers before the products are ready for prime time. The software industry long ago figured out that the benefits of letting customers develop their beta releases vastly outweighed the competitive advantage accruing to a customer. People are more likely to buy what they’ve had a hand in developing—if you give them the chance. If you’re in professional services, sharing the early version of a new service offering with potential clients will give you invaluable insight, help educate your buyers, and increases trust. More importantly, your willingness to share your imperfections "early and ugly" says a lot about who you are.


Don’t forget, you can also download 62 Specific Sales Tips as a pdf for easy reading and forwarding to friend.  And, in a spirit of collaboration, we sincerely hope you will feel moved to jump in and share your own comments and ideas.

Day 4 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 3, Long-Term and Relationship Focus

This is day 4 of 5 in our week-long series about selling in a Recession using the Four Trust Principles. Today’s principle is Principle 3—Focus on the medium-to-long term, not the short term. This implies a focus on relationships, not transactions.

Even more than the other Trust Principles, this one is relevant to selling in recessions.

On Day 1 we suggested that the right trust-based attitude in a recession is to remember that down cycles are only half the story—and the half in which trust is most indelibly created. All strong relationships live by the motto ”for richer and poorer, for better and worse…”—and the test of the relationship is rocky times. The time to harvest trust is in good times; the time to build it is now.

You find out who your friends are when times are tough. You find out who really cares about you when they have to choose between self-serving and other-serving opportunities. And others find out how you make those choices. By choosing to defer self-aggrandizing activities in support of your customers—precisely when it’s hardest to do and takes the most courage—you increase your service to your customers the most, and earn their trust.

The suggestions that follow are built from that perspective. Please–add your own ideas to the list so that everyone can benefit. Here are 10 ideas to prime the pump:

1. Buy two tickets now for a major cultural or athletic event scheduled for mid to late 2010. Send one to a highly favored customer or client, with a note saying “We will get through all this, together, and I look forward to celebrating with you once we do. Keep this ticket in a safe place, because mine is the seat next to yours.”

2. Pick your top 3 clients, and strategize internally on how you can strengthen your relationship for the long run. Then go discuss those plans with those three clients, telling them exactly what you’ve done, and why.

3. Help everyone you know who has been laid off – provide advice, contacts, and/or just listen. These are people who are potentially great customers down the road; but don’t do it for that reason, do it because you care.

4. If you’re a consulting organization, now is a great time to establish your alumni network. And if you already have one, kick up the level of involvement. Host cocktail parties in various locations. Establish or update the directory. Get your alumni an intranet page, or a devoted Facebook group or other aggregation. Facilitate their networking.

5. If you’re a lawyer or consultant and not using social media to connect with your clients, now is the time for this type of investment– build your network and help your clients build theirs.

6. If you are one of the many unfortunate individuals who has lost a job, don’t burn bridges in anger, hurt or frustration. You’re now selling you. Keep the long term in mind. Join the alumni network—or offer to help create one. Use social media. Begin networking ASAP. Leaders don’t like causing hardship—they prefer to help. How you act in the days after a layoff advertises your trustworthiness.

7. If a key customer is in the middle of an important job with you and they can’t afford for you to finish it, talk it over with them and offer to defer payment until such time as the customer can pay. That could be a long time. But if the relationship is good, this generous offer creates trust and greatly reduces the risk of nonpayment. And the cost of financing these days is very low. It doesn’t cost much to be generous; it lowers credit risk by creating trust and reciprocity; and showing a little faith and courage does wonders for the relationship.

8. Consider what you can offer your clients’ children. Seriously. A financial planner in Canada offered free investment planning education to a client’s 12 and 14 year old children. His co-workers chided him because there were no fees associated with it. His response was, “are you kidding? Their father loves me for it; that’s good for referrals. And someday his kids will inherit a lot of his wealth. I’m in this business for the long haul—my lifetime and the lifetimes of my clients.”

9. If you offer a client a special "one off" deal, be clear about why you’re doing it. For any deal you craft now, imagine doing the same deal 100 times under similar circumstances. Would you? Would your client? If you didn’t answer “yes” to both, go back to the drawing board. Don’t worry about what you’re going to “get” in the near-term, or even from whom. It all works out in the end when we’re willing to do what’s right. And the end is what matters when we’re living this principle.

10. If you’re a leader, be prepared to lead in a most personal way. The month after 9/11, Koh Boon Hwee, then-chairman of Singapore Air, described the US airline industry’s reaction to the drop in travel: “they laid off huge numbers of employees.” By contrast, at Singapore Air, Koh took a massive pay cut; his direct reports took sizable hits; and everyone took a significant but smaller pay cut. He laid off no one. It’s no wonder that travelers, employees and shareholders alike are loyal to such companies. They live the trust principle of long-term focus, and are richly rewarded for it.

Day 3 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 2, Collaboration

Monday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles.

Trust is paradoxical; as is the best approach to recessionary times.

Yesterday we offered ideas based on Trust Principle 1, Client Focus. Today we highlight Principle 2, Collaboration.

If trust is important to business development generally, it is particularly important in a recession. Collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles because:

Collaboration with existing clients cuts business development costs—selling to existing clients is far less expensive than selling new business.

Collaboration with others—including even competitors—offers scale economies.

Collaboration allows reconfiguration—of markets, production, services.

Most importantly, collaboration is inherently about relationships—and not about competition. In a recession, that’s the message you want to send—now is the time to strengthen relationships. You’ll reap the benefits later.

How to do it? Here are 14 ideas to prime the pump. Please: add your own. Let’s collaborate on generating a great list.

1. If you’re a consultant of any type: write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

2. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people–including those you used to think of as competitors. 

3. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of “where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?”

4. Answer the question the customer asked you: not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor–collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

5. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss “what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?” Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

6. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

7. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

8. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying “working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these.” Actions speak louder than words.

9. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.  

10. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

11. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

12. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

13. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

14. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople.  Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

There’s our list. How about you? In the spirit of collaboration, please add an idea of your own. We want to hear from you.