Posts

Story Time: He Who Eats With Chopsticks Wins

Our Story Time series brings you real, personal examples from business life that shed light on specific ways to lead with trust. Our last story proved that trust is personal.  But what does it take to really close a deal?

A New Anthology

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), contains a multitude of stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on the dynamics of influence. It vividly demonstrates how non-rational factors—like respect for tradition—can make or break a sale.

From the Front Lines: Decisions Aren’t Just Rational

Russell Feingold, now of Black & Veatch, recalls an early-career sales win.

“The client was a large electric utility in Hong Kong, and the project was complex. My company invested considerable time preparing our proposal, responding to questions, and meeting with the client face to face in Hong Kong. We won the project.

“However, it was during our working lunches that I really won the client’s trust—by my proficiency with using chopsticks. Quite simply, my clients appreciated my respect for their tradition, when even their own children were turning to Western ways of eating. To this day I believe my ability to use chopsticks not only ingratiated me with our client for the remainder of the project, but was a deciding factor in our being selected in the first place.”

—Russell Feingold (Black & Veatch)

What’s the most unexpected factor that’s won you a job?

++++++

Read more stories about trust:

Trusted Advisor Inflation

The term “trusted advisor” has undergone some changes since I first co-wrote the book by that title 11 years ago.  Three changes, to be precise:

  1. It’s amazing how many more people claim to be one;
  2. It’s becoming clear that not every industry needs one;
  3. In the industries and functions that matter, the concept is gaining headway.

It’s the third point that’s most important, and most promising.

1. Grade Inflation, Title Inflation, Trusted Advisor Inflation

The United States has taken to heart Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.” That’s got to be the only sensible conclusion from the data, which show in-your-face grade inflation at the college and university level.

A couple of years ago, the Economist proclaimed that “Inflation in Job Titles is Approaching Weimar Levels.” (In case you’re not down with economist jokes, read here, and I won’t tell anyone).

So I guess it’s no wonder that we have “Trusted Advisor inflation.” I’ve sat in on several corporate training programs lately where generally mid-level attendees were asked to indicate whether they were operating at the “trusted advisor” level with their clients.

About 70% said they were. That may not be Weimar territory, but it’s Lake Wobegon for sure. I will tell you from experience: that was not the case 12 years ago, even in the same industries.

My conclusion? Not much, actually. We live in a post-Warholian age of hyperbole. “Friend” doesn’t mean what it used to, nor do “authenticity,” “talent,” or “good audio,” for that matter.  But it’s OK: it means what it means, namely how people actually use the term. Definitions are living things, captured only momentarily in dictionaries.

2. Not Every Industry Needs a Trusted Advisor

I had dinner the other day with an old classmate, a very senior advisor to a Very Big private equity fund, who keeps tabs on a dozen global retail clients. “So Charlie, tell me what’s up with Trusted Advisor Associates these days,” he said.

It was clear from his tone that he was skeptical about the relevance of the concept to his businesses – mainly B2C consumer-level chains in things like pet foods, electronics and sundries.

I could tell that because he visibly relaxed when I said, “Gary, I don’t need a trusted advisor relationship with the counter-guy at Dunkin’ Donuts. I love that he knows my order when he sees me come in – but that’s quite enough. It would ruin everything if we ever got past, ‘hi guy, the usual?’ And ditto for Starbucks.”

It’s true. There are whole bunches of roles and industries that don’t need to have trusted advisor relationships. Most B2C retail doesn’t need it. Traders don’t need it. Marketers don’t generally need it. Most non-client-facing roles don’t need it. Manufacturing roles don’t generally need it.

That’s not to say all those roles can’t benefit from the basics of curiosity, good values and manners. But, as per point 1 – let’s not inflate that into Trusted Advisor Status.

3. Those That Do Need It – Are Starting To See It

The term “trusted advisor” originated in high-end professional services and wealth management relationships and it’s still valid and well-understood there.

The biggest shifts I’ve seen since the original The Trusted Advisor in 2001 have come in four areas: sales, internal staff functions, leadership and the financial industry. (One industry that’s still a work-in-progress – pharma).

Sales. In the last decade or so, the field of sales has undergone a number of changes. Some – like Salesforce.com, Sales 2.0, Google clicks – have often made the function less personal, and arguably less trustworthy.

But others – like inbound marketing, complex sales, and the amazing transparency machine called the Internet – have made selling more personal, and often more trustworthy.

I like to think my own book, Trust-based Selling, published by McGraw-Hill in 2005, played a little role in that too.

Internal Staff Functions. The Big 5 staff functions – HR, IT, Legal, Marketing, and Finance ­– have made large jumps in many companies to realizing that their internal client relationships have exactly the same needs. How to get invited in before problems arise; how to get your advice taken; how to add value – these are all critical functions for an internal staff function. More about those functions here.

Leadership. Tons of things have changed with leadership. Let’s sum it up by saying leadership has become more horizontal, less vertical. That moves influence, persuasion and trust way up the required skills list for leaders.  Rob Galford wrote about that in 2003 in The Trusted Leader; Andrea Howe and I wrote about it in last year’s The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust.

Financial Industry. Something is happening in the financial planning and wealth management industries. The line between brokers and fiduciaries is finally getting defined, and the balance of power seems to be shifting toward trusted advisor, client-focused relationships. (Some of you know this issue as fiduciary vs. suitability).

The issue is delightfully defined in a YouTube video about the difference between your butcher and your dietitian.  For more on this issue, read Michael Kitces, who writes well and often about it.

Just around the industry corner is Wall Street, investment banking, and the flap about Michael Smith’s Goldman resignation. Investment banking used to be a pure trusted advisor kind of business. People like Epicurean Dealmaker still speak eloquently about that part of the business.

But investment banks have more complex business models these days, and it’s far from clear (to me anyway) that all of those businesses should be built on the long-term, client-centric models required by true trusted advisors.

Conclusions:

1. Just because you think you’re a trusted advisor doesn’t mean you are one – Lake Wobegon is mythical, after all.

2. But neither does it necessarily mean you should be one. We don’t need trusted advisors on every street corner.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and we should leave it at that.

What’s the Link Between Trust, High IQ and Investors?

A recent Journal of Finance article suggests there’s a high correlation between IQ and participation in the stock market. Now, what does that mean?

Yale Economics Professor Robert Shiller explores the theme in a NYTimes column. He posits an interesting link between intelligence and trust.

The Smarts To Do What?

IQ tests are notorious for being good at measuring what IQ tests measure. What that is, is another question. But let’s stipulate that mathematical intelligence is somewhat correlated with IQ tests, and that intelligent investing requires more math than buying milk at the supermarket. That might explain why only half of American adults have money in the stock market.

But does it explain why higher-IQ people also seem to construct better-performing portfolios than do lower-IQ people? As Shiller points out, it’s not that high-IQ people are better stock-pickers – they just do a better job of following the basic rules of investing, namely diversify your risk.

But why should ‘rule-following’ correlate with IQ, anyway?

The Smarts to Trust

Shiller cites another study, this one from the Netherlands, that finds “those who indicated a high level of trust were 50 percent more likely to invest in the stock market.”

Further studies indicate low stock market participation may be the result of fear and suspicion – low trust prevents people who don’t understand the stock market from approaching those who do.  Namely investment advisors, brokers and the like.

Now the link gets clearer. It may not take a high IQ to understand diversification, but if you don’t trust the people who talk about diversification, you’re not going to learn about it.

Shiller makes another leap here that I’m not so sure about: as he puts it, “Knowing whom to trust, and relying on those who are trustworthy, is itself an aspect of intelligence.”

Intelligence, Education and Trust

I’m not going to get involved in defining intelligence, but I do know this. The tendency to trust others has been shown by trust researcher Eric Uslaner to be positively correlated with optimism, and with a sense of control.

People who feel the world is basically going downhill – and that others are controlling their lives – are untrusting people. By contrast, those who feel that the world is generally moving in a positive direction, and who feel some degree of control over their own lives, are more likely to trust other people.

And what drives those distinctions? Uslaner points out the biggest drivers are income inequality and education. In other words: uneducated people in a society of high inequality are at the greatest disadvantage.

The Vicious Circle of Trust, Education and Investment

The less that uneducated people in an unequal society are willing to trust those who understand financial planning, the more likely they are to stay doomed to low income, thus driving perceptions and reality ever downward toward greater inequality. So what’s to be done?

Of course, it would help if the financial industry got more trustworthy. Josh Brown, in Backstage Wall Street, notes that “93% of all investors didn’t understand that their broker didn’t have a fiduciary responsibilty to them.” Yet the industry continues to advertise an image of trustworthiness, while opposing legislation to make them subject to fiduciary standards.

Such behavior definitely drives mistrust, and it’s the industry’s own fault.

But other policies are society’s fault. In the rush to cut our deficits, I heard a few weeks ago that the School District of Los Angeles no longer employs any music teachers. Certainly education has become a far lower priority these days in our rush to what we think is fiscal rectitude. A casualty is trust.

And finally, inequality itself breeds distrust. That simple fact is very uncomfortable for a great many of haves, and a lot of political ideologies. But the fact is, economically egalitarian societies have higher trust levels. Inegalitarian societies have lower trust levels. The trends are self-reinforcing.

Do we want a vicious circle? Or a virtuous circle? If we’d like people to participate in the stock markets, we’re not going to get there by advertising or by cutting school budgets.

We’ll get there through trust. And it shouldn’t take a high IQ to figure that out.

Upcoming Events and Appearances: Trusted Advisor Associates

Join us at one or more upcoming Trusted Advisor Associates events. This Spring, we’ll be hosting and participating in events in New York, NY; Washington, DC; Fargo, ND; Boston, MA; London, England and through globally accessed webinars.

Also, a word about the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program.

—————————————-

Mon. Apr. 4th Global Charles H. Green

Charlie will be participating in a three person roundtable discussion through the Focus Roundtable Series. The Moderator is David A. Brock (President and CEO, Partners in EXCELLENCE), the panelists are Charlie Green (CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates) and Dave Stein (CEO and Founder of ES Research Group). They will be talking on the subject of “Professional Selling: Are We At an Inflection Point?” Click here for more information and to listen in on the discussion.

Wed. Apr. 20th Washington, DC Andrea P. Howe
Andrea will be speaking at the Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute on “Trust and Influence: What Every Successful Project Manager Needs to Know.” Paolo’s Ristorante, 11898 Market Street, Reston, VA, 11:30am. Open to public: Sign up here. PMIWDC Members $30; Non-Members: $30; lunch will be served. PDUs will be available for Project Management Professionals (PMPs).

 

Wed. Apr. 27th Fargo, ND Sandra Styer

Sandy Styer will be presenting “The Heart of Trust: Keys to Becoming a Trusted Advisor” at the Tristate Trust Conference of the North Dakota Bankers Association on April 27th.

 

Wed. May 18th Boston, MA Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch will be a guest lecturer at Emerson College, speaking on “Becoming a Trusted Advisor.” The class to which Stewart will be addressing is a part of a professional services marketing course taught by Prof. Silvia Hodges, Ph.D.

 

Tues. & Wed. May 24th-25th London, England Julian Powe & Charles H. Green

In a highly interactive, practical and lively day-and-a-half program, TAA will be offering the opportunity to accelerate your professional growth, identify and strengthen the outstanding practice you already have, and address areas for improvement. This is the first time these two extraordinary presenters have offered this program together! Our early-booking price for the program will be $2200, with discounts available for group participation. For more information or to register contact Julian Powe or Tracey Del Camp, respectively.

——————————-

The first tranche of the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program has completed the 19th module in the program, individual coaching calls and its third group call, and the members have agreed to keep up lively discussions on the online Forum. Here’s what one participant has to say about the program:

“This course works because it is not based upon the newest fly-by-night pet theory, but upon rock solid principles of human nature and social psychology. The ability to engender trust is the one attribute that separates those who succeed in both business and in life. Take this course and you will be well on your way to success in both realms.” (Nils Victor Montan, Of Counsel Danneman Siemsen Bigler & Ipanema Moreira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

To be notified of the next available program, email us at: mastery@trustedadvisor.com.

Accelerating Trust: Woo Woo before you Do Do (Part I)

When I lead our Being a Trusted Advisor and Trust-Based Selling programs, I ask participants early on what’s the “one big thing” they want to get out of their participation. Invariably, at least a quarter of people in the room will say something along the lines of “tools for accelerating trust-building.” And those who don’t say it usually vigorously nod their heads in agreement.

How to build trust quickly boils down to a simple three-step approach. Today I’ll tackle the first two steps—arguably the most important and least practiced.

1.     Mind your mindset. What are the stories you’re carrying in your head—about trust-building, about the people you’re meeting with, about yourself? Take stock. Be vigilant. Bust the myths. If you assume trust will take time, you’ll miss opportunities that are right in front of you (See Top Trust Myths: 1 of 2: Trust Takes Time) . If you assume it’s going to be difficult to bond quickly with your prospective client, well, you’re probably right. Being trustworthy is as much about attitude as it is about skill.

2.     Set your intentions carefully. Be committed, not attached, to a specific outcome. Let go. If you’re meeting a prospective client for the first time, you can be certain of the strengths of your offering while at the same time realizing that it may not be the best solution for her/him right now. If you’re taking over an account for your colleague, you can be confident in your abilities while also being open to the possibility that you’re not the right replacement. Attachment equates to high Self-Orientation, and I can’t think of a better way to lower or destroy trust quickly; it’s the obvious opposite of rapid trust creation. On the other hand, giving people the psychic freedom to choose increases trust. Be someone around whom they experience freedom, not pressure.

Here’s why Steps 1 and 2 usually get short-shrifted: they seem a little woo woo. You may be tempted to skip them in favor of something more concrete and action-oriented. It’s a common trap; don’t fall into it.

These steps are woo woo in the sense that they are more about being than doing. And it’s precisely the kind of self-work required to alter who you’re being that makes the difference between a good consultant and an extraordinary consultant, a so-so salesperson and a longstanding member of the President’s Club, and an average advisor and a Trusted Advisor.  (The woo-woo thing has some pretty solid science behind it too–thought drives actions which then result in outcomes. You can be scientific and believe this too).

Sure, the doing part matters—we’ll look at practical ways to accelerate trust in Part II of this blog—it’s just that the choices we make and impact we have in the realm of doing are directly tied to our mindsets and intentions. Lead with the woo woo and you’ll go beyond “good,” “so-so,” and “average” in a very short time frame.

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.

Giving and Getting Respect

Respect is a theme I run across in my work with trust. Many people say they want to be trusted. Yet they feel disrespected by those from whom they seek trust.   In such cases, “they don’t trust me” quickly breaks down into “they behave disrespectfully toward me.”   A desire morphs into a resentment. 

The unconscious implication is that “if they don’t trust me, it’s their fault, because they don’t respect me in the first place. And if they don’t respect me, then I won’t respect them either. Their lack of trust in me is their fault, not mine.”

There’s a lot going on in that little circle of mis-logic. How is it that we respect others, and that they respect us? What does disrespect have to do with trust?

Note the grammatical parallels between trust and respect. Both are used as verb, as adjective, and as adjectival phrase:

I trust you; I am trustworthy; I am trusted by you

I respect you; I am respectable; I am respected by you

Are there causal links here? And if so, what are they?

There’s an old truism: the fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him. This is one truism that has been proven true to me.

Of course, there is a loose correlation between being trustworthy and being trusted, just as there is between being respectable and being respected.

But – and this is critical – there is no guarantee with either one. Not only can you not always get someone to trust or respect you, but the harder you try – the less likely you are to succeed. This is why trust-based selling is so much more powerful than linear, logic-based selling.

Giving Respect and Trusting

Both trust and respect must be freely given. If demanded or coerced, the results are the opposite–distrust and disrespect.   This is why I tell my clients never to call themselves trusted advisors—let your clients make that determination for themselves, and make it public, or not, on their own. Being called a trusted advisor is great marketing, but only if never suborned.

The ability to trust and to respect is a sign of an evolved ability to relate to others. That doesn’t make blind trust or respect a virtue: there is nothing noble about trusting a thief, or respecting a scoundrel. That’s just stupid.

But equally stupid, and more common, is a refusal to trust or to respect others. That refusal is driven by fear and, by way of paranoia, gums up the works of human interactions and commerce.

Being Respected and Being Trusted

Just as trusting others helps but doesn’t guarantee being trusted by them, so does respecting others not guarantee being respected by them. And that’s where we end up feeling “it’s not fair.”

Let’s be clear. When it comes to trust and respect, fairness is not an issue. If your spouse buys you a gift for the holidays, do you think of it as ‘fair’ or not? (Hint: the right answer is ‘no, of course I don’t, Charlie, what do you take me for!’)

Give Respect to Get It? Or Give Respect and Detach?

Too often we try to put conditions on what must be freely given. You can’t reduce trust to a controlled conditional transaction: “If you give me this, I’ll trust you to do that, but you’d better be fair.” There is no trust without risk; if you try to control the outcome, you’ll destroy the trust. 

I’m coming to think respect is the same. To respect someone is good; partly because it can make the other person feel respected–but mainly because it shows you’re the kind of person who has an evolved ability to relate to others.

The distinction becomes important when we look for others to respect us. If we crave respect from others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But worst, we are trying to force (via guilt trip) others to do what we want them to

Book Review: Mastering the World of Selling

I read a fair number of books. Most I don’t blog about. Here’s one I chose to.

Disclosures:

1.    I am one of the featured authors in this book

2.    The link below is through an Amazon affiliate link.

Mastering the World of Selling is subtitled “The Ultimate Training Resource from the Biggest Names in Sales.” And for once, that is not hyperbole.

Edited by Eric Taylor and David Riklan, the book features 89 articles by distinct authors. Priced under $14, that works out to 16 cents per article—and look at just some of the authors you get at that rate (besides me):

Neil Rackham

Jeffrey Gitomer

Jill Konrath

Rick Page

Paul McCord

Ford Harding

Linda Richardson

Huthwaite

Patricia Fripp

Mahan Khalsa

Tony Alessandra

Ian Brodie

Robert Cialdini

Sharon Drew Morgen

…and that doesn’t even count ‘classics’ like Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar.  

My own article in here is one of my best, and I suspect the same of the other authors. This honestly qualifies as one of those books you ought to have on your bookshelf.

Is this a shameless plug? Well, it’s a plug, but I’m not ashamed. I like this book.  

How Much Should Sales Approaches Vary by Industry?

An open letter to my readers:

Hi everyone. First, let me thank you for following TrustMatters. 

Now, let me tell you a bit about your fellow readers (and by extension, yourself). You are a disproportionately well-educated businessperson. You are most likely a professional—law, communications, accounting, consulting. Some of you are in financial services, some in software and technology; a lot of you follow new media heavily, some of you are curmudgeons. You’re more likely young than old, you’re pretty hip, and you’re pretty literate.

In the field of sales, there is a lot of range. More of you are in B2B than B2C. Some of you sell into government vs. selling into the private sector. Some of you sell to purchasing agents, others to ultimate users.  Many of you don’t like to think of yourselves as being in sales, though you know you have an impact on clients’ buying decisions.  And we all tend to look for that slice of life, those lessons, those situations that speak uniquely to our own little corner of experience—often dismissing the experiences of those who look different.  

Sometimes, though, we overstate the differences, and forget how much of great sales is fundamental, consistent, inviolable across nearly all sales situations.

I was reminded of this the other day by one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s weekly columns.

Jeffrey Gitomer: King of Sales

If you don’t know Jeffrey Gitomer, you’re missing something. He is bald, rumpled, given to 82-point powerpoint fonts, and looks disturbingly like late-night comic Dave Attell. He wears a red Staples-like shirt, and his normal volume level is a shout.

He grew up in rough-and-tumble sales, in central New Jersey. Cold-calling. Wearing out shoe-leather. Closing, handling objections, fighting for lead lists. Hard core.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ll say it for you. He looks like a hick. What could he possibly have to say to me, a successful (consultant / accountant / finance professional / commercial banker / software / technology) business developer?

Well, look again. By any measure of success and respect, he’s The Man. And if you go to his seminars, you’d be surprised at how much the crowd looks more like you than like him. So I’m very proud, by the way, to have a testimonial quote from Jeffrey Gitomer on the front page of my own Trust-based Selling.

Gitomer’s List of Smart and Dumb Sales

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Gitomer’s recent ezine article How to Sell Best: Ask Someone Who Buys. It’s a great collection of wisdom from a purchasing agent fan of his about how salespeople blow it, and how they succeed.

My point is not how bright the purchasing agent is (very), but the fact that Gitomer—with all his schticky-hicky presentation—chose to highlight it in his e-zine. Because he believes in it.

Here’s an abridged list of what Gitomer considers smart—and dumb. (For more detail, see his original piece).

smart 1. Honesty. Truth at all times and at all costs.

dumb 1. Telling an expedient lie.

smart 2. Give me valuable ideas.

dumb 2. Function only as an order-taker.

smart 3. Understand and be interested in my business.

dumb 3. Communicate non-sense.

smart 4. Treat me with respect.

dumb 4. Use bad manners.

smart 5. Be a decent human being, with some sense of ethics and morals.

dumb 5. Schmooze bad about the competition.

smart 6. Know your own business cold.

dumb 6. Assume that I know nothing about your business.

smart 7. Be friendly and personable.

dumb 7. Fail to attempt to form a relationship.

smart 8. Remember the details.

dumb 8. Make a presentation with no copy of your proposal or supporting materials to leave behind.

smart 9. Make good on your word.

smart 10. Take responsibility.

dumb 10. Refuse to take responsibility; shift blame to other people.

Single smartest. Don’t "sell" me. Let me "buy."

Single dumbest. Manipulate me.

Now, let me ask the accountants out there: is there any item on that list that is wrong for selling tax, attest or risk management work to your clients?

Systems consultants: which items don’t apply to you?

Financial planners: which items apply only to big box stores, but not to you?

And so on for the rest of us. 

For my part, I can’t think of one that doesn’t apply. More importantly, if I did my own Top Ten smart/dumb list, it wouldn’t add or subtract much, if anything. 

And if all that’s true—well, let’s explore some implications.

First, when it comes to the important things—sales is sales is sales.

Second, maybe it’s time for us “professionals” to stop looking down on sales, and recognize that great sales are great professionals in every relevant sense of the word. Sell is no longer a 4-letter word. (Note to self: send email to inform Webster’s).

Third, about all that content expertise you’re in love with? It’s there all right: see items 2,3, and 6. But the other 7 items? They’re about relationships. 

Bottom line for me: there’s a conceit that exists in the professions, a deeply-embedded cleaner-hands-than-thou mentality, when it comes to selling. It’s unjustified, it’s wrong, it’s just another form of arrogance, and no one benefits from maintaining it. We all need to just get over it.

Great selling, above all, is about service to others: it requires great relationships.

What a metaphor for life.

     

Trust Lessons from a Turkish Rug Dealer

Turkish RugIn November 2000 we traveled with another couple to Turkey.

We stayed at the Pera Palace in Istanbul and cruised the Bosphorous River. We visited the seaside town of Bodrum where we learned NOT to try and party like a British sailor. But no trip to Turkey would be complete without a shopping spree at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We set out to find the perfect stall.

Wendy and I ventured behind the curtain into a cozy shop owned by Mehmet. He welcomed us with a warmth and carpet dealer smile …Wendy and I were both suspicious and told Mehmet we were “just looking.” Anyone who has been to a carpet shop in Istanbul knows you don’t just look. It is nearly impossible. The carpets are piled, one on top of the other, several feet high. Hence the young, muscle-bound assistants lingering around, ready to “flip” carpets for would-be shoppers to assess.

Mehmet invited us to accept help in looking through the carpets. He said, “just pretend – like Monopoly.” We accepted his invitation and the next thing we knew we were hooked, enticed by his charm, fluency in many languages, and the offer of mint tea. “But our husbands…we don’t know where they are,” we protested. “Oh, it is no problem…we will find them and bring them here.” And his assistant did just that.

After several hours of looking through carpets two piles emerged: the “no” pile and the “maybe” pile. Our “yes” pile hadn’t yet emerged. This was “no problem” for Mehmet, the Turkish carpet dealer. He says, “we are just pretending, like Monopoly.” In the evening, after several glasses of tea and many rounds of negotiating, we exited Mehmet’s shop with our carpets. We were beyond satisfied with our perfect day of rug buying; and the rugs, while beautiful, were not as memorable as our experience with Mehmet.

Ten months later—9/11. We were on the email Mehmet sent to his American customers expressing his sympathy. Mehmet’s carpet business came to a screeching halt–80% of it had been from American buyers. Without his American customers he couldn’t provide for his special needs son.

So he brought his lovely carpets to the US. We hosted a show for him, and put him in touch with interior designers and people we knew would appreciate his carpets. He was and to this day is grateful for this.

A few years ago, Mehmet and his assistant, stopped at our home for a visit. I said, “Mehmet, can we pretend, play Monopoly?” And so we began the ritual of looking at the spot in our home where we wanted a carpet and then venturing to his truck to search through the piles of neatly folded rugs. After many hours of collaborating to haul rugs in, move furniture, look at the carpet in different light and from different angles we settled on one. Then the negotiating began.

He says, “Sarah, you are my sister.” And I say, “yes, Mehmet, you are my brother, and now we negotiate.” The business of negotiating wasn’t easy; there were tense moments when I thought we’d not reach agreement. But all business is easier from a foundation of trust – which there was and is with Mehmet. We reached agreement. We got another beautiful carpet; Mehmet made another sale. We then sat down to a lovely meal which Mehmet prepared for us in our home.

To this day, after a dozen trips to the US, Mehmet still calls us. The days of helping him find customers have long passed but the relationship endures. Mehmet drives across the US. He seeks no guarantee of a sale, only the possibility that someone might love one of his carpets as much he does.

He goes to his customers. He spends whatever time is needed with them. Sometimes they buy; sometimes they don’t. He knows that one day they might buy; that they might know someone who might want one of his rugs. He establishes friendships along the way, building relationships one home and one rug at a time.

He begins with the customer’s perspective by going to their home, looking at where they want a rug, and collaborating with the customer, to search through his piles of rugs. He then moves furniture and places the rug, just so, in his customer’s home. When they cannot decide he says “live with it for a while, I will come back before I fly home – then you decide.”

Without a deposit, without signing a contract about what happens if the rug is damaged, and without any assurance that leaving the rug with the customer for a few days will result in a sale, he continues on to his next customer. Mehmet takes the risk to trust by leaving his rugs–in return, his customers trust him.

He knows many will never buy. He also knows that by focusing on the long-term he will build a network of people who will first think of him when they need, or know someone who needs, a rug.

A carpet dealer may not be the profession we think of first when it comes to trust. Yet in many ways Mehmet embodies what it means to start from the customer’s perspective and to focus on the long-term. And, who doesn’t love to play a round of Monopoly every now and then?