How To Fail At Getting Your Point Across To A Prospect

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Saturday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I’ve had a few days where I haven’t been able to write, for various reasons. And that makes things difficult, because the point of a routine or habit is to keep it going. An interruption feels like going backwards, like having to start again.

But we’ve got to do that all the time. Cope with rejection, failure and disappointment and keep going. Interruptions and obstacles are simply part of the process.

So, what shall we look at today?

I’ve been thinking about communicating, about getting your point across.

If you’ve written a document trying to describe what you do, the chances are that you understand every word you’ve written, every point you’re making.

That’s because you’re familiar with everything – familiar with the terminology and jargon and customs of your field.

So what’s actually happening in your mind? What is it that is going on when you try and explain something to someone else?

One of my favourite books is Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance and this explains a very important concept in a couple of pages.

Many years ago, I struggled to learn Chemistry. Years later, I found it impossible to understand electrical power systems.

To understand why, let’s see how Pirsig might teach you about a motorcycle.

To understand a motorcycle, he writes, you need to understand its components and functions.

Starting with the components, you can divide them into a power assembly and a running assembly.

The power assembly has an engine with a power train, with cylinders, pistons, connecting rods….

And so on for a page or so. Just like you’d read in a textbook about motorcycle maintenance.

Then, he stops, and explains that there are four things happening here as this description is taking place – actually five.

The first of the five, the one that will turn 98% of the people reading off, is that this is boring, boring, boring. All this talk of functions and components and whatever else. Who needs to know this stuff?

But, if you can get past this point, then there are a few other things that you don’t often pick up.

The first is that if you don’t know what a motorcycle is already, this lesson won’t help you understand what one is.

If you don’t have a picture of a motorcycle in your head – if you can’t see the things that the teacher is referring to – this description will not make the pictures pop into your head.

This is why I struggled with electrical systems. I had never seen a protective relay or seen one in action – and the description and academic discussion about it just made no sense whatsoever.

This is the same problem I have when trying to explain why I use plain text and a command line interface to manage this blog to someone whose entire experience of using a computer is on a Windows platform with a mouse.

It’s the same problem you’ll have explaining your thirty years of marine engineering experience to a graduate student doing his first procurement internship.

If your prospect doesn’t already know what you’re trying to explain, all the words in the world won’t help her get it.

You’ll need to start with words she understands already, concepts that make sense to her right now.

The second thing is that the observer – the person – disappears

Pirsig points out that many descriptions of things completely leave out any mention of people and how they relate to the thing.

Say you’re selling a software product. You might spend lots and lots of time describing all the features of the product, all the things it can do.

How often do you ask to speak with the person that will actually use your product. Or give an example of how a particular person in a different company used your product to make a difference to the way she worked?

You see this with companies all the time. They are too worried that if they inject any personality into what they do, identify any individuals, then they won’t look serious or professional enough.

As a result, they hide behind vague mission statements, promising everything to everyone and never actually clearly saying what they do.

But the fact is that you don’t do business with a company. You do business with people at that company – and the way in which you feel about the company is how you feel about the way the people in that company treat you.

One of the biggest things to remember if you’re selling to someone is to make that person the centre of your focus, not your product.

It’s not about you and your product. It’s about them and their problem.

The third thing is that value judgements disappear

When you’re talking to someone you want to make a good impression. You often want to please them, to make them happy.

The problem with this approach is that you can end up saying nothing really at all – simply agreeing with a prospect and getting forgotten by them later.

The way you stand out in any space is by taking a stand, taking a position.

And that usually means having values – having a view on what is good and what is bad.

The worst kind of place to be is neutral. Neutral means that you don’t care which approach is good or bad – you’ll just take the one that meets your targets or makes the most money or whatever else.

If you’re doing a consultative sale, however, you have a duty to help your prospect make the best decisions for him or her. And that means saying what is right and not just what is convenient.

The argument against this approach is one where you say that your job is to give the prospect all the information and her job is to make a decision.

That’s all very well. The reason you do that, however, is not because it’s a good way to be but because that way you can’t be sued if things turn out badly.

But, if the lawyers had their way, the safest thing for you to do is nothing at all – just don’t do any business and you’ll have no problems – other than the problem of paying their fee.

So… to make a real difference.. get off the fence and have a point of view.

The final thing to notice is that it’s all in your mind

All this talk of structures and components and functions is simply a creation of your mind or someone else’s mind.

It’s not reality. Reality is a collection of lumps of metal and plastic and rubber that combine to make the motorcycle.

So what came first – the motorcycle or its description?

Pirsig calls this a deadly analytic scalpel, so quick that you don’t even realise what’s happening.

It’s easy to assume that systems are fixed – they’ve always been that way.

If you’re doing sales certain methods work – the Challenger approach, the SPIN system.

What you miss is that all these structures were drawn after people saw what happened and tried to come up with a way to describe what was going in.

It’s not reality – it’s a model. It’s not even a model of reality… it’s just a model in your head.

Okay, this is getting a little abstract, so here’s the point.

Let’s take something like racism. You’d agree it’s abhorrent.

A hundred years ago, it was normal.

Seeing women as inferior to men was just the way it was not that long ago. That’s not the case now – although in certain parts of the world men are fighting to keep things the way they were.

The point is that your prospect has certain ways of thinking, certain structures already in her mind. She sees the world in a certain way and describes and justifies how she thinks.

So, if your approach or face or gender doesn’t fit the prospect’s way of thinking, you won’t succeed.

It doesn’t say anything about you… it’s just the way things are in that situation.

Which is why you should pay no attention to results or outcomes.

The only thing you can influence is process – what you do.

Whether you succeed or not, meet targets or not, is simply irrelevant.

If you focus on doing the best you can do, things will work out. And if they don’t, that doesn’t matter either.

Because all that stuff, the results, the outcome, the structure, the system – they’re all constructs in someone’s mind.

They don’t matter.

The way you live your life does.

So, in summary…

If you’re trying to get your point across to someone, start by putting her in the centre of your picture, not the product or service you’re trying to sell.

Try and see things from her point of view, ask questions that help you understand how she understands the world she’s in.

Get clear on what is good and bad – about what you do, and about how you can help.

Finally, try and work towards a common structure and model and description. Don’t try and cut and paste something you’ve done before – create something that both you and your prospect can look at and understand together.

If you can do that, have that kind of conversation, you’ll know what they need and be able to put forward a proposal and a pitch that will work for them.

One that you can win.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the tenth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling . If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

There Are No Facts In Your Building, Only Opinions. Get Out Of The Building.

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Tuesday, 9.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Developing a consultative sale is like founding a startup.

You’ve got some skills, some experience, a background. But, you don’t know which problem you should solve. Which problem someone will pay you to solve.

And that’s the important point – one that is very easy to miss. It doesn’t matter what you can do. What matters is what someone is willing to pay you to do.

Steve Blank is a well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has written extensively about startups. His work led to the lean startup movement, now taught in entrepreneurship courses and startup bootcamps around the world.

Blank wrote about the importance of getting the facts. “There are no facts inside the building”, he writes, “so get the hell outside”.

We know this, really. When you look around you see all kinds of people doing well in all kinds of businesses. There doesn’t really seem to be a plan where the smart people start businesses and make loads of money.

It’s a little more random than that.

Quotes capture this well, from Robert Kiyosaki’s rather brutal observation that A students work for C students and B students work for the government to the rather more scathing question of “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”.

And then you have the old adage – if you want to know what god thinks of money, just look at the people he gives it to. Or she. We don’t really know, do we?

We digress, however. Back to the issue at hand – where is the money?

The pot of gold we seek is out there. We’re trying to create businesses and projects that have value, that people want to buy. So, how do we go about doing this?

Well, if you’ve been in this position you might remember a few approaches.

Perhaps growth targets are handed down from on high. The management team then sits down and tries to work out what areas are likely to grow.

We brainstorm, perhaps come up with a number of ideas.

We winnow these down, select the ones we think are most likely to succeed and build campaigns around them.

The campaigns go live, the messages start to flow and business pours in.

Or more often, there is a tiny trickle – but nothing like the river of business we need to meet those expectations.

The problem, it turns out, is that when we sit in a room and come up with ideas, all we’re doing is coming up with conjectures and opinions and beliefs.

Those are not facts.

Facts are what you go out and find. What you discover by talking to your customers.

Blank calls this the Customer Discovery process, and it’s one that we need to get our heads around and adapt to our circumstances.

In a consultative sale, this starts with the realisation that we aren’t really trying to sell anything.

What we’re trying to do is have a conversation. We’re actually trying to listen – listen to what customers say their problems are.

That means not talking about ourselves and what we do and how good we are, but trying to understand where our customers are in their businesses, what they’re trying to do, the kind of problems they’re facing and what they’ve done to try and solve them.

Let’s take an example problem that we’re all going to have. How do you get good quality conversations with prospects?

You could go direct – beat the door down. Or you could get introduced by someone you both know.

The second option is the better one – but you’ve now got to find those people who will be able to make the introductions in a way that helps you.

There is an industry now of conferences – what seems like the fastest growing industry of all. In every sector you’ll find awards and meetups and conferences.

They exist to create customer lists and sponsorship opportunities and networking events. And we buy into the idea in large numbers – happily attending free ones and putting up with the pestering from salespeople to buy tickets or buy space or sponsor a session.

What you want is an introduction, ideally a one on one conversation with a prospect made easier by someone who knows both sides.

What the introducer wants is for you to buy into the idea that if you engage with their event, the prospects will drop out because of all the content or mailing or whatever else you do on their platform and during their sessions.

Once you realise this, you’ll start to push your money in the direction of people who can help you get what you want.

The organisers who don’t realise this will always struggle to get your business.

As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want”.

So, let’s imagine that you’re back at the start of the process – trying to get to the pot of gold.

You’re lost in a fog of opinions and ideas and beliefs. What do you need to do?

You need to find out what the customer wants – and the way to do that is to have a conversation. Not about what you’re selling, but about what they are trying to get done and the problems they’re having along the way.

Ideally, you’ll find that they have a big problem that they’ve tried to solve themselves and found the going hard. If you’re lucky, your product or idea or project has the potential to solve this and make their lives easier.

The secret then, to developing a consultative sale, is the same as developing a startup.

Leave what you think in your building. Get out, go and talk to customers and find out what they want.

Then, shape your business to help them get what they want.

That will get you a sale.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the ninth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling . If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

How To Start Prospecting For Business And Maximise Conversions

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Monday, 10.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

What can Jack Reacher, the hero of Lee Child’s action series, tell us about prospecting and finding business?

All the core bits, it turns out.

I’ve just been on a family holiday to Copenhagen, one of the nicest cities in the world. Nice – both in terms of the feel of the place and the character of the people who live there. Even when they’re asking you to move out of the way they seem to sing at you rather than bark angrily.

It’s also a hugely expensive city – but somehow seems worth it.

You just get drawn into that cool Scandanavian style of it all – and suddenly spending en enormous amount of money on a cup of tea and a sandwich just seems ok.

On this trip I had the chance to devour a couple of Lee Child books, including “Night School”, where Reacher and a team of other operatives need to find an American who is cutting a deal with a terrorist group, with negotiations taking place in Germany.

They start by looking at the whole population of Americans in Europe. Reacher says “The percentage play would be to start making lists”. Military personnel, civilians, whomever you can find. It’s a percentage play because some people won’t be on records, for example if they drive in through a land border that isn’t recorded.

Perhaps around 200,000 Americans in all. That’s a big number.

Now, compare that to the way in which you might start your prospecting process. It’s much the same. How many companies are out there. In the UK, that’s around 2 million.

How many are large businesses that turn over more than £10 million? That’s around 30,000 or so.

How many are smaller ones that make between £300k and £3 million? You’re looking at around 850,000 companies.

A big list, however you look at it.

Then, you start working through the list, just as Reacher and the team did. They excluded people based on various criteria – if they couldn’t have been in a certain place, for example. They were trying to work down to a small number.

You’re trying to do the same. The difference is that with a list of several hundred thousand, starting at A and dialling is going to cost you – in time or money or both.

That’s the mistake most of us make with prospecting. To start with the assumption that what we do is interesting to a lot of people. That everyone out there is a potential customer.

We need to turn that around and shrink the population we’re working with as much as possible. What’s the characteristic of small populations?

What you do is look for a number of different characteristics. As Reacher goes on to say, “Guys willing to betray their country for money”. Guys willing to do other bad things. “Like a Venn diagram. Not many people where the circles meet.”

That’s the point really. Getting the number of circles right. Too many, and you end up with no one. Too few, and the population is too large. What you want is the right number of circles to come up with a population size that is right for your prospecting engine.

Let’s apply this to a real business process, one that is increasingly applicable in today’s data driven business environment.

One of the areas that I am interested in is data-driven decision making. So, if I wanted to create a business out of this capability as a service, who should I target?

For a start, it makes sense to target businesses that create data. That rules out organisations like hairdressers or garage mechanics. While they promote their businesses through word of mouth and social media they don’t generate the kind of data that requires analysis and processing.

On the other hand, businesses that source a wide range of products and need to manage the associated data, firms that have large number of sensors that record and monitor data and organisations that work in financial or commodity markets are a good fit for what I do.

The next thing is that the businesses I target should currently have highly manual ways of working.

If they’re very technologically savvy, then they don’t need me. It’s the ones that are struggling, that are drowning in a mountain of data that require help.

Another criteria to look at is whether data is a core focus for them. If they sell clothes, for example, the data they create – specifications, sizes, photos – are secondary to their core focus on fashion and trend. The data bit is the messy backdrop to their core business of making people feel great in their clothes.

If, however, they make their living by arbitraging the differences in pricing, then data is a focus and they’ll do this as part of their core business.

Let’s add another circle. How open are they to outsourcing?

If they are the kind of firm that prefers to keep everything in-house and hire their own staff, then you’re going to struggle to get them to engage. Instead, if they see the value in using partners and contractors with specialist expertise, then you’ve got a chance to engage with them.

Creating these circles and looking at them like a Venn diagram gets you clear about what your ideal customer will look like. It doesn’t actually cut down your list – because you might not know some of these things about them – but you do know what kind of customer you want, and that’s a start.

Now, you can design your marketing and advertising to target this kind of customer. When you’re researching prospects, you can prioritise the ones that look like the ideal customer you now have in your head. When you’re talking to them, you can ask questions to find out where they sit in your Venn diagram and keep them in or out.

To succeed you need to focus on the clients that make up the core of your Venn diagram – these are the ones that you have the greatest chance of engaging with and converting to sales. The ones that will fill your pipeline with business.

Going back to Copenhagen, its reputation as an expensive city will put many people off travelling there.

That’s not a problem for the Danes. Some people will save up, just so they can experience the city. Others, who have the money, will go there willingly. It was a big deal for us, but we went because it was a special, one-off experience that we wanted to do.

The ones that turn up, the ones that are in the centre of Copenhagen’s Venn diagram, are the ones that will put money into the city.

And that’s just good business.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

ps. As a reminder, this is the eighth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

How Should You Structure A Discussion For Maximum Effect?

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Wednesday, 9.09pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Consultative selling is about making presentations – in person, in print, over the phone – in any other media you can think of.

You will need to try and get your point across.

More importantly, you will need to listen – and that’s something we can find hard to do.

Take the way many sales presentations are structured, for example.

You know everything about your company. So, it makes sense to you to start there. The marketing team is going to pull some stuff together about how big you are, what kind of clients you have, what awards you’ve won and whatever else you can come up with.

When you meet someone for an hour’s meeting, you’ll typically have an agenda that starts with introductions. Then you have a little presentation, where you go through the stuff about you. Then you give the other side a chance to talk a little about them.

By this time, forty minutes out of your allotted 60 minutes and you’re really nowhere. Perhaps you can feel good that you took the time to listen to them and get your message across.

In my experience, however, the other side spent the first bit simply staring at you glassy eyed and wondering whether they turned the lights off at home and the emails they forgot to send and just have to get round to before lunch.

During their bit of the session, they ran through a vague history of where they are and threw out some bits that they thought might fit with what you do.

The chances are, however, anything they talk about they already know how to do. That’s why they have enough to talk about. If they don’t know how to do it, then they’ll probably say that instead.

All that bland, corporate stuff is simply what John McPhee calls throat clearing. It’s all the stuff that is just in the way, the debris blocking your way to the real issue.

Think for a second about the purpose of all that introductory stuff you went through. The reason for putting it in there was to show you are good – to credentialize you.

But… the prospect hasn’t thought of buying from you at this point. They don’t know if you can help them in the first place. Why would they think about engaging you?

The thing to realise is that the point at which people check you out is after they come up with the idea that they need what you might be selling in the first place.

Think of the way you go about your life. Do you spend your time checking the history of all the things around you? Or do you first make a decision that you need something – a new car, toothpaste, a holiday – and then start looking into it in more detail?

The point about consultative sales is that it usually involves a problem that needs solving. The special thing about this problem is that it’s something the client can’t do themselves – either they don’t have the skills or know what needs to be done but don’t have the resources.

You’re either providing knowledge – the experience to help fix things – or a pair of hands to help out.

So, in your 60 minutes with your prospect, what you’ve got to do is spend as much time as possible on the issue. Get started there as soon as possible.

For many “trained” salespeople this can sound like heresy. What about all the rapport building you should be doing? Shouldn’t you be looking around the prospect’s office and trying to work out what hobbies they have? What teams they support?

Shouldn’t you be trying to become their friend at the start?

I think the answer is no. Perhaps it is in some cases – if you’re the kind of person that has the ability to have people give you business because they’re your friend.

In those cases, I’d suggest that the friend really has a conflict of interest. They shouldn’t be having that discussion with you at all. And you shouldn’t be having it with them. You just can’t provide honest, objective advice if things get that personal.

The way you become friends, in my view, is if you work together over time and build a relationship of trust based on delivering on your promises. That’s a more solid foundation for a long-term relationship.

Anyway… I digress.

The point is that you must get to the point. Quickly.

The most successful sales presentations I’ve seen are where the client has a problem and asks you to talk to them about it. You can leave all the guff about introductions and credentialization for later. At that point, you have them interested.

All you need to do is start talking about the issue. The problem. What their situation is, the shape and size and scope of the problem they’re facing, what it means for them and what approach you’ll take to solve it.

If your discussion is about a specific issue, in that form, then the follow on takes care of itself. Your proposal will simply put down in writing what you said you’ll do. You’ll get to a place where you have one discussion which leads to one proposal which leads to one sale.

As I write this, I’m thinking about a tender I’m working on. I’m trying to explain a technical approach to trading – I harp on about the history of this approach, how it has worked, how clever it is. Then I write about how I’m approaching the prospect’s situation and how we would advise them.

Tomorrow, I’m going to turn it around. I’m going to write first about them and what I’m suggesting they should do. Then, I’ll go back to why I’m saying that, why we developed our approach and why it works.

Then, I know that in the first few paragraphs I’ll be talking about their problem and getting across the main message – which is what I’ll do for them – and leaving the rest of it for them to absorb later.

In newspaper speak – what I’ve done in my current draft is bury the lead.

Instead, what you and I need to do to get the discussion going with maximum effect is to get to the point.

In the first paragraph.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the seventh post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

What Will Make Your Prospect Take Action?

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Sunday, 9.35pm.

Sheffield, U.K.

When you think of successful people do you also think that the way they got successful was by taking risks?

Take your prospect, for example. That’s a person with a senior role in a large organisation, the kind of organisation that can afford to pay for your services.

They didn’t get there overnight. To be in a position where they can approve tens of thousands to pay for your time probably took a few years. Several years. Years where they worked carefully and conscientiously and were promoted for successes.

Do you think any of those involved taking a risk?

In a small number of cases the answer may be yes. It’s hard to think what the circumstances might be though.

In most cases, they got to where they were by not screwing up – or at least by not being seen to screw up. They got there by being risk-averse.

And that’s an important lesson for us to remember when trying to persuade someone to work with us.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because we have a wonderful new product, everyone we talk to will think the same way.

Then, when we find they don’t, it’s just as easy to think what we have is rubbish and will never get anywhere in the market.

Both these are irrelevant ways of thinking. It really doesn’t matter what we think about our product. It also doesn’t really matter what most people think about it.

The only opinion that really matters is that of the person in a position to pay money for it.

And it’s a good idea to start imagining that person as standing in front of a wall. A wall built up of all their experiences, their preconceptions, their values. The things that make them think the way they do.

Let’s take an example. If you supply a service to the public sector, the chances are that there is government guidance out there that tells public sector bodies the best way to buy services.

What do you think are the chances that any one of those bodies follows a different way to the approved one?

Slim. If you try and persuade one of them to do things differently – to select you without going through a procurement exercise, for example – they’ll struggle with the idea.

If you know them well and they really want to work with you, then they’ll game the system – create a tender that only you can win.

In many cases, however, you’re dealing with someone that has a particular way of working and what you do needs to fit into that world, to be compatible. If it’s not, you’ll struggle from the start.

In other words, you’re not going to persuade anyone to take a risk. If your selling process is based on that you will fail.

What will make your prospect take action is to structure your pitch so that you avoid risk or eliminate it. That’s really what drives people.

It’s well known that most people look at wins and losses differently. You’d probably be much more upset at losing $1,000 than happy at winning the same amount.

Try this with your young kids. Tell them if they put their dishes in the sink, they’ll get a dollar. See how eager they are to take you up on the offer.

Then, give them a dollar. Then tell them that if they don’t put their dishes in the sink, they’ll need to give you back the dollar. See how they react this time.

If they’re like most kids, they’ll be less excited about earning something than losing something they already have. That’s why discipline for children often involves taking something away from them – that makes them much more likely to stop and listen to you.

So, what does this have to do with your prospect?

Well, to get them to take action, first you need to try and tear down as much of that wall as possible. That means making it safer for them to work with you – guarantees, warranties, try before you buy options.

The less risk they have, the more likely it is that they will consider what you’re offering.

Then, you need to go one step further. You need to frame your product in terms of what they will lose by not taking it, not what they will win.

For example, you could say that your product will save them $10,000. That’s what they could win. You could also mention that their competitor already has saved this $10,000 and what that means it that your prospect’s prices are going to be less competitive as a result. That’s what they could lose.

The way in which you put your point across will make the difference between them taking action or not.

Wherever possible, try and help them avoid losing something they have, and you might be surprised by how positive they are about working with you.

Cheers,

As a reminder, this is the sixth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

Karthik Suresh

How To Pick The Way That Works For You

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Friday, 9.24pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I like listening to motivational speakers. There’s a buzz that the good ones create, a feeling of energy and enthusiasm as they deliver their message.

Then it fades and real life starts happening again.

If only life were as simple as listening to someone else’s story and doing things the way they say we should.

Unfortunately, it’s not – and we all need to discover the ways that work for us ourselves. Fortunately, doing that will make us happier and more satisfied with ourselves.

The point I’m trying to make is that there are different ways to get from one point to another, from start to finish. The thing to notice is that you have to go on a journey – and you might as well arrange things so you enjoy the trip.

Let’s put this idea in the context of consultative selling. You have a product or service. The start point is that a prospective customer doesn’t know you exist. The finish point is when they sign a contract.

The Fast Road – Get Introduced By Someone You Both Know And Trust

Human beings have evolved to be fearful. That’s how we survived. We react to anything new with fear.

That’s really what many “isms” are. Racism is fear of another race. Fundamentalism is fear of another religion.

If you have children you’ll know what happens when they’re surprised.

I was sat in the Park Guell in Barcelona, a place full of Gaudi’s creations, and one of my children was trying to fill a water bottle at the public fountain.

He was struggling to press the tap. A person stood with his kids noticed this and came over to help him.

The moment my child became aware of this strange person coming into his space he ran. Just picked up his water bottle and sprinted to me, running to safety, running out of fear.

Your prospect is grown up, but has exactly the same primal reaction mechanism built into him or her. They’re bigger and can control their fear a little more, but it’s still there.

So, just like you knew something was safe when your parents or a friend said it was, your prospect will accept that you’re worth talking to if you’re introduced by someone they know and trust.

It’s simply the best way. Period. Of course, you first need to earn that other person’s trust, and it can become an ever increasing chain of introductions.

If you’re lucky, you’re born with the right connections. Your parents know people. You went to the right schools. You’ve made the right connections at University and the people you know are now running businesses and institutions and know other people.

So, some of this is down to luck. Actually, when you think about it, the fast road is really mainly down to luck. If you’re lucky, make the most of it.

As someone said, if you want to have a good life, choose your parents carefully.

The Straight Road. Be A Battering Ram

This is the road to take if you weren’t born lucky, but aren’t afraid of hard work.

It’s simple on this road. Just keep going straight on. If there are obstacles, go over, under or around them. Or break them down. Obstacles will simply slow you down – they won’t stop you unless you decide to stop.

For example, I read on social media that someone called an organisation for a particular person and was told by the gatekeeper that they only allowed calls through from companies they already worked with.

So, if you’re a new firm looking to get business don’t call them. They’ll call you.

Which is really a polite way of saying the person you’re trying to talk to is too busy to bother with things like talking to potential suppliers, regardless of how much benefit you could bring them.

If you’re on the straight road, however, this isn’t going to stop you.

You’ll simply call back again a week later. Maybe there will be a different receptionist who will let you through.

You’ll call at a different time, either really early or really late, aiming to call while the receptionist is out and hoping your call goes straight through.

You’ll use social media to connect with your prospect, or figure out an email address, or contact another office.

Whatever happens, you’ll get through.

The thing with this approach is that it works. It works because you’ll eventually get meetings, simply from the law of averages. If you knock on enough doors, someone will eventually listen to you.

The problem is that it’s exhausting. You need abundant reserves of positive energy, a thick skin and the willingness to take rejection day after day in pursuit of your goal.

You have to want to win – to batter that door down and take your prospect by the scruff of his neck and make him listen to you.

The Slow Road. Show Your Work

The first two approaches will work for you at any stage of your career. This next one takes time.

It takes time because you’re not selling a product or a service. You’re selling yourself. You are taking the time to show what you do – where it can be seen.

The most obvious example of this these days is content marketing. The more time you spend opening up what you do to the world, the more likely it is that people who are interested will come across you. This is called being discoverable.

Making yourself discoverable takes time. You need to put things out there. You need to write and speak, do video and audio, meet people and network, go to conferences and be seen. It’s doing all the things that establish you as a voice, as a professional and as someone worth knowing.

This doesn’t come easy to some of us. For example, I like writing but I don’t like crowds. I don’t enjoy travelling long distances and mingling with people I don’t know.

I do like going places where I learn something and where I have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations. That works for me.

The slow road really is about not worrying about the finish point so much and trying to enjoy the journey. Consultative selling is really about helping someone else with a problem.

Problems aren’t created overnight – not the kind that you’re probably helping with anyway. It takes time to change things, to find that processes that worked perfectly well when there were three people in a room work less well when there are twenty five. To realise that you need help and it’s time to call in the professionals.

If you just take the time to be professional – to be someone that is focused on building a reputation – then you’ll find that the slow road is the most rewarding one.

Surely it’s better than feeling you are where you are just because of what your parents did? And it must be more rewarding than spending every day being told not to call back?

The slow road, then, is about doing things that are right for you. Right because they make you feel good about how you spend your days. And, in spending your days doing work, you’ll build a reputation and people will find you.

You just have to trust the process. It won’t happen in a year. It will probably take ten. But then you’ll find that you’ve created something worth having. As the saying goes, people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten.

In Summary

It’s probably clear where my preferences lie. Which road I think is best. But what I think doesn’t matter. What matters is that you pick the one that is right for you. They stick to that road – that approach.

You only get to the finish line by completing the journey, so whichever road you choose, stay on it till you’re done.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the fifth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

What’s The First Thing You Should Do When Starting a New Sales Campaign?

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Thursday, 9.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

So, you’re in charge of a sales program – a consultative selling one. You’ve got targets, a resource plan, a budget. You’re ready to go. You just need to start prospecting.

Or do you?

Before you start doing anything you should ask yourself a question. Is what you’re about to do worth doing at all?

The reason for asking yourself this question is that the answer you give will decide how you spend your time. And the results you get will come from doing those things hour after hour, day after day.

You reach your goals as a result of all that work you put in over time. So, it makes sense to just check whether it’s the right work for you to be doing.

Let’s start with an example. You’ve just started a new sales role. What does your manager expect you to do?

You’re probably expected to do the modern day equivalent of knocking on doors. Pick up the phone, send emails, connect on social media. Be active. Be busy. More importantly, look busy.

You need to ask yourself whether that is the best use of your time. Let’s say that you’re not actually a professional salesperson. You’re a professional that has now been asked to get some sales in.

You’re actually good at doing something like accounting or law or working with technology. Now you need to go out and get business and the easiest, most obvious way is to “smile and dial”.

The thing that you miss by doing that is the cost of sales.

When your customer buys anything from you they pay a price. Let’s say that price is one hundred dollars. After you do everything you do in your business, you’ll end up (hopefully) with some cash in your pocket. Let’s say that’s 7 dollars.

Sounds good?

Not really. The stuff that eats up the money in the middle is operating costs – everything you need to do to actually deliver what you’ve promised the customer.

Then, at the front end is your cost of sales, the cost of actually getting to your customer and getting them to part with the money in their pocked for what you do.

Why does understanding the cost of sales matter? It matters because you can’t decide what activities are the best use of your time if you don’t price them correctly.

What are your options for bringing in business? Some of these might be on your list:

  1. Personal selling – you pick up the phone.
  2. Hire a salesperson
  3. Advertise
  4. Pay an introducer’s commission

Options 2, 3 and 4 have a defined cost associated with them. Option 1 seems free. It’s only free, however, if you value your time at zero. If you place any value on your time whatsoever, you need to decide whether it’s cheaper to go for one of the other options.

The problem is that in consultative sales, 2 and 3 have problems. You can’t easily advertise a product or service when you don’t even know what problem you’re going to solve. Perhaps you haven’t built the product yet.

Then, hiring a professional salesperson has the problems that come with an expensive resource that probably doesn’t have the deep domain knowledge you need to do a decent consultative sell. Your ideal consultative salesperson is someone who knows how to do the job as well, probably one of your operational folk.

These people, however, don’t want to pick up the phone and harass people. They aren’t good at playing the numbers game and just hammering on. They want to do good work and, if they can get in front of someone, they can explain what they do and probably get some business signed. It’s the getting in front of people that’s the problem.

Which leaves the last option – pay an introducer’s commission.

The chances are that there are people out there who spend all their time getting to know people. That’s their thing. If they’re confident that they can get you in front of the right people – and you’re confident that when you’re in front of the right people you can close a deal – then you’ve got a sweet thing going.

You should be happy to pay an introducer’s commission in this situation. You’ve saved hours of time that you can now spend on your business. The introducer makes some money and can carry on partying and meeting people. Everybody wins.

Unless someone gets greedy.

There’s an element of fairness involved. If you try and set your introducer commission too low, then you won’t get any takers. If they want too much or try and grab a slice of ongoing business, then you’re going to have to deal with that.

The best way is to have a number of introducers and negotiate a fair commission, say 20% of the first deal carried out as a result of an introduction. That will keep them bringing you new customers and you’ve got the opportunity to sell more to them later. Logically, you should be willing to pay the introducer whatever it takes – even if your profit on that first deal is zero – as long as you can make it up on the back end – the follow on sales.

It’s only when you decide that there is no way you can set up an arrangement where you pay for sales that you should do it yourself. That’s when you need to sit at your desk and start making calls and sending emails.

If you’re smart, however, you’ll spend your time finding people that can introduce you to the people you need to meet and get a commission agreement in place with them.

Then, you’re actually going to get some real traction in your sales campaign.

So, in summary, the first thing you should do when starting a new sales campaign is not to try and find prospects, but try and find people who can introduce you to prospects. Start building your referral network. That will free you up to focus on selling.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the fourth post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book on Consultative Selling. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

How To Figure Out What Your Brand Is Doing For You

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Wednesday, 9.27pm

Sheffield, U.K.

How is branding important in consultative sales and how can you make the best use of your brand?

Entire books have been written about brand – what they mean and how you get one. Some people think that it’s as simple as a logo, while others talk about the entire experience people have when they interact with you in any way.

Branding can be looked at very simply for our task of consultative selling. You just need to ask how your customers and prospects feel about you?

If they like, admire and trust you, that’s great. That’s the place you want to be.

That’s what many modern internet influencers have built a business on. They know that if you listen to their podcasts or read their blogs and find that what they tell you or show you is good then, when they eventually ask you to support them by buying something, you’ll be much more likely to want to reach into your wallet.

It’s very clear when people do something because they want to help you and when they do something because they want to help themselves.

Take the Tim Ferriss podcast, for example. It’s one of the most widely listened to business podcasts in the world.

Tim started it as a distraction when his previous book, which he’d worked on really intensely, failed to take off. Burned out, he started a podcast, interviewing successful people and trying to find out the routines and habits that helped them get where they were.

Now, if Tim mentions a product on his podcast, it sells out within days. That’s because he offers a trusted shortcut. He’s done all the work needed to find information, test it and bring the best bits to you. Now all you have to do is take those results and use them.

The best blogs and podcasts and companies make you feel a certain way about them. These days it’s increasingly not about what they say, but about what they show you.

That’s an area where companies that keep a tight rein on marketing struggle. They can’t make themselves more human and, let’s face it, no one is really interested in what a company does. They’re interested in what it means for them. And they’re nosy – they want to see what other people are up to.

So, an easy way to develop a brand is to be radically honest. Show it like it is. Show your work, show what you do, give people a peek behind the scenes.

This is vital in consultative sales, which happen only when people trust you. The more you show of yourself, the more information they have to judge whether you’re consistent, authentic and trustworthy or an opportunistic con artist.

So, if brand is how you make people feel, the products you offer are what you help them do. The product is the hammer you’re selling.

Take a site like Monevator, for example. That started as a finance blog about getting rich slowly. The authors have put a lot of work into making it easy to understand the options open to you.

If you want to start a pension or choose a collection of cheap index trackers, the site tells you how you can do it quickly and easily. You can save thousands by making a few simple decisions, starting with actually opening an account.

Once you use and trust a site like that then there is a good chance you’ll buy products that they recommend. In my case, it’s often books. It takes me seconds to decide to get a book if it’s recommended on a site I trust. That’s the power of its brand.

The biggest mistake people make about branding is thinking that brand is about the physical things in front of you – the logo, the fonts, the packaging. And it is that – but it’s more. It’s about what sort of feelings you evoke in the people you work with.

In consultative selling, this comes across in the way you act with a prospect. The biggest problem with selling something intangible is that people can’t judge whether you’re any good or not. You might just be good at talking. You might be showing work that someone else has done – but they’re not sure whether you can actually do it yourself.

If you insist on someone signing a contract before you’ll show them anything at all, you’ll find the task of selling to them much harder. The secret is having lots to talk about. Lots to show and tell about what you’ve done.

Here’s the thing. Advice is cheap to give. Ideas aren’t worth much. In a consultative sale, the money comes in because you are hired to execute – to deliver on a promise. To get hired, you have to show that you know your stuff, and that comes from good old show and tell.

The way in which you do your show and tell – in front of a customer and in the various media open to you – will set up and reinforce the brand you’re trying to create. Ideally, you want people to know you before you talk to them. If that isn’t possible, you want them to feel good about you quickly. The worst thing is to have people feel apathetic.

The approach to take in modern consultative sales is probably this. My advice is free or low cost. I give it away on my blog and in my books. My time is what you pay for – and paying for my time is well worth it because of the results I’ll deliver for you.

In other words, spend all your time creating your brand. The products you sell can come later in the process, when your prospects are comfortable with you – even if you’ve never met them in person.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this is the third post in a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

What Does Being Ethical Have To Do With Anything?

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Tuesday, 10.13pm

Sheffield, UK

No one ever admits to doing anything shady. Do you?

Yes you might just add something onto your expenses once in a while or increase your commission just before signature on the off chance that no one will notice. Perhaps you have to say that the thing you’re selling works in dusty conditions even though you know it doesn’t because you’ll be fired.

The fact is that in business you often have to bend the truth. After all, everyone is only looking to hire someone with experience, someone who has done the job several times and is also the cheapest on the market. If you’re relatively new, you might have to big yourself up, talk confidently – after all, confidence sells.

So where do you draw the line. At what point do you realise that you’re doing something that’s unethical. And does it matter?

It might seem a little strange to jump into the ethics of selling so quickly – after all you’ve just started reading this book. Surely that’s something to worry about later – after you’ve got your customers and business. Can’t you retrofit ethics into your business?

I think it’s important to start with understanding your own position on being ethical in selling, especially when it comes to consultative selling.

The aim of a consultative selling process is to help your prospect arrive at the right choice for him or her. David Maister, Robert Galford and Charles Green write about this as being a Trusted Advisor.

Trust has to be earned. As the saying goes, it takes a lifetime to build up a reputation and seconds to destroy it. The problem is that sometimes you have to make hard choices – between what you get or lose and what is the right thing to do.

Sometimes it’s the other way around. You’re doing everything right, but your client is the one that acts badly. That hurts as well. You learn not to trust people like that.

Here’s a suggestion on how to approach ethical selling.

Let’s assume you’re not in the business of outright lying – selling something you know is complete rubbish.

What you have is valuable to your customer, but also has pros and cons. What do you do in that case? More importantly, what will the salesperson you hire do?

For starters, the way they act will probably depend on the way in which you pay them. If what they make is heavily dependent on a commission on the sale, then they’ll do everything they can to flog your product, including lying through their teeth.

If they’re on a salary and don’t lose or win based on the sale, then their primary interest will be in serving the customer. They’ll probably take a more objective view.

In my experience, a pure salesperson compensated on the first basis struggles to make any sales at all. There’s a conveyor belt of them, moving from firm to firm as they come in, get all excited, make some noise, find it’s actually quite hard, then move or get pushed out.

On the other hand, quiet consultative folk, possibly the ones in charge of the business or experienced at doing the work, have one conversation, figure out what the customer needs, put in one proposal and end up getting some business.

If you run a business that is designed around a hard sell process, you’ll attract a certain kind of staff and create a certain kind of culture. The problem is that the bad will drive out the good in this situation.

What you really want is a team around you that are dedicated to serving the customer first and making money second. It may seem idealistic, but if you do good work and add genuine value, then you will be entitled to a fair share of that value you create.

If you truly create value, the compensation will follow.

It’s also important that you have a clear idea of the kind of clients you want to work with. Isn’t it better to have a small number of clients who value your advice, that you can really serve and pay attention to closely and get along with rather than a large number who don’t trust you?

As Warren Buffett says, a good rule is to only work with people you like, admire and trust.

When it comes down to it, however, there’s only one thing you need to remember to know that you’re acting ethically.

You know the golden rule – treat others in the way you would like them to treat you.

To really operate in an ethical way – follow the platinum rule. Treat others the way they would like to be treated.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this set of posts is part of a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

The One Thing To Understand About How Sales Works Now

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Monday, 8.56pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I had my first real lesson in how sales works as I sat in the back of a lecture hall listening to Neil Rackham, the author of Spin Selling, talk about his research into the secrets of successful selling. I listened and took notes as Rackham took us through how organisations changed over the last few decades, morphing from lumbering, inefficient beasts to lean, hyper-competitive machines, operating in the age of the Internet.

The world of sales has changed too, as a result. The approaches and lessons of the past cannot be applied blindly today. We need to examine them critically, look at what works, what doesn’t work and what we need to do differently to be successful now.

This starts with understanding the basic framework in which everything happens. Broadly, there are two extremes when it comes to something you can buy. At one end are Transactional products – simple and easy to compare. At the other end are Consultative products, a thing that you might not even realise you need but know you do when someone sits down and works through things with you.

Think of the last time you wanted to buy a book. A book is a good example of a transactional product. It’s the same product whether you buy it in a bookstore like Waterstones or a platform like Amazon. You don’t need someone to persuade you to pick one copy of the book over another. You can go off a recommendation, read a review and pick the place that is most convenient or cheap to get the book. You might even pay more in order to support your local bookstore. And the end, however, it’s a transaction and you simply exchange money for the book and get on with your life.

On the other hand, perhaps you’ve done a construction project, like a home extension. You didn’t just go out and buy and off the shelf extension. Instead, you talked to a few architects, selected one you liked, worked through a number of options, asked them for their opinion, looked at drawings and visualizations and eventually made up your mind. You couldn’t have done all that just by yourself – your architect was your consultant and advisor through the process and helped you make decisions by giving you the benefit of his or her information and expertise. This was a consultative sell.

Decades ago, before the Internet, things didn’t work quite like this. If you wanted a book, you walked into the local store and browsed the racks. Perhaps you spoke to the person behind the counter and asked for recommendations. You might have looked through the paper and read reviews of must-read books for this summer. In fact, there probably weren’t too many times you didn’t have to go into a store and ask someone’s advice, whether you were buying a new set of forks or a new car. The number of transactional sales were quite low then.

When you were in the store, you might be quite happy to pay a bit more if the service was good or if the next available store was several miles away. You’d pay for service, whether you were having your tyres changed or selecting furniture. You wouldn’t have known the options anyway – perhaps you went round three or four shops – but there was no guarantee that you couldn’t find the same thing at 20% off a few miles further on.

In this environment, the job of a salesperson was to help customers pick something. Many of the traditional selling approaches worked on the basis that the salesperson knew more than the customer and was going to spend their time together passing on their knowledge, working to “close” at the end. And that approach worked for a long time.

Then the Internet came along and changed everything. In less than ten years, many products became entirely transactional. Think of all the things you can buy online now without talking to a single person, from pencils and book and shaving cream to cars and televisions and insurance. All you have to do is do some research, compare your options and choose a product. If you know what you want, or are willing to find out by doing some research, you can then simply go on the best platform and buy it.

This has meant that that traditional rump in the middle – where you could go into a store and pay a little bit more for a little more advice has started to disappear. The relentless onslaught of the Internet is making product after product, market after market, more and more transactional. The traditional salesperson’s role is disappearing and being replaced by an online order form.

How about when you don’t know what you want? That’s the other end of the scale and it’s flourishing as well. In situations where you don’t have the expertise to evaluate your options yourself then you need some help. The individuals and organisations that do well here have the ability to help you when you don’t quite know what you need help with. For example, you might have an ache in your forearm, but you need the help of a doctor to tell whether it’s a simple muscle strain or the onset of rheumatism. If you need to carry out a major business transformation you might need to hire experienced consultants who can work with you to create and drive a process that works for your business. That needs a consultative approach.

All this means that different sales skills are needed for transactional and consultative selling. Transactional selling means you have to be great at optimising, at squeezing every last bit out of your systems and workflow and operations. Consultative selling means you have to be good with people, working with them, listening and coming up with creative and useful ideas and approaches. If what you do is repetitive and simple, it will be automated and become transactional. If what you do is human and creative, you’ve got some time still.

The first thing you have to do is figure out where you are and what you need to learn to sell in your business. You have to specialise in one end or the other – either be the best transactional salesperson out there or the best consultative. If you’re in the middle, you’re going to be squeezed out of business.

In this series of posts, I’ll start with consultative selling and then move onto transactional selling later – perhaps in another book.

As a reminder, this set of posts is part of a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh