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Monday, January 14, 2008

It's All About Sales??, Part I

Pondering the sales equation, I can't get out of my head that post from way back by Barry (RustyBrick) Schwartz on being a terrible salesman. In addition to being a hilarious bit of self-disclosure, I increasingly realized that this was proof that Barry is, on several levels, actually quite a clever salesman. And surely, a clever salesman in the digital age has to think on several levels.

That bit of irony aside, before I go on to more thinking about sales, this is after all only Part I of this post... so let's linger a bit on Barry's claims. Was he right about these various factors that make him a terrible salesman? Let's take a few points under consideration, including ones Barry didn't include as points:

  • "RustyBrick is as busy as ever, which is maybe why I am a bad salesman." I love this one. It's deftly constructed and virtually guarantees that RustyBrick will continue to be busy. I'm betting Rusty is one of those guys who never flunked out that job interview question about "describing your weaknesses." Notice how describing his weakness is coupled with the revelation that his company is swamped with work! Top marks for this part.
  • "Don't dress well." Dress has become a fascinating topic. You can really screw things up these days by overdressing, I've noticed. If you've got a solid reputation, I think you can get away with dressing down. Also, upscale people tend to pull fast ones on those of lower rank - to wit, the upscale Asian restaurant we celebrated Carolyn's birthday at on Saturday night. The well-to-do locals came from their homes, not work. And they didn't count this as a formal event. So they wore turtlenecks. Luckily, I didn't go so far as to wear a tie, but still, doh! - we were a little overdressed. Returning to business, probably, there is a way to alienate a prospective customer with your clothing, but not as much in technical and advertising fields. Looking cheap and shabby because you're clueless or penniless is a bad sign, but dressing in your own way is just kind of the norm these days. Some people can get away with it. Personally I feel awkward if I underdress for a client, but you cannot overdress either, especially for startups and "funky" offices.
  • "Don't come to meetings well groomed." Well Barry, you're a brave man to admit this :), but it's probably not recommended except for the very successful. Now you guys can laugh at this bullet point, but recently, I thought my last haircut just didn't "take," so I went in for another one a good two weeks ahead of my usual schedule. I felt *so* much better afterwards, it wasn't even funny. I cannot really fathom anyone in a sales role (I mean a professional, not the head proprietor who doubles as a salesperson, like Barry and I) not developing a fairly consistent approach to the whole "grooming" concept. But there are more than a few exceptions, which no doubt prove the rule.
  • "Don't prepare outstanding presentations." Yes, this can be a bit of an odd one. But increasingly, I think the folks who prepare outstanding presentations are the ones who are going to come second to someone's relationship or reputation. I recently showed up to present to a B2B client and spent the entire session in intense Q&A. My USB memory stick never made it into the computer. I sent the presentation over later. This did not hinder the sales process one bit. But making the effort made me feel more confident, so I didn't freak out and crash my car on the way there or back. So if that's what preparation will do for you, do it.
  • "Don't compliment the individual I'm meeting with." Certainly, obsequiousness never put any client in the right frame of mind. Complimenting or noticing something about their company probably helps, though. And being normal enough to make small talk usually helps, but again, if you're going to be dealing with systems and code, maybe they don't want you to be too normal.
  • "Don't research the prospect." Sure - you're busy already! Why aren't they researching *you*? Ha. Well, a little research never hurts, but again it proves that market position matters and they'll work with you to help you do that research if they like you. Meticulous research is something you do when someone is actually paying you for meticulous research.
  • "Don't write powerful, graphical, proposals." Interesting. I have to admit I've grappled with this myself. Many prospects explicitly instruct me not to bother with this. Others prefer it. But to be open about it, many's the time that a detailed, bullet-pointed, all-text email has been well received. Depending on what you do, clients are pragmatic. You'd be in a different situation if you were bidding on a skyscraper construction contract or the Olympics.
  • "Don't act like I want the prospect's business." It's true, you can be *too* needy. But Barry, when you do this, are you telling me people actually hire you?
  • "Don't follow up on those proposals." I have usually found, with Barry, that if they like the proposal, they'll follow up. Nagging people very rarely gets them to yes, though it might help you to piece together some approximation of why they said no.

On the whole, I think Barry's identified a number of ephemera that do not determine fundamentally whether or not you make a sale. It's fair to say that you must have substance to back up the elements of style mentioned above.

But he's probably partly kidding and also, not showing what goes into the "sales" process that is not strictly about sales per se, but about how to structure a service relationship for long term success of both parties (which is like sales, but isn't "selling"). Most people couldn't be quite as blase about this - it depends on your market position and the quirks of your industry, including the balance of supply and demand. (Just try to get someone to install the front door on my house faster than Home Depot's current three-month turnaround...)

Back with the sequel in another day or two, hopefully.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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