Fable Friday: Rudyard Kipling weighs in on team building

In today’s Fable Friday I’ll take you back to late 19th century India and the growth of Mowgli, as told by Rudyard Kipling in “The Jungle Book.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedBut first a few words of background on Kipling.  He was born in 1865 in Bombay in 1865 where his father was principal of an art school.  The family remained in Bombay until 1871 when they returned to England, stayed just six months, then returned to Bombay, leaving the six year old Rudyard and his younger sister to board with a family in Southsea.  During the five years in this foster home he was bullied and physically mistreated, an experience that left him with deep psychological scars and a sense of betrayal.

As a result of these early years and similar unfortunate experiences, he became an avid reader and lover of literature, and much of his later writing contained themes of loyalty, respect, honesty, fairness and kindness.

Kipling married an American woman when he was thirty, and the couple moved to Vermont, living there for seven years.  He was by this time a well-known and successful writer and when the couple started a family, he saw that there wasn’t much in the way of good literature for young people to learn values, so he began to write them.  “Kim” and the two Jungle Books were written during this period.

Back to our story about Mowgli and the wolves in “The Jungle Book.”  Kipling has the animals in the story speak in rhyme, while the humans speak in prose.  The wolves try to teach the young Mowgli the “laws” of the jungle, a metaphor for the way one should lead an honest life.  One of the most famous of these instructions is this beautiful instructive piece from the Law of the Wolves:

Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,

And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;

For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
For many years this piece has been quoted by coaches and other team leaders.  Phil Jackson used to read it to his L.A. Lakers to get them to play better as a team.  Here in Texas where I live, the local high school cross-country team uses it to remind themselves that they score better when they run as a pack.

If you are a sales manager, take a look at your own sales team.  Do they always think this way?  For example, do they make an effort to include product partners on calls?  Do they share information and ideas with underwriters and analysts so the best possible service may be delivered to the client? Is there jealousy or envy regarding who gets assigned to what customer groups, or who gets the best projects?  A pack of wolves working together can bring down a foe much larger than itself, and from time to time your team can use an eloquent reminder of what you expect from them.

Here’s my idea for you today.  Have someone read this quote at your next sales meeting, then ask, “What do you think we as a sales team can learn from this?  What is Kipling trying to tell us about how we work and how we should work?”  Then develop the discussion until you come out of the meeting with a commitment to change.

Think Like Your Customer!

Annual client review? Add a splash of ketchup

On today’s Fable Friday I’ll give you an easy tip on how to make the annual client review more effective.

In his outstanding book “What the Dog Saw,” Malcolm Gladwell tells this story. Many years ago the H. J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, decided to do some market research on how families used their number one product, ketchup. So they sent researchers into a number of families’ homes to observe.

2014-clipartpanda-com-about-terms-ylglp7-clipartOne of them told this story.  “There was a three-year-old and a six-year-old, and what happened was that the kids asked for ketchup and the Mom brought out a forty-ounce bottle.  The three-year-old went to grab it, and Mom intercepted the bottle and said, “No, you’re not going to do that.”  So she took the bottle away and poured out a little dollop. No doubt you’ve done this with your own kids when they were little. You see the kid trying to pour a glass of milk from a gallon jug and you say, “Whoa! Let me do that. You’ll spill it all over the place.”

For Heinz, that moment was a wake-up call, because a five-year-old uses 60 percent more ketchup than a forty-year-old, and Heinz realized it needed to put the ketchup in a bottle that the child could control.

The researcher commented, “If you’re four, you don’t get to choose what you eat for dinner, in most cases, but the one thing you can control is ketchup. It’s the one part of the food experience that a child can customize and personalize.”

As a result of these observations and conclusions, Heinz introduced the smaller EZ Squirt bottle, made of soft plastic with a conical nozzle.  And in homes where the EZ Squirt is used, ketchup consumption has grown by as much as 12 percent.  Pretty slick, wouldn’t you say?

Now how does this apply to you when you sell? Do what Heinz did.

If you’re involved in consultative selling and building client relationships, you no doubt schedule annual relationship review meetings. Next time make the first item on the agenda an in-depth “How are you using our product(s) now?”  You’ll often find your client is missing out on a product feature they could be using but don’t, either because they don’t understand it, or no one has shown them how they benefit from it.

A useful example involves any product that relies on software, such as treasury management, cash flow forecasting, foreign exchange, CRM and the like.  Ask how your customer is using it now, so you can make useful suggestions on how to optimize the product’s value.  I’ll bet if my tech-savvy son were to ask me to sit down with him and show him how I use my iPhone, he could give me a dozen pointers on features the phone has that I don’t use, either because I don’t know about them or don’t know how to make them work.

The idea is that annual reviews must begin with some value add by you, before you begin the tedious “What else can we sell this guy?”

Observing usage and asking good questions, whether it’s ketchup, software or any other product is a great way to…

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Fable Friday: Those emotional Canadians

I used to work with a guy who would often say, “You have to assume that people are rational, and will always do the rational thing,” but over the years I’ve learned that the opposite is true in sales. People often do the irrational thing.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIn fact, if you’re in sales you’ve seen customers or prospects who will pass up on dealing with you, because he likes the guy from Company X.  He’ll buy the product with the cheaper price even when he knows it won’t last as long as yours.  It’s long been known that buying is far more an emotional decision than a rational one.

I often ask in workshops, “How many of you have a financial adviser who handles your investment portfolio?”  All raise their hands.  Then, “How many of you really don’t like your financial adviser and don’t trust him?”  No one raises his hand.  So the decision on which financial adviser to select is mostly based on whether you like and trust the provider.

Demographers, who study the characteristics of the population for the purpose of helping us sell things, refer to the category called “A. I. O.s”, which stands for “attitudes, interests, and opinions.”  People buy things based on how they feel about things, far more than what they know about things.

Back in the 90’s I did a workshop for a bank in Canada and we reviewed some of the discovery questions that the relationship managers asked their customers.  All were in the area of pure facts:  “How many years has the company been profitable?”  “Do you get an audited statement?”  “What were inventory turns last year?”

We encouraged them to build into their conversation at least one affective question, getting at how the customer felt about his current situation, his opinion about what was best to do, how he felt about the consequences of not making a decision that would save money.

When we returned six weeks later to discuss how their new approach was working, we found they had not implemented it at all!  Puzzled, we asked why.  After an awkward silence one of them said, “Gregory, Canadian men don’t ask other Canadian men how they feel about things.”

This resulted in a great deal of hilarity, but I assumed it was simply true.  Men in general probably don’t like to ask people how they feel about things.  Of course such questions need not be phrased as if you’re Dr. Phil.  Why not, “I’m interested in your take regarding the choices before you, to make a businesslike decision to save on costs, or to do nothing.”  That’s an opinion question and a powerful one at that. Here are some others:

“If you could wave a wand and have this business running perfectly, what would have to happen?”

“What are the consequences of not knowing what your competition is doing?”

“How do your employees feel about your cost-cutting initiatives?”

“What do you think is your most pressing business issue right now?”

People buy based on how they feel about business issues.  Make sure your needs identification process has a few question built into it that get at what’s in the customer’s heart.  That’s how you…

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The discontented client and the interesting salesman

A relationship manager for one of my clients shared this story with me earlier this year. He was trying to get an appointment to call on a desirable prospect but hadn’t had much success.  In an attempt to prolong the phone conversation the RM asked the prospect about the current state of the business, and the prospect made a comment about how bad things had gone recently, ending with “it’s really been our winter of discontent.”

The banker responded, “I’m sorry to hear that. You know, maybe I can make your winter of discontent into a glorious summer.”

The prospect replied with some enthusiasm, “Oh, so you’re a Shakespeare fan!”  And that led to a conversation about Shakespeare and that the banker and the prospect had both been English majors in college. They chatted a bit and the prospect ended up accepting the banker’s request to pay a visit. Successful call I would say.

Well, I was an English major too, and I loved hearing this story. Let me share the details about the quote.

richard-iii-Olivier-1955“’Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York,” proclaims Richard III in the opening lines of the play by the same name (played by Olivier in the photo).  Richard is thrilled to have learned that his brother, of the house of York, has wrested the crown from Henry IV (house of Lancaster), and Richard has plans to steal the crown for himself from his brother through treacherous means. (Being a hunchback made him a little bitter about life.)

People often quote “the winter of our discontent,” but don’t understand its real meaning.  Richard is saying that the unhappy times are over and now it’s glorious summer.  Shakespeareans know the line well.

There’s a reason why I share this with you today because salespeople often ask what books they should read, and I always tell them, “Read good literature, and don’t bother with business books.”  Good literature will make you more interesting.  You’ll get nothing from the business best seller lists.

In 2013, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, spoke to the company’s interns. He told them he had a piece of advice for success, and they listened raptly.  He said, “Be interesting.”  He encouraged them to be well-rounded, to understand history to get a better feel for what is going to happen. He said that he learned nothing from all the business books he ever read that helped him in his own career.

People who work to be well-rounded become more interesting.  Why is this important to you in sales?

The best salespeople I ever worked with have a relaxed, consultative, conversational approach, and it is always through the art of conversation that deals get made.  Someone tells you something. You listen carefully to it. You ask a question to help the other person think about it more deeply, or you relate a fact or story to advance the concept.  You can dig through a wealth of great reading to help illustrate a provocative idea or lead someone else through the process of self-discovery, and all of a sudden others think of you as “the most interesting person they know.”

Don’t confuse well-rounded, interesting people with those who make inane and wasteful small talk.  Interesting people listen, add value and help others think differently.

Be interesting.

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Prime your prospect and sell more effectively

Today we’ll reflect on the fascinating story of the demise of Kodak, the huge Rochester, NY company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2012.  During its heyday as a growing profitable company, Kodak employed 145,300 worldwide, and in the 1990s it hit a revenue peak of over $16 billion and a market cap of about $30 billion.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedToday Kodak has a market cap of $351 million and employs 7,300, destroyed by the inexorable move to digital, which was foreseen by everyone except the Kodak executives who blindly believed there would never be a substitute for film. Looking back, it’s easy to see why they could not let go. At its peak, about 70% of the U.S. film market was in Kodak’s hands, and its gross margins were about 70% as well. Kodak was making a ton of money.

The saddest part of Kodak’s story is that it had the key to renewed success right in its hands, as digital photography was originally a Kodak invention.  The digital camera was invented during the mid-1970s by Steve Sasson, a Kodak electrical engineer.

Other companies were able to make profound shifts in strategy based on changing market demands.  IBM, a major early developer of personal computing technology, watched profits drop as personal computers became less expensive, so they shed their PC business and moved into the technology consulting sector. But Kodak’s attachment to film blinded it to the need to make a strategic change.

Kodak’s story is now well known, and I mention it here only as a follow-up to Tuesday’s newsletter in which we looked at solid research experiments in priming, and I promised to help you see how priming can help you sell more effectively.

Let’s suppose you sell technology, insurance, wealth services, treasury services or other financial solutions.  On your next prospect call you might begin with a plain declaration of the reason for your call:

“My most important goal when I call on a prospect or a customer is to ensure they are taking advantage of the latest technologies and advances in their industry, so that they don’t incur a competitive loss by missing out on good opportunities, such as Kodak did when it stuck with film.”

Then go on to recap the story above in your own words. Your intent is to prime the prospect to contemplate the distasteful possibility of loss, a subject which I have written about on this site in the past.  (See this post from June, 2013 on why professional golfers putt more effectively for par than for birdie.)

Remember:  Customers’ fear of loss is about twice as powerful as their desire to gain!

Now your customer will be happy to answer your discovery questions, such as,

“What is it that is most important for you to achieve this year and what gets in the way?”

“How are you using these services now? There may be opportunities to bundle for better pricing, or consider more effective alternatives.”

“What information do you need to have immediately for better decision making?”

“What will happen if you do nothing?”

Now you are in the customer’s wheelhouse discussing subjects that matter to him or her, and as long as your questions are thoughtful and helpful, you have a far better opportunity for constructive dialog.

Selling is easy as long as you remember to…


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Don’t swallow that Oreo cookie coaching idea

Last month I ran a sales management workshop for a client in Seattle, and I gave the group a few easy coaching scenarios to discuss and practice, which included an assortment of performance deficiencies. For example, one problem focused on the employee simply not having enough experience with a new skill, another with an unmotivated employee and so on.

But as the groups prepared to role play their coaching scenarios I listened to one of the managers make an astute observation.

“I think the best way to handle this one is just to get right to the point and tell the guy what he needs to do better. Why insult his intelligence by beating around the bush and telling him how great he is?  Once you do that you have to figure out a way to finesse in the corrective part, and it all sounds so phony.”

1331043005_OreoThe others agreed and one added, “I remember when we used to work for (name). When you went in to talk with him about something you did wrong, he was so afraid to mention it that you’d walk out feeling like you were doing great!”

I was proud of their conclusion, as we had just finished discussing what behaviors the great coaches engage in, one of them being that they get to the teaching point quickly.

This poor coaching approach of trying to soften up the employee has often been labeled the “Oreo Method” in which you begin the conversation by telling the employee something positive about his performance, e.g., “Bill, you’ve been doing this job for eight years and of course you are one of my most experienced and valued employees.  Here are just a few of the areas in which you have distinguished yourself as being one of the tops in the field…”

Then you squeeze in a vague comment or two about an area you would like to see improved.  Get in and out of that fast and don’t dwell on any corrective ideas!

Then finish up with some words of confidence.  “I know that with your loyalty and commitment, you’ll continue to provide the best possible service to all our customers!”

This disingenuous approach has been touted by HR people for as long as I can remember, and it’s bad. I sure hope you aren’t an Oreo coach!

Great coaches believe in their people and that confident belief must force them to always provide honest, direct feedback to help them improve.  Don’t disrespect your team with vague comments about performance, hoping they’ll “get the message.” Make them trust you as an honest leader.

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“I’m happy with my current provider.”

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

—Pharrell Williams


Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOf all the sales skill workshops I conduct, by far my favorite is helping salespeople get appointments with prospects and customers over the phone. In addition to giving the learners a number of important guidelines in making effective outbound calls (e.g., never say, “This is Name from Company, how are you today?”), we spend a lot of time helping them through objection handling, the biggest obstacle to the initial goal of getting a conversation started.

One of the toughest objections we all hear is that the prospect is deliriously happy with his current provider. Of course we know this is seldom true. Who on earth is madly in love with his bank for example?  But to hear the prospect tell it, you’d think they were holding hands.

In objection handling, you have to be careful not to sound defensive. In other words, you would never say, “Oh but you don’t know how great our services are!” It’s important to listen and be consultative.  Help the prospect solve his “problem” in the role of a thinking partner.

Do you need your Business Banking sales team to get more appointments?  Do you need your retail bankers to get customers to come into the branch? Do you need your investment sales reps to have more face-to-face appointments? If you’re in health care, do you want your reps to get into that hospital or those doctors’ offices? Of course you do.

So helping them become more effective on the phone is an important priority, and a great deal of their improved effectiveness will come from dealing smoothly with the “I’m happy” objection.  Of course there are other difficult objections which I’ve discussed here before: “Send me something in the mail,” “too difficult to switch,” “too busy to talk to you now,” and a few others.

Off the top of my head I can think of three very strong responses to “I’m happy” that will keep your conversation on track and lead to an appointment. How good are you at doing the same?

Here’s a deal for you.  Send me just one of yours by email and I’ll send you back my three, no charge of course.  Then you’ll have some good techniques to practice and share with your sales team. If this is an important issue for you, write me offline at:  Gregory at actionsystemstraining dot com.

I’d love to help you…

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A sales management coaching tip from Lou Holtz

Some time ago I had an interesting conversation with Nancy Lieberman, the greatest female basketball player of all time, an Olympian, a pro player, the only woman to coach a men’s pro basketball team, and a Hall of Famer. Our conversation got around to coaching, a subject she knows a thing or two about, and I was fascinated by this story she shared from Lou Holtz, the former college and NFL coach and another superstar of motivation.

HoltzCoach Holtz positions this challenge.  “Say you have a big thick length of solid wood, about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long, and you place it over a couple of cinder blocks a foot or so off the floor.  You blindfold your player and challenge him to walk from one end to the other. He’d say, ‘That’s easy,’ and stroll right across. So his thoughts would be only about success.

But now suppose I tell him I’m going to raise the platform. I’ll put the wood between two buildings 50 stories high.  Now the player thinks, ‘Uh oh. I could fall.’  The challenge is exactly the same but the athlete’s confidence is now lower.”

Nancy adds, “So as a coach, you have to see that when goals are low, confidence is high, and when goals are high, confidence can start to slip away, even when the skills needed to succeed are exactly the same.  Your job as the coach is not just setting high goals. You also have to work on the player’s confidence, by keeping negative thoughts out of his head.”

Now back to you.  How well are you doing that as a coach?  Do you find fault, assign blame, point out the negatives, suggest what could go wrong? Or are you skilled at developing positive images of success in the minds of your team? When your sales team listens to you in meetings or one-on-one coaching sessions, do they walk out knowing exactly what to do, or are they more likely to be fearful of failure?

Let’s examine the business priorities.  You want to challenge your sales team with aggressive goals and you want them to be successful in achieving them, to make more money and profit for your company, your team and yourself.

But remember:  High challenges can cause low confidence.

In every coaching conversation with your sales team, work to build their confidence.

“I know you can do this.  You’ve done it before.”

“Focus on success.”

“Let’s talk about what you need to do to win.”

“I can’t wait to hear you tell me how you nailed this call.”

“How can I help you achieve your goals?”

Learn to think and feel the way your team does, in order to coach more effectively, just as you…

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Fable Friday: Want great coaching? Play a round of golf at St. Andrews

If you’ve ever played golf using a caddy in the U.S., you know you’re going to get superb service.  The caddy will advise you on what club to use, tee up your ball, tell you the distance, and then praise your shot.  After all, the caddy wants a good tip.

But years ago I played all three courses at St. Andrews in Scotland, and the caddy experience is quite different.  The caddies will bet against their own player, crack jokes about the players throughout the round and are unconcerned whether they play well or not.  The golf was good at St. Andrews, but the caddies’ stories as we walked the famed courses were far greater.

On the first hole of the old course is the Swilcan Burn, a thin stream that cuts across the fairway, and because you cannot see it from the tee, it’s common to hit into it.  The caddy told me of an American golfer who swore that if he hit into it again he’d drown himself in it.  The caddy told him, “Na ya won’t.  Ya canna keep your head down that long.”

Later in the round I hit into one of those deep cylindrical bunkers and was fortunate to get out of it in one shot. Walking toward the green he told me another story of a golfer who climbed down into the bunker, looked at the steep walls all around him and asked, “Is it even possible to hit out of this thing?”  The caddy told him that he once saw Fred Couples do it easily.

So the guy takes a wedge and begins blasting away, and after 3 or 4 hacks at it he says, “I thought you said you saw Fred Couples hit it out of here,” to which the caddy replied, “Yah, but your na Fred Couples.”

fred-couplesI was reminded of the series of posts I wrote recently on the behaviors of effective coaches, one of which is that they all get to the teaching point quickly.  You can facilitate the solution with the salesperson, such as “What is your plan?”  “What do you intend to do about this?”  “What do you think the solution is?”  But when it comes to identifying the problem, get to the point quickly and directly. Don’t beat around the bush.

“You’re simply not calling enough.”

“You made no effort to find out what the customer’s problem was. All you did was present.”

“Customers aren’t impressed by a sales rep who has to read his own brochure to answer a question. You weren’t prepared.”

Do you think the other golfers in my foursome were offended by the directness of the caddies? You should have seen the huge tips they gave and heard them laugh as they related their own experiences at the bar.

In general, people appreciate being told the truth without sugar coating. It may sting a bit at first, but it’s important to get the performance issue out on the table in clear, concise language.  Show your player you’re thinking about him, just as you…


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Fable Friday: How to beat a grandmaster?  Change the rules of chess

1972 was the year that everyone was talking about chess, as the U.S. grandmaster Bobby Fischer unseated the USSR world champion Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland and claimed the number one title for himself.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThe United States Chess Federation was located near my home in NY at the time and soon after the championships were over, our chess club was visited by Bent Larsen, the famous Danish grandmaster who at the time was ranked 4th in the world.  Larsen was staying as a houseguest of the USCF Director and to pass the time he decided to do a local tour of the area and play in a number of simultaneous matches. I was privileged to play against him in one of the early ones.

The story of how he slowly crushed me to death like an anaconda is not very interesting, but I do recall one amusing incident from that match.  A friend of mine, Dave Baker, had just returned from an Army tour of duty in the Far East and he had with him a chess set he had bought there.  The pieces, unlike the traditional Staunton set that is mandatory in all serious matches, were instead replicas of ancient warriors, with the knights looking like Samurais with huge swords, and all the other pieces difficult to identify.

I sat a few chairs away from Dave and watched as Larsen took in the set at his first move. “What are these?” he exclaimed.  Dave showed him each of the pieces as Larsen studied them in their home position.  But once the game began and pieces were all over the board, Larsen became more confused. “What is this piece here?  Is this a bishop?” I should point out that the strategy in a simultaneous for the grandmaster is that he moves very quickly, so he can get around the room faster, thus giving all his opponents less time to think. Dave was driving him crazy.

I wish I could say that Dave’s strategy of changing the rules on the grandmaster by playing with these exotic pieces was entirely effective.  Truth is, Larsen destroyed him. But it did slow the grandmaster down and gave us all a bit of extra time.  That was a fun evening.

The point here is that when you are in sales, and you don’t have a strong competitive advantage, give serious thought to changing the rules of the game.

Let’s say you’re a commercial banker serving the middle market.  The customary ground rules aren’t complex.  Customers will often borrow from institutions that give them the best rate and collateral terms, unless there is a very strong relationship in place. And because banking is a highly regulated industry there isn’t much differentiation in the offers available to you.

So why don’t you just change the rules?  Tell every prospect, “Of course we lend money, but we’re not solely in the lending business.  We offer our customers a sophisticated and technologically superior package of services that help you manage all your cash, from Treasury and Information services to investments, in addition to loans.  This gives you a 360 control position of all your financial needs, and saves you time, money and risk.  Why not let us explore all these areas?” And now you bring other departments from the prospect company into play, build additional relationships and influence the types of offers in the proposal.

And now you have effectively repositioned yourself as a provider of business solutions, rather than a temporary lender of funds.  And when your competitor shows up with his loan proposal, your customer will look at it and ask, “What is this?”

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