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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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: The gymnast, the horse and a coaching tip

My October newsletter had a higher than usual open rate and many shares so I guess readers found it useful.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can find it here.  You recall that in the email to the sales team member, the sales manager incorporated five activities that were necessary to make the upcoming joint sales call effective.

  • Let the sales guy lead the call.  Don’t take over and hog it. Provide a learning opportunity for your rep.
  • Set an expectation for pre-call preparation. State that you will be looking for something of value the rep provided. The key question will be, “What did the prospect learn from you that he didn’t know before you walked in the door?”
  • Insist on a clear set of objectives or outcomes from the call, most important being agreement to the next call. “Introducing ourselves and building rapport” is insufficient.
  • Shape the call as one of learning and prospect engagement. Get the prospect talking. We’re not here to make a presentation and talk about ourselves. Have the rep send you the questions he plans to ask.
  • Make sure the rep sends out a strong agenda before the call to differentiate himself as a professional and set expectations for a meaningful conversation.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedOne of the challenges to effective coaching is that it often takes place after some activity or result, when things didn’t go well. Then the coach finds himself criticizing in such a way that both the coach and the performer don’t feel so good after the session.  I’m sure it’s happened to you. Here’s a story that includes an easy tip to help you become a better coach.

A study* on the way coaches provided formative (corrective) feedback, and reinforcing (positive) feedback on gymnasts performing on the horse, shows us how people respond to different types of feedback.

In the vault exercise, the gymnast sprints toward the horse, lands on a springboard, pushes off forcefully, grips the horse briefly and continues the exercise with flips, turns and other movements, then lands on both feet.

In the study, two coaches take turns greeting each gymnast after the exercise. One coach provides reinforcing and formative feedback, for example “That was good, but next time push off harder and go higher.”  The other coach provides only reinforcing feedback:  “That was good!”  But at that performer’s next turn the second coach calls out, “This time try to push off harder and go higher.” This may seem like a slight difference, but according to the study, the second coach was both more effective and was perceived to be more effective by the gymnasts.  The second coach separates formative and reinforcing feedback, placing the formative instruction just before the exercise.

So here’s your tip.  Next time you coach one of your sales team, do it before the call, just as our sales manager did in the newsletter:  “On this call I want to see you focus on getting as much information as possible and getting the prospect engaged.  Put together some great questions and let’s go over them.”  This will be far better than saying after the call, “I didn’t think you got as much information as you could have. What questions should you have asked?” Using the “coach before” approach puts a positive vision of success in the mind of your salesperson.  Using the “coach after” runs the risk of assessing blame.

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*Tosti, D.T. “Formative Feedback” NSPI Journal, 1978

Last week’s coaching quiz answers—did you get them all?

Last week I gave you a short quiz to help you analyze performance problems by determining if the deficiency was a Know issue (K), a Do issue (D), or a Feel issue (F).  Let’s look at it again along with the answers.

  • One of your sales reps has worked for you for three years. She has recently attended a training program in making referrals in which she performed very well.  Now back in the office, she has not made a single referral to any customer after four weeks.  This is clearly a Feel issue, or F.  You have evidence that she can do the work, but she isn’t doing it, so there is some attitudinal obstacle.  Maybe she’s afraid to ask questions or make recommendations.  How will you find out what’s in the way?  When you coach her, simply ask!
  • The company has introduced a brand new product, which is fairly complex. You held one brief sales meeting to go over the highlights of the product but none of the staff is very familiar with it.  You overheard one of your sales staff give a customer an incorrect explanation of how the product works.   This is a Know issue, or K. The product is complex, you haven’t taught it adequately and the team doesn’t yet understand it fully.  There are lots of remedies here:  training, sales meeting product reviews, designating an expert in the office to teach the others, learning tools, such as quick “cheat sheets” and other interventions.
  • Your new customer service rep has been on the job for only six She is trying to use a Customer Needs Assessment form but is having some difficulty listening to the customer, recording information on the form and then asking the next question.  It sounds very awkward to you as you listen to her customer conversations.  This is simply a Do issue, or D.  She’ll get better at it with practice, just as all of us do the more we work with an unfamiliar activity.  Here’s an example. Ask someone to remove his jacket, and then put it back on this time putting the other arm in first.  Most of us put the same arm in first.  People have a hard time with it!
  • You have conducted several sales meetings in which you have stressed the importance of taking time to understand the customer’s needs before mentioning products or discussing features and benefits. Nevertheless, one of your sales reps launches straight into a presentation of all the company’s products and features the second the customer says, “I would like to speak to someone about opening a new”  I tried to trick you here. You don’t have enough information to answer this question. It could be that the rep doesn’t know what questions to ask, is unskilled at framing questions or hates to ask questions at all.  You must have a conversation and find out what’s in the way before you begin any remedial intervention.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedNotice that with Know and Do, the solutions are pretty straightforward, but with Feel they are often complex.  In selling we know the power of the feelings issue, as it’s the biggest driver in sales.  Same goes for coaching. You must understand how feelings can interfere with job performance and then understand how feelings can influence the coaching conversation.

We’ll continue this discussion next week with more ideas on performance analysis and coaching best practices, following the same principle in coaching an employee as selling to a customer.   In other words…

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Fable Friday:  A tip from St. Francis of Assisi, Ace Performance Consultant

Some years ago you probably read Stephen Covey’s famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”   One of his habits was “Seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.” This is a critical behavior in consulting, as well as in all communication in which we seek a meaningful dialog with someone else in an effort to help, or add value.

(For the record, the good Mr. Covey stole this idea from St. Francis of Assisi  (1182 – 1226), who prayed, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.”  I mean, come on, who steals from a saint?)

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou’re probably in the business of sales, sales management, consulting, training or some similar role in which it’s necessary to change the behavior of someone else. And if so, you will be on very dangerous ground if you attempt to teach, coach, lead, sell or negotiate if you are not completely clear on what your counterpart thinks, does or needs.  That is why seeking to understand first is a critical skill.

Here’s a useful tip for you in knowing when it’s most important to learn more and get clarity about any subject.  It’s when you are given a nebulous concept rather than a descriptive behavior. Here are three examples I hear in my own practice:


  • “They’re all order takers. They need to do a better job of needs identification.”
  • “My managers need to do a better job of coaching.”
  • “What we need at the senior management level is more leadership.”

Now here are suggestions about what St. Francis would ask in response:

  • “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘order takers.’ Please share with me what they are doing or not doing when they attempt to identify needs.”
  • “What do they do now when they coach? What do they need to do differently? Give me examples.”
  • “Let’s talk a bit about leadership. What does leadership mean, and what exactly would you like to see the leaders do.”

You see the idea? Joe Pesci does this neatly in the movie “Goodfellas.” He pointedly asks for clarity about the word “funny.”  “You think I’m funny?  Funny how?”

Now let’s look at three statements that salespeople hear.  If you’re in sales you should jump all over them:

  • “Switching would be difficult for us. It’s far more convenient to keep doing it the way we’re doing it.”
  • “The software we’re using now is faster, although not a very robust product overall.”
  • “We have a very good relationship with our current provider.”

So if I asked you to go back and circle the words that suggest you need a clearer understanding, you would certainly point to “convenient,” “robust,” and “relationship,” e.g., “In what way is it convenient?”,  “What do you mean by robust?” and “Please tell me more about the relationship. What do they do that you value most?”

You get the idea.

In my next few posts I’m going to begin to discuss two of the concepts mentioned above, coaching and leadership, because I hear them all the time and I’m convinced after many years as a consultant that no two people genuinely agree about the behaviors associated with either of them.

What does coaching mean?  What do leaders do?  We’ll start next week with a beginning definition of coaching and then describe the behaviors that effective coaches practice.

Meanwhile, don’t let people get away with lazy concepts.  Seek to understand, and…

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Fable Friday: Coach Bear Bryant’s sales tip

Many years ago, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant shared this story of his early years at Alabama.

“I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car recruiting a prospect, and I was having trouble finding the place.

Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said ‘Restaurant.’ I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedA big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, ‘You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?’

I said, ‘I’m from Arkansas, and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.’

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, ‘You ain’t from around here then?’

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was and he gives me directions to the school.

As I’m paying up to leave he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. He asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there.

I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, ‘Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.’

Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed, and he’s got two friends going to Auburn who tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down. He says, ‘Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?’

And I said, ‘Yes I sure do.’ And he says OK, he’ll come.

And I say, ‘Well son, what changed your mind?’

And he said, ‘When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met. You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…’

‘My grandpa said that when you left, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.’

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right.

It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice.”

So if you’re reading this, you’re most likely in some sales capacity and here’s where you may go astray. You’re always looking for an edge.  “Should I call this guy X number of times?   How many samples should I give out? How do I build my referral network? What benefit can I expect for my business by joining a service organization?”

It’s not you. It’s what you often hear from others. What’s the edge?  The tactic?

But the most successful salespeople I’ve ever met are the ones who never worry about this stuff.  They’re the ones who are always giving themselves away. “How can I help you succeed?” they ask. And they mean it.

I say, quit worrying about the tactics and the sales gimmicks.  Give to others, show your kindness and generosity.  Customers will flock to you. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice.

Think Like Your Customer