It Should be “Buy and Try” Not “Try and Buy”

Customers associate value with items that they pay for. If they don’t have to pay for it, then they assume it has no value. I think that this is another of the immutable laws of sales.

We have all heard of and potentially even tried to use the old “try and buy” closing technique. This is when you provide the customer the product for free, and at the end of some period of time they should be so enthusiastic about the product that they can’t help but pay you for it. While this may work for smaller ticket items, I have found that its success rapidly diminishes as the cost and sophistication of the product increases.

The view here is that if the customer believes that the product is free, for whatever period of time, then it has no value at least for that specific period. If the customer has no commitment to the trial process (in the form of committed money for the cost of the product) then there is no commitment from them to actually using the product to fairly ascertain its value. The key point here is that if the seller puts no value on their own product, why should the customer put any value on it.

The solution is to get the customer to put “some skin in the game”. They have to commit something of value – money – to the “trial”. Their time is nice but it is not good enough. The approach should be for them to buy the product for a period of time and if it does not perform to certain specifications, then it can be returned with a minimal restocking fee. Again a restocking fee, or a de-installation fee, etc, is important. As much as we would all like it (customers included) nothing is for free and the customer must understand that there is at least a small risk if the trial is a failure.

By implementing a “buy and try” sales process you can reduce the customers perceived risk and exposure associated with the product purchase while making sure they are committed to its use. It is in effect providing them with a fully paid grace period. If the product is sound, the service good and the relationship strong, it should also provide an effective way to close the deal.

Read the Classics on Management

As we moved up the management chain I was always interested in what were the sources of information on how to better manage, and how to be a better manager, that people were reading. I wanted to understand them and to do well too. I suspect that I was not too unique in this respect. As a matter of course I read several of the management books that were popular during various periods. I won’t name them, but I came to refer to them as “Management Techniques De Jour”, much along the same lines as soup de jour at a restaurant.

I started looking for management texts that had endured a little longer than their time on the best seller list. After a while I finally found a few. You may have heard of some of them, and all of them are quite old. However, I have found all of them to deliver valuable insights into some of the various aspects of management and leadership. I’ll share some of them here:

1.       The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. A relatively short book written in 500 B.C. (yes, that is 2500 years ago) by a Chinese general, who was never defeated in close to 100 campaigns. It is an excellent source on the topics of leadership and strategy, two key aspects of successful business management.

2.       The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi. Another relatively short book written in the early 17th century (yes, that is 400 years ago) by a Japanese Samurai who is credited with creating an entirely new method and school of sword fighting (kendo). It provides great insight on the importance of knowing ones craft, skill, timing and spirit.

3.       The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli. Written in the 16th century (yes, that is 500 years ago) by an Italian nobleman and politician, it deals (sometimes very uncomfortably) with the aspects of leadership, power and politics.

4.       The Art of Worldly Wisdom, by Baltasar Gracian. Also written in the 17th century, but this time by a Spanish priest. This is a collection of 300 aphorisms on how to approach life and interpersonal relationships.

There are many more out there, but these are some of the best, and most famous. Don’t read them with an eye to how they are written. Read them with an eye toward how they may be applied today, in the business world we must operate in.

If you have any other books that you might like to add to this list, I would be interested to hear them.

The Value of “No”

Throughout our careers I am sure we have all had instances when we wished we had said something other than what we actually did say. For me these “I wish I had…” events normally revolved around saying something other than “No” to a request, when “No” was the right answer.

The value of saying “No” is a very underrated concept. There is a book, “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by a seventeenth century Spanish monk by the name of Baltasar Gracion, that is a collection of three hundred aphorism’s that are designed to help one make their way in the world and achieve distinction. It is amazing how much of a document written close to four hundred years ago is still applicable.

In his book Gracion deals with the idea of saying “No”. He says: “Know how to say “no”. You can’t grant everything to everybody. Saying “no” is as important as granting things, especially among those in command. What matters is the way you do it. Some people’s “no” is prized more highly than the “yes” of others: a gilded “no” pleases more than a curt “Yes”…..”

As you can see being able to say “No” has been a recognized issue for at least 400 years, if not more. Gracion points out that no one can do it all, but how you say “No” is important. Too firm, or too often and people may not come back to ask you again. The rule of saying “no” can be applied with our business and customers and in other aspects of our lives as well.

Delivering satisfaction, be it to the Board of Directors, senior management, or to customers requires that we set expectations appropriately. By not saying “No” when appropriate, you can be construed as having provided a tacit “Yes”. This may result in an unattainable level of expectation, and a considerable level of dissatisfaction, which is a particularly bad situation to be in when it comes to your customers.

Require Answers

One of the ways most of us made our way up the corporate ladder was to be able to answer the tough questions, and find solutions to the difficult problems. It is interesting in that the result of the problem answering capabilities that enabled most people to become leaders and executives also resulted in their moving to management levels that were farther and farther away from where the problems were. Executives must evolve from “go to” problem solvers to leaders who groom the next generation of “go to” problem solvers.

As an established problem solver it is easy to stay in that mode as an executive. Members of your team will bring you the problem and you will establish the direction or answer it. This is not the way to go. As you have moved up the ladder you have moved away from the line issues and problems. You have experience on how to deal with issues of the type you will hear about, but you are not on the line for that specific issue.

The way I dealt with this situation was straight forward. I told the team that I was reasonably aware of most of the major issues in the business. What I needed from the team was workable answers to the issues. The rule was then put in place that anybody could come and talk to me about any issue they had in the business as long as they also brought at least one workable answer.

This move enabled me to learn all that was going on, while providing some guidance and experience on the implemented solutions. It seemed to work very well. It enabled those that were directly involved with and closest to the issue to suggest solutions (which is always a good idea) and it provided the opportunity to have a check and balance (prioritization) based higher level business needs.

It also trained and groomed the next generation of problem solvers (line of succession) for the business, which helped create a stronger business.

Tough Job = Good Opportunity

I remember the first time management came to me and said “We have an opportunity and a challenge for you…”. This is normally a phase to be dreaded and feared, or so I thought. I was being given a new assignment. It was a tough job in a division that had not been doing very well.

A friend and mentor of mine at the time took me aside and told me “Congratulations”. I asked him what he meant. We all knew that this division was a mess and that this was a very tough job. He then told me something that has stuck with me to this day. He said:

“Never be afraid to take a tough job. By stepping in with a plan and working hard, you can only improve the situation.”

He was right. Tough jobs are in fact career opportunities. Don’t shy away from them. Look for them. Creating a plan and then putting in the work is what turns tough jobs into great jobs.

It took some time but the first tough job assignment did get turned around. It led to more and larger opportunities. It provided the opportunity to explore facets of business that you would not normally get to by taking the “easy” jobs. It increased my value to the company. It taught me to enjoy a challenging position. I still do to this day.