Sometimes You Don’t Sell

Sales people are an interesting lot. So are customers for that matter. When you put the two of them together there is no telling what will happen. Many times sales people have been conditioned to try and sell the next new shiny widget as the solution to all customers’ problems. Customers usually have a whole raft of out dated, earlier release, vintage, dull clunky widgets that could be the source of their current issues and unhappiness, which they had previously bought from the same, or other sales people. They might even have some earlier generation doo-hickies and possibly a thing-a-ma-bob or two. It will be the wise sales person that recognizes when yet another product purchase may not be what the customer wants or needs.

Widgets, doo-hickies, thingamabobs and even whatchyamacallits are all recognized product terms in the high tech business sector. It took me quite a while to master this vernacular. Pay close attention and you too could end up being technology prosaic master.

We all seem to have been conditioned to the idea that new products, new equipment or new technology are the answer to all customer issues that are usually the result of the old products that they previously bought. It is conveniently forgotten that the old products were the answer to the then previous issues. And so on and so on back in time.

Now I can see where a new product might be an answer to a customer request. I want a new car, or I want a new house might be one of those customer requests that fit this description. I don’t think I have ever heard a consumer say that they want a new electrical generating plant. They may not even want more electricity. They want to run their refrigerator or possibly their air conditioner (a particularly high level requirement for hot summers here in Texas). They don’t usually ask for a new phone system. They want to play “Words with Friends” (or some such other application) on their smart phone.

The point is that customers rarely request for a specific product or a new technology. They ask for a solution. These requests are normally phrased in the form of: “I need to do more…” or “I need to spend less …” In many instances it may in fact be a new product that is the answer to their needs. Something that runs faster, or reduces operational expenses is almost always available in the market.

But what happens when the customer already has plenty of capacity? They don’t need to go any faster. They may not want to buy another product because the products that they currently have work just fine. Still, they feel they have a need. If they feel they have a need then they do have a need.

When it comes to customers, perception is reality. Even if their perception does not match anyone else’s.

Sometimes sales people need to take a step back from trying to sell the next shiny widget, and get back to solving the customer’s problem.

I have talked about value many times in the past. Customers will exchange their money for something that they perceive to have value for them. All too many times sales people associate that “value” with some sort of physical product. However customers will only associate value with a product if it solves their problem. And sometimes it is not a new product that solves their problem. Customer value lies in the solution that is provided to them, whether it has a product or some sort of associated equipment or not.

Successful sales is based on the precepts of trust in the relationship between the buyer and seller, as well as the belief in the expertise of the selling entity in the solving the buyer’s issues. Vendors who focus solely on the sale of the next shiny widget eventually find themselves supplanted by someone else whose focus in on solving the customer’s problem or need. This inevitably comes about when the customer no longer trusts the vendor to be looking out for the customer’s best interest, but rather is focused on closing the next sale.

It is too easy to say the next release, next generation or next product is the solution that the customer needs. After all, it is most likely what the competitors (both incumbent and non-incumbent) will be saying. It is more difficult to look beyond the equipment sale and look at customer need and solution, but that is where both the customer trust and customer value are built.

Sometimes a customer may just need to be shown how they can better or more efficiently use the widgets that they have already purchased. At other times it may be issues associated with how the previously purchased widgets have been applied. Sometimes the current widget just needs to be fixed instead of replaced.

The approach here is for the sales person to make their customer’s problem their own problem. This can be done figuratively where they put themselves in the customer’s shoes and do the right thing for them, or it can be literally where they take ownership of the customers issue outright in a legal transference of responsibility for the source of the customer’s issue and thereby solve the customers issue by taking it away from them. In the figurative solution the sales person solves the problem as if it were their own problem. In the transference solution the sales person makes the customer’s problem their own problem and then solves it.

Sometimes when you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, either literally or figuratively you find that selling them something may not be the preferred or even desired solution. In this case the value that the sales person brings to the customers lies in the expertise that they bring to bear on the customer issue. Sometimes the solution is to externalize the issue (from the customer’s point of view) so that they don’t have to solve the problem. From a customer’s point of view having a problem taken away from them, either figuratively or literally means that they don’t need to worry about it anymore.

I have found that in the longer run customers will pay much more for the value that this peace of mind brings them, than they would for any specific product that may be the next shiny thing in some sales person’s kit bag. If a sales person can figure out how to actually remove an issue from their customer’s business, they will find that they don’t really have to sell any specific products, as the solution will be all that matters to the customer.

Verbal Volume and Value

The “conversation” is a key aspect in business. That statement should elicit a collective “Duh!” from all those that read this. I think I am going to go a little bit deeper here. With all the electronic communications, email, Instant Messaging, Texting, etc. I think we may have lost some of our ability to have a viable and valuable conversation. Certainly it appears that some of the rules for conversations have changed, or perhaps better said they are now being ignored.

And it is not just conversations that I am going to address. It can be conferences, consultations, deliberations, dialogs, dissertations, disputes, discourses, meetings and reviews. You name it. Any place or time where people verbally exchange ideas is going to be the topic here.

That was some pretty nifty work with a Thesaurus, don’t you think?

The interesting point about electronic communications is that everyone is essentially equal. We all get to use the same electrons and bits and bytes in our electronic communications. We can all use CAPITAL LETTERS when we want to yell or make a point. It is almost impossible to interrupt anyone in an electronically communicated discussion. We can all use as many words as we want or like when positing our comments to each other. We can all ignore what someone else has written and blithely go on about our agenda in the electronic conversation as if the other participants had not said a thing of value. There are however some basic rules such as name calling and cursing are probably not viewed as entirely acceptable to name a couple, for electronic communication conduct, but by and large everyone gets to play as long as they play nicely, share, bring their own crayons and don’t color outside the lines, too much.

In short it is a pretty fair forum for discussion. However it is not real time and it is relatively slow.

Now let’s go to the real time, high speed, human to human, interactive discussion, verbal version of communications. It’s called a conversation or maybe even a discussion. The electronic discussion rules definitely don’t apply here. At least I don’t think they do. And sometimes this seems to have put me at an apparent disadvantage when it comes to dealing with those people who seem to think that it is okay to use the verbal equivalent of of some of the electronics conversation rules of conduct.

There are those that will use the verbal equivalent of underlining, bold or CAPITAL LETTERS, ie. Yelling or raising their voice in the discussion to make their point at almost any time. There are also those that will employ the verbal equivalent of not reading the other participants messages before sending their own. This is usually demonstrated by their interrupting when they have something to say while someone else is already talking. And then there are those that will engage in the verbal equivalent of trying to monopolize all of the available electrons, bits and bytes for communications. The idea here being that if they never stop talking you do not have the opportunity to present your positions, ideas or arguments and you lose by forfeit.

What is also interesting to me is that it is not three different kinds of people that employ these types of conversational domination. It is usually just one kind of person that employs these three conversational tactics.

It is also an incredible bore.

I am by no means the best of conversationalists. I do try to have relevant information and input, and I am not afraid to disagree on points of content. I will almost always try to wait for someone to stop or pause before I try to take up my side of the conversation. I also work pretty hard at not yelling as I have found that it usually doesn’t improve the effectiveness of the content I am trying to communicate.

What has me concerned is the apparent number of people who DO NOT feel the same way about verbal communications as I do.

It seems all too often that there are those that are applying their electronic communications protocols to their verbal communications interactions. They will interrupt. They will speak louder so that they can talk over the top of your discussion points. They will attempt to overwhelm the conversation just in the sheer volume of verbiage that they will put forth, effectively limiting the available time for your input.

It’s either that or they are just effectively being rude.

I was recently in a discussion where one of the participants was employing all of the aforementioned tactics for dominating the conversation. They wouldn’t listen. They would interrupt. They ran on and on and wouldn’t allow the opportunity for anyone else to provide input.

I was at one point both impressed and awed by that capability. Not so much the content, which was by my reckoning just management type blather, but the ability to inhale in such a way as to not interrupt their ability to keep talking. I surmised that they had either mastered the ability to inhale through their ears while still talking, or alternatively had an extra internal air bladder organ of some sort (similar to the air bladder that is used by someone who is playing the bagpipes) where they would use it to keep talking while they inhaled.

The point I guess I am trying to get to here is that trying to dominate a conversation really does no one any good, and it will probably just make people write strange things about you (in their Blogs and other places). Having a predisposed agenda or solution in reality negates the value of a discussion. It is reasonable to have a position that you want to either put forth of alternatively defend, but interrupting, talking over, or just outright ignoring other parties to the discussion removes everyone from the discussion.

It becomes less than a discussion or a discourse. Possibly more like a diatribe.

Turning up the volume of what you have to say (being louder than everyone else) doesn’t make your opinion better or position stronger. Increasing the volume of what you are saying (saying far more than anyone else) doesn’t make what you are saying any more convincing. Value comes from the resolving of differences, not the subverting or overwhelming of everyone else’s opinion.

A small hint here. If you are in a discussion and you recognize that not many other people are talking, there is a good chance that you are being “that person”.

There is an old quote (there is always an old quote for just about everything). Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher said:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

It is probably a good rule to follow if you want to have a healthy and mutually valuable discussion.

Big In China

I think we are all aware of the position that China now holds in the economic world. It is the most populated country on the planet with approximately 1.37 Billion inhabitants. It has the second largest economy (behind the United States) as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at $9.3 Trillion per year. China is also the leading manufacturing nation in the world responsible for the production of approximately 22.4% of the goods manufactured on the planet. I think you see where I am going here. China is an important player in both the economic and political global landscapes. So, imagine how I felt when I logged into my Blog to read the comments my last couple of articles engendered and saw a plethora of comments that originated in China.

I was ecstatic. I had made it. My work had gone global.

I have blogged about business and sales leadership for several years and have generated more than two hundred articles. I enjoy writing them and try to draw on personal experience as well as direct observation in creating them. I get paid nothing for writing them and do it only because I enjoy it and consider it a great outlet.

I have also had the opportunity to work in China and at one point managed a joint venture with a Chinese partner in Tianjin, China. Tianjin is a reasonable sized city about an hour and a half by highway east of Beijing, China’s capital city. A reasonable sized city in Chinese terms translates to a population of approximately 14.7 million people. It is both an amazing and interesting place. I enjoyed it a great deal.

They also had some really amazing golf courses there.

In any event, when I checked my Blog comments I had twelve to fifteen comments that originated in China. These comments were sprinkled in amongst all the other very useful comments that were designed to inform me that I could buy cheap Uggs shoes, or cheap Louis Vuitton bags, or replica Cartier jewelry and all manner of other cheap products with ease since I had my own web site.

There were also several comments informing me that for some sort of nominal fee all manner of individuals would undertake the here to fore herculean task of driving more traffic to my web site since that was the obvious reason that everyone who was anyone would have a web site. It seems that traffic to your web site is the way people keep score of your success on the web.

I actually think it is associated with how you can monetize the value of your site, but since I did not start Blogging for any real monetary reason, I don’t pay too much attention to these solicitations.

In amongst the veritable blizzard of internet generated detritus were these pearls of Chinese comments on the almost indescribable value of my business and sales observations and musings. I thought this was very cool. What was even more interesting was that they were rendered in my comment section in the original kanji script.

There was カナダグース レディース who said:

“カナダグース-レディース/]カナダグース レディース”

Which according to the infallible Google translator application either means:

“You are truly a gifted and insightful business individual”
“Please buy our surplus cheap dog food as it is now safe for consumption by your precious pet.”

I guess it depends on the dialect they are using.

I don’t know about you but I know which one of those translations I am going with.

There was also ヴィヴィアン ピアス (no relation to カナダグース レディース – I think…) who also opined:

“ヴィヴィアン-ピアス/]ヴィヴィアン ピアス”

Which is also has two possible translations, again according to Google translate:

“The wisdom of your comments is a thing of beauty”

Or possibly,

“We offer cheap Louis Vuitton bags and many people who can increase the traffic to your lowly, largely ineffective website.

There were many other similar comments. These were just a random sample of the ones that I received from individuals based in China. As I said it was gratifying to receive such excellent recognition for my work on an international scale.

For many years I had heard that China was an important and emerging market. They were part of the “BRIC” set of countries that were viewed as the important markets of the future (“Brazil, Russia, India, and China”). I think that it is safe for me to say that based solely on my personal web based interactions with China that they are no longer an emerging power when it comes to internet based comments and solicitations. They definitely appear to have already arrived.

Now if I can just get these strange programs offering dog food and assistance with driving web traffic to my web site off of my PC that I seem to have gotten when I tried to reply to the obviously intelligent comments that my new admirers in China left for me.

Disposable Business

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a family sat despondently in their family room. They didn’t know what to do. Their color television had for some reason stopped working. Since they had never felt the need to communicate with each other while the TV had worked, they were now horribly out of practice. What to do? Things looked bleak. It was time for action.

Now here is where things get really weird. The eldest male of the family, the nominal head of the family unit (I say nominal head as this was only a fictional title. He actually reported to his mate, the most powerful woman in the universe) stood up, put the non-functioning television in the family’s means of conveyance (re: minivan) and took it to a place that was known as the repair shop.

Yes, he actually took the TV in to be repaired.

I can actually remember back to a time when this would not have been a fictional story. The reporting structure of the family is non-fiction. Every male, nominal head of a family does in fact report to their respective specific most powerful woman in the universe. The rest of this story is border line science fiction. Today when something breaks we don’t seem to fix it. We don’t even seem to be inclined to try and fix it. We just throw it away and go get another, newer one.

What used to seem to be a society based on the utilization of durable goods seems to have evolved to society based on the purchase of disposable goods. We don’t seem to want to fix anything anymore. When something breaks our first inclination is to get a new one. If that is not eminently feasible, the next step is to call someone to have them fix it. It has become the societal norm these days.

Now let’s go to go to different galaxy that is not so far away. We still have a disposable versus a repairable product mindset, but now we will be talking about businesses, not products. In this galaxy there is a business that has been performing well for many years, making products that have been well received and are well thought of by their customers. I was going to say that they made high quality, repairable televisions, but that would have been just a little excessive in my opinion.

Let’s say something now happens to this business. For whatever reason it is now no longer performing as well as it did. Its products are no longer well received nor are they well thought of by their customers. For lack of a better description, this business can now be considered broken.

Are broken businesses as disposable as broken products? How does a business actually break anyway? In a broken product, it is usually a component that fails and brings down the entire product. What happens when the components of the business are all still operating as they did when the business was not broken?

We were a culture that used to fix our own cars, change our own oil, fix our own flat tires, do our own home maintenance and improvement work. Now we just get a new replacement or call someone to come fix it. How does this culture translate to our new business models? What do we do when the current business model doesn’t work anymore?

I am fond of quoting Albert Einstein. I think he is universally recognized as a pretty bright guy, with the theory of relativity and all that. One of my favorite quotes of his, and I have used it before is:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

I have met a few leaders that could actually change the way they think. There have not been many, but there have been a few. Most of the time a manager learns a way to do something successfully gets rewarded for that approach and spends the rest of their career replicating that solution set. They continue to think the same way. They just try to apply the same methodology in different situations.

Think of the old phrase:

“When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

In effect, they were once successful as a managerial hammer, and seem to have dedicated the rest of their managerial life to finding another perfect business problem nail.

Businesses are not disposable, and can invariably be repaired. Repairing a business changes it. It takes a different mindset. You can’t just call someone to come fix it. You can’t call a plumber or electrician to come fix it for you. You have to understand the plumbing and wiring of the business yourself. You have to get back to the mindset of changing your own oil and fixing your own flat tires.

Sorry for the poor metaphors, but I think you get my point.

Part of the solution may be to get a good plumber or electrician on your team, and to listen to them when they give you their recommendations and opinions.

I think this is the essence of learning to change the way you think. Sometimes you are the proper hammer for the current nail. Sometimes someone else is the proper hammer. The key is not being locked into a specific method or process of solving problems, and being able to recognize when things have changed and some different thinking is required.

A broken business is made up of many “working” people. I think that despite the trends to the contrary, they are not disposable. If they are performing poorly it is usually not because they want to perform poorly but rather they have been given poor leadership and are focusing on the wrong issues (re: nails). Disposing of them and getting new people will not fix that problem.

Remember, the thinking of those that got the business into its current state will usually not be sufficient to get it out of that state. The way the business is being managed, or those that are managing have to change. It is difficult for a leader to recognize that they must change. I think it is almost impossible for a manager to recognize that they must change.

I think our disposable product culture has taken its toll on our ability to repair broken businesses. At the risk of sounding too trite we seem to be predisposed toward disposable businesses. We seem to have evolved a mindset that if the current compliment of people cannot achieve the desired goals that we should dispose of them and replace them (like our products) with newer models.

The problem with that thinking is that it seems to be some of the thinking that may have been responsible for getting the business into its current state, and as Einstein noted, that probably won’t be sufficient for getting it out of that state.