Linda Richardson

About Linda Richardson

Linda Richardson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, sales leader, and the founder of the Richardson consulting firm. She has dedicated herself to helping organizations around the world improve sales performance, process, and effectiveness. Richardson began her career as a teacher and firmly believes that great selling is great teaching—collaborative, relevant, and results driven. You can also find her on LinkedIn

Debugging the Prospecting Conversation

Everything in sales has changed.  Or has it?  There was no evidence of that in the prospecting call I got today – or so many others I get weekly.   I picked up this call because my phone showed a local number, which by the way was part of the product this friendly salesperson was pitching.

Within a matter of seconds, he was telling me about a new prospecting technology and referencing the names of a few of his company’s impressive customers.  I interrupted and explained I was expecting a call.  He did make a second effort.  I offered my email address to end the call. He missed the chance to ask if he could ask a question to make sure what he sent was relevant.

His email arrived immediately.  Other than Hey Linda, not one other word was specific to me.   It described the features and benefits of his product.  In my response email I thanked him and explained in one sentence I was not a good fit.  He emailed again requesting 10 minutes.  I wrote back that I loved his persistence but was not a fit in any way.

Persistence aside, his call wasted his and my time. How many calls like this go on every day?  I think the old ‘dialing for dollars’ model of prospecting is so embedded that it has become the default setting.

Like so many salespeople, this prospector was practicing pre-technology age selling.  The smallest bit of research would have shown if I were a prospect and if so, helped him identify some relevant content that could have used to capture my interest. Instead of sending me boiler plate email, he could have offered to send a report, or research, or an article that would add value or referenced something I had posted on my website. What did he think I needed?

It got me wondering about his firm. I sensed this salesperson had real potential, but wasn’t his marketing team providing content?  Where was the training group?  What about his sales manager?

Is dialing for dollars model so entrenched that salespeople will continue to lag behind what today’s customers expect from them?  What will it take to debug the model to bring it into the age of technology/age of the customer?  And is Hey the best salutation for all customers?

Effective prospecting is not innate for most salespeople.  But ineffective models are habits, not hard wired.  What can be done to help salespeople use the resources available to change their prospecting conversations?  Training, marketing, coaching, tools?  Yes, all of the above—consistently and repeatedly.

May 25th, 2015|Comments Off on Debugging the Prospecting Conversation|

What We Can Learn from Mad Men

In an interview recently I was asked what book, beside my own, I would recommend that salespeople read.  It was an interesting question and in fact for years when teaching selling at Wharton graduate school I had recommended not a book but a play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.  While there are multiple deep relationship messages in the play the business message is clear: change or be doomed to failure.

If you have followed Don Draper, the creative advertising director and pitch man extraordinaire star of Mad Men through his 7 seasons you likely have no delusions of happy ever after for Don but at least know there is hope for him.  In the final episode Don, a brilliant but tortured soul, journeys to California and through chance finds himself at a hippie commune where he finally experiences peace.

Unlike Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, Don survives because he is able to take what he learns at the commune back with him to NYC where he uses it to create the iconic Coke commercial of peace and love  “I’d like to buy the world a coke…”

As an aside, the Coke commercial, which ranks among the most successful ever created, was written by Bill Backer of McCann Erickson, the same firm the fictional Don Draper works for.

There are so few stories about sales or marketing that I have found meaningful for our field.  I don’t think Mad Men, written by Matthew Weiner and produced by David Chase, as one of them should fade to black without being recognized.  Toward the end of the final episode a leader of the meditative group, where Don seems to find the bliss the he translates into his commercial, says, “The new day brings new hope.”  So does change.

May 19th, 2015|Comments Off on What We Can Learn from Mad Men|

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

When Tina Turner asked this question, it is safe to say no one though of it in terms of business productivity. According to research by Wharton professor Sigal Barsade “companionate love” in the work place significantly impacts employee morale, team work, and customer satisfaction. Companionate love is shown “when colleagues, who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues.”

The initial research of Sigal Barsade and Olivia Mandy O’Neill, assistant professor of management at George Mason University conducted studies on the emotional culture of healthcare companies to understand the impact of shared emotions of people who work together. Most research focuses on cognitive culture.

Barsade and O’Neill’s first study was in the health care industry where one would expect compassion to be an influencing factor. Using a scale that measured tenderness, compassion, affection, and caring, the researchers showed that a shared emotional culture in which companionate love exists impacts the outcomes and productivity of a company.

But in second study with 3,201 employees in seven different industries, the researchers found companionate love matters across a broad range of diverse industries such as real estate, finance and public utilities. They found a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work, greater teamwork and job satisfaction, greater accountability among internal colleagues, and lower absenteeism and burn-out. One of the most important findings was that a positive emotional culture reduces employee withdrawal from work. It’s for this reason that businesses may need to put more effort into building positive bonds among their employees and increasing their accountability. To facilitate this, business owners may have to invest in a collaborative workspace featuring posture-supporting desks (perhaps from, a productivity area, a shielded space, and a brainstorming corner.

We know that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate with content and even skills. Every sales organization is hard at work to set itself apart to compete and win. Those of us in the sales performance industry seek to find ways to help salespeople differentiate through skills, strategies, tools, and in how salespeople brand themselves and connect with their clients. Barsade and O’Neill showed that companies with a culture of companionate love, create an important competitive edge internally and with customers.

So what does companionate love look like in practice? At its essence it is as old as time. But it may be absent in many companies because the drive to make the numbers puts so much pressure on people they easily forget to take the time for human connections.

Signal Barsade and Olivia Mandy O’Neill make it clear the simple courtesies and small graces of how people relate to one another matter in an organization. Organizations that have spaces with a “homey” environment, that celebrate birthdays etc. send a message that people care about each other and its people matter.

To understand the full impact of what Barsade and O’Neill’s study proved just look at the emotional culture at Google. It can be described as OTT with its free quality food all day (in the 90’s Bloomberg generously fed its team members and visitors from consultants to the Fed Ex guy/gal alike with healthy snacks throughout the day), free gym, free massages, generous parental leave etc. all of which secured its place as one of the companies on Fortune’s list of best company to work for. But it is not so much all the perks but the story the perks tell about the character of a company and the deeply held corporate values it character informs. What the researchers have shown and Google is living proof of is that the relationships among colleagues within the company matter to a company’s productivity and growth.

Management must begin to think about its company’s emotional culture or it will be left behind. But each of us can do our part in small and big ways to check our emotional IQ and the emotional culture we are creating. As I finished this blog I had a 30 minute interview scheduled that had a tight deadline. I took a deep breath and used the first 5 minutes to take extra steps to connect on the relationship level. I learned about the client’s son’s scholarship and about a family burden. Our call ran over a few minutes but it was far better than it might have been had I let the time pressure get in the way of companionate love.

April 10th, 2015|Comments Off on What’s Love Got to Do with It?|

The Best Sellers Know How to Teach

Data shows that more MBAs are choosing careers in sales than in previous years.  Professor Tom Steenburgh at the Darden School feels this is a sign that the industry is moving in the right direction, a direction in which salespeople are recognized for their business expertise and ability to solve business challenges.

MBA’s are choosing sales as a career for a variety of reasons.  As a customer said, ”A company makes stuff and sells stuff.  If a person is not writing code or making a product he or she is expected to originate business.” Many of the MBA’s have starting a business as their aspiration and they recognize to start a business they know they must know how to sell to raise capital and to grow their businesses. With a business background they are well positioned to bring the kind of expertise that customers value today.

As important as expertise is, MBAs and all other salespeople need more than that to succeed with today’s self-educated customers who can and do get much of the information they seek with the tap of a finger.  Salespeople need drive, selling skills, and tools.  But with the emphasis on expertise and content they need to be able to teach which is something that has not typically been considered a part of selling.  Salespeople as teachers presents a new challenge.

Let’s consider the teaching dimension of selling and how that buttresses expertise, skills, and tools. While teaching and selling share many skills in common, teaching is a discipline in its own right.

The image of the teacher as a lecturer is quickly fading. The best teaching is interactive and encouraging, not didactic.  It is collaborative. Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, has been studying excellent teachers for several years, not at the big strategy level but the microgesture level which he has found to be the markers of the very best teachers.  It is these “small” messages he concludes that makes the difference between good and great teaching. What are the markers beyond core verbal communication skills and content of the very best teachers? How can you integrate these into your selling methodology?

The research shows that small things such as how long a teacher waits for a student to answer a question before making a comment or how a teacher uses body movement to bring students back when their minds wander or are about to wander are big differentiators.  Certainly these are two skills that would be an advantage to any salesperson.

You likely know that patience and giving a customer several extra seconds to answer a question pays off but Doug Lemov adds that the best teachers not only pause but they reward the answer by asking follow-up questions that not only extends what they learn but also strengthens the connection.  These drill down questions are particularly powerful with today’s highly informed customers because they give customers the opportunity to showcase what they know and gives the salesperson insight into where the customer is in the buying process so they can align with that and forecast more accurately.  Moreover, they learn more about what the customer is thinking so they can direct their response.

Doug Lemov also found that the best teachers set an objective (4 M–Manageable, Measurable, Made first, and Most important) for each lesson which they post, they use positive reinforcement, they check for understanding, they give feedback that is precise and clear, and they celebrate learning. The micro gestures when you add them up show respect and caring and help teachers connect with students and influence their thinking.

Certainly Aristotle was the master teacher who used his expertise and informed questioning to set the standard for learning.  My father was an exceptional teacher and he gave me helpful advice that I feel has application in sentiment to sales: “You are not teaching a subject.  You are teaching children.”

It seems to me that Doug Lemov found the best teachers keep this in mind.  He reports they meet their students at the door to welcome them, connect with them, and set the expectation that the class work and they are important.

As sellers how well do we communicate in micro ways that show we care not only about what we sell but also to whom we sell?

April 6th, 2015|2 Comments|
  • 1 Million Sales Jobs Will Be Axed By 2020: What Reps Need to Do to Survive by Linda Richardson
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    1 Million Sales Jobs Will Be Axed By 2020: What Reps Need to Do to Survive

1 Million Sales Jobs Will Be Axed By 2020: What Reps Need to Do to Survive

There have been numerous claims that consultative selling (also referred to as relationship selling, need-based selling, and solution selling) is in fact dead. At the same time, questions have been raised about the viability of sales as a career. Will salespeople become superfluous?

Both of these pronouncements seem highly improbable to me. There has been much debate about each of these topics, and the pros and cons have been based primarily on experience and opinion. However, research by Forrester on the future role of the salesperson and the continued relevance of a consulting approach to selling has now been added to the conversation.

The future of sales was the focus of a presentation by Andy Hoar at the recent 2015 Forrester Sales Enablement Forum. The principal analyst shared some startling if not unexpected news. Forrester research shows that of the 4.5 million B2B salespeople in existence today, one million jobs will be net displaced by 2020.

To break this number down, Hoar identified four main seller archetypes (these are listed in the order of their representation in the sales population):

  • Order takers work with a non-complex buyer and non-complex product or service.
  • Navigators work with a complex buyer and non-complex product or service.
  • Explainers work with a non-complex buyer and complex product or service.
  • Consultants work with a complex buyer and complex product or service.

Hoar then explained which groups would take the biggest hit and why. Not surprisingly, he predicted that order takers will be hardest hit because their sales are migrating to the internet; however, he also forecasted that the navigators and explainers categories will also shrink. The good news was reserved for the consultants category, which he said will not only survive, but grow.

The nature of the sale will have a major impact on the fate of salespeople in each category, but so will their performance. As in any evolution, survival in sales will depend on the ability of sales leadership and salespeople to adapt.

Let’s consider what it means to be among the fittest in sales. In other words, what does it take for a salesperson to assume the role of the consultant?

My goal in introducing consultative selling was to move sales from the pitching toward the consulting end of the spectrum. This was a major departure from the product-focused selling era that preceded consultative selling. This type of selling has always had two key markers: The customer’s needs are the center of the sale, and solutions are customized to those needs as a way to form relationships of trust and expanded business.

Changes in what buyers demanded from salespeople ushered in the era of consultative selling. And now, changes in customers’ buying patterns are again demanding a recalibration of what it means to sell.

Consultant selling is still relevant, but yesterday’s consultative selling is not today’s. The conversation has changed.

So what does it mean to be a consultant salesperson today? According to Hoar, consultants are the salespeople who can explain abstract concepts, sell solutions, and build relationships. Certainly my years with the consulting firm Hay Group before I founded Richardson supports this. But there are other vital parts and key requirements.

What is it that consultants are expected to do? Clients expect them to bring depth of knowledge and experience. The old joke about consultants borrowing your watch to tell you what time it is contains a grain of truth because consultants must understand what their clients bring to the table. They glean insights from their clients’ experiences, but they also originate ideas, teach, reveal opportunities not evident before, remove obstacles, and solve problems to help customers achieve desired outcomes. They are educators and strong relationship builders who forge connections across company functions. Good consultants prove their value and readily earn a seat at the table as a part of their clients’ teams.

How does that jibe with sales? Consulting has become the role of the salesperson today. This will admittedly be a stretch for some. But salespeople have the advantage of an embedded sales drive that those drawn to consulting don’t necessarily possess in their DNA. To serve as consultants, salespeople must expand their breath of knowledge and skills, leverage team and tools, and align their sales processes to their customer’s buying journey.

Where does consultative selling (by any name) fit in?  The core tenants of consultative selling remain relevant. There is no dismantling of consultative selling, but rather an adaptation.

One of the big differences today is that customers can get almost all the information they need at a click — and they enjoy clicking. They come to the sale armed with options, preferences, and sometimes decisions. The challenge for salespeople is to have the content and skills necessary to add new relevant ideas and alternatives to that base knowledge, or to improve the solutions their customers have derived.

So how do you survive in this digital, informed customer, technology-propelled sales world? By being stronger at engaging customers from not only a content but also a context perspective. It is about what you know and how you use it. In addition to being industry, company, and stakeholder smart there are new models to be learned; for example, how to add value while at the same time probing for needs, how to position compelling solutions that energize decision makers into action, and how to negotiate with customers who demand proof, skin in the game, and discounts. It also seems to me with innovations in technology, increasingly sophisticated websites, and algorithms (all of which make customers more independent and give them more control over the sale), the most important differentiation will be the salesperson him or herself.

Salespeople who survive and succeed will not only help their customers connect the dots. They will connect with their customers, consult with them, and become a part of the customer team.

March 18th, 2015|1 Comment|

Abraham Lincoln—The Address That Delivered

It has been 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a closing chapter of the Civil War. If you Google the address you will find the frank but healing words of the president.  What you may not see unless you search further will be the documents themselves of this surprisingly brief but profound speech.

The speech, delivered among hail and rain on a muddy Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol, is said to have taken about ten minutes to write and contains just 703 words.  Unlike Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, given four years earlier as the war was underway for which there are about a dozen drafts, there are no drafts of the second speech– only one written and one typeset version.

I had the great joy of seeing all four pages of the very carefully hand written speech and typeset version at the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, in Washington, D.C.   To celebrate the 150th anniversary, the speech was on display for four days, the first time all four pages were shown together since 1959.  Our tour guide lovingly explained this was to protect this precious national treasure.

Aside from the personal inspiration gained from reading the words I felt I gained two lessons as a professional.  First was the courage of a leader to make a speech, which he thought would not be what his listeners wanted to hear.  They wanted a theme of unilateral blame of the south but rather he spoke a frank message but one of reconciliation.  Leadership is about being able to say what might not be popular to those who hear it and to deliver it in a way that makes possible a better tomorrow.

Secondly I was stuck with President Lincoln’s careful preparation and keen understanding of the power of delivery.  The hand written version was so painstakingly written, almost like the format of a poem, so that the type setter would know exactly how the President wanted it graphically laid out. There were large spaces between thoughts to cue pauses and emphasis.  For example, the four words “and the war came” were spaced separately and deeply indented to cue President Lincoln for a moment of silence from what came before and after those words. He had the typesetter prepare it as he laid it out and in two vertical columns on a paper folded down the middle.  The photograph, the only one of President Lincoln giving a speech, shows him holding this folded paper.

It is known that poetry is meant to be read.  Great presentations, like poems, are delivered with timing and expression. As Cabel Greet, the linguist at Columbia, explains, “The real poem is in the performance.” and so too in many ways the real message is in the performance which cues the receptors of the listeners.

Recently I heard a best selling author make a speech about his long awaited book.  He is to my thinking a brilliant writer but the audience was bored, restless, and unimpressed.  His delivery was awful—so much so that any coach listening would want to call him and try to help.  At the end of this lecture series there are almost always long lines to buy the book.  Not so at all for this author.  Certainly strong content is essential, but pacing and tone are vital to making a message stick and inspire action or change.

On a personal note when my nephew Dylan recited his assigned poem to his 5th grade calls he momentarily forgot the last line.  That pause helped earn him an A+ which his teach described as an important dramatic pause.  The bottom line is delivery brings things to life and gets the message across.  Content aside one of the marks of top salespeople is their ability to tell their story using tone, pauses, breaks, and emphasis to make their story their listeners.

To honor the 150th anniversary I would like to end with President Lincoln’s immortal words of reconcillations:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

March 13th, 2015|Comments Off on Abraham Lincoln—The Address That Delivered|

Name Your Coach

Research sponsored by the Institute for the Development of Educational Activities has shown that kids are truly great at helping each other learn.  In the process they not only accelerate and deepen what they learn they also build friendships.  It has been my experience working with thousands of sales professionals that when they are given the chance to learn from each other the same holds true.

Peer coaching has been a topic of discussion since the 1970.  It is not surprising that peer coaching has not taken hold.  Most sales organizations are still struggling with converting sales managers into sales coaches. Data tells us that only 50% of organizations even employ coaching at any level.

As I think about the barriers and false starts around coaching in sales organizations and the need to sustain learning post training (at least a third of the learning gained from training is lost within the first month and retention goes down hill from there), it makes sense to try another route to help make coaching a way of life in an organization.

One of the most compelling reasons to execute peer coaching is that peers often know more about each other than managers.  Additionally peers are more available to one another and in most situations much less threatened by exposing a weakness.  When peers share information and experiences they enhance learning and develop collaboration skills so critical for team selling. To grow it is essential to gain an outside perspective and broaden ones thinking and that is what coaching, manager or peer, is all about.   Collaboration is one of the keys to selling today and it most often will outweigh the obstacle of competitiveness that may have been presented in the past.

The best part about peer coaching is while it certainly would be strengthened with corporate support, all it takes is two colleagues, whether two salespeople, two managers, or two colleagues willing to commit to pool their experiences and share feedback to help one another be more successful.

With the support of sales leadership peer coaching would take hold more quickly and more broadly. I most definitely am not suggesting that peer coaching replace coaching by sales managers. But the magic of peer coaching is that it can be individually driven. Sales trainers also can be instrumental in establishing peer-coaching partnerships by promoting peer coaching during training by helping participants identify a partner and make connections and commitments to coach one another.

Peer coaching can be very disappointing if it slips into evaluation.  Far from being evaluative coaching is an interactive and collaborative process.  The first step is identifying a peer to be your coaching partner and then gaining a commitment to share experiences and provide feedback to one another on a regular basis.

In peer coaching situations roles alternate between coach and player. The focus can be on issues around deal strategy, solutions, and skills … the success of peer coaching is not so much in the answers the coach provides but the questions the coach asks.  The coach is not the answer man or woman but the person who helps the player think through the issue, consider other possibilities, and who gives his or her view only to explore or enhance what the player has thought through.

Peer coaching is in a sense self-coaching because it begins with a self-analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of an activity or strategy by the player.  Ideas and feedback from the coach is in response to the player’s thinking.  It is up to the player to come up with the issue and the play.  It is the role of the coach to add to that. The conversation cascade looks like this: Player describes issue and gives his analysis, the coach asks questions and shares her thinking and checks for reaction, the player suggests solution or next steps, and the coach probes and adds to that and checks. Every conversation ends with an action step.

If you are a sales manager and you partner with another sales manager your example will be the most eloquent teacher. By sharing your peer coaching commitment and encouraging your team members to partner-up you will start something that will impact performance and build your team.  You can share peer coaching success stories to reinforce it, inspire others, and increase performance.  As an individual salesperson, with or without manager support, you can approach a colleague and without a doubt experience that two heads are better than one.  As a trainer where participants have been providing feedback to one another you can make peer coaching a part of the training wrap-up and action steps.

Peer coaching is motivational.  It adds to the joy of work.  Share this blog if you think this is something that you want to put into practice.  Include with it an invitation to a peer.

March 3rd, 2015|Comments Off on Name Your Coach|

Brand Killer, Einstein, and The Future of Selling

If you think that selling has not changed that much and with a few tweaks you can remain competitive, think again. Customers have taken control of the sale making it increasingly difficult to not only reach them but to add to what they already know. The challenge is to demonstrate that you can bring value beyond what customers cull from search engines and social networking that will result in growing their businesses.

The barriers between customers and your sale message continue to mount. I remember a few years ago learning about hospitals that were considering charging salespeople for sales calls. Most recently Coke announced that the majority of its people opted not to use land lines which of course will make it more difficult for salespeople to get through to them. All of this is a far cry from Neil Rackham’s visionary concept that customers should be willing to pay for sales call because of the value salespeople bring. What Neil foresaw was the transition of the sales role from “selling” to consulting.

To support the transition, marketing departments are trying hard at work to establish their brand, provide sales with value messaging, channel the right SEO strategies (get more info here) and deliver content marketing aimed at increasing the quality and number of leads. A key role for marketing is to pave the way for salespeople to connect with customers or more likely customers connect with sales.

That the barriers between salespeople and customers will only increase was reinforced by a prototype product developed by four University of Pennsylvania students. While at this point their product is not commercially viable they have created a way to block real-life ads before they reach the buyers’ eyes. They named the prototype headset Brand Killer: Adblock for Real Life”. It is every marketer’s worst nightmare by blocking company logos from a buyer’s view when they encounter them in the real world. With this product buyers can opt out from corporate influence. This foreshadows the kind of new sales challenges we can expect.

Just imagine when this type of product is commercialized the impact it will have on marketing and sales. Einstein proved that time is relative, not absolute. While it would not pass scientific scrutiny it seems to me the Internet has speeded up time. Einstein concluded that the past, present, and future are one. In sales we are in the future.

So what does this mean for you as a salesperson today? It is expertise that creates value and despite technology and marketing advances it is the interaction with you as the salesperson that is high on the customers buy or not buy decision list. The question is what must you do to retool for the demands of today and into the future.

I have found that there are several essentials for salespeople. It is not that each of these has not existed in some form in the past but in no way did these amounted to do or perish:

  • Boost your brain with new learning every day. Commit to getting smarter. Becoming an industry and customer expert is not a nice to have. The Internet is a fabulous source for learning if you use your time reading the right things. Customers want to talk to experts and specialists that bring a depth of experience and knowledge to them. If you cover many industries and deep industry knowledge is not possible you must at a minimum develop functional knowledge and strong relationships with team members who will support you with the level of expertise your customers now demand.
  • Develop strong internal relationships to bring the resources you need to your customers and leverage the knowledge and experience of your team. Collaboration increases learning. Share information, experiences, invite team members to participate and create a benefit for them.
  • Leverage social networking to brand yourself. Write blogs, answer and ask questions, be the first to share relevant information… When customers do a search for a topic make sure they find more than your name and biography.
  • Select and utilize sales tools (like buyer lead generation tool, for example) that can educate you and help you connect with reliable interested customers. For instance, if you are a life insurance agent, you might be aware that the use of online portals is helping digital agents improve their sales. You can check the blog linked here to learn more about sales in the digital era.
  • Live where your customers live, read what they read, follow who they follow…to be relevant to them.
  • Strengthen your sales, presentation, and negotiations skills to maximize every conversation and opportunity.
  • Keep tabs on your emotional IQ. The human connection, how you communicate your message, and the relationships you build, will be your key if not sole differentiator.
  • Try something new. Don’t be afraid to challenge your thinking and take a chance.
  • Give yourself time to reflect on what you have learned and what you have done.
  • Ask for coaching from a manager or a peer (and with some customers, a customer).

Don’t just envision the future. Be ready for it. We don’t have to be Einstein to know it’s already here.

February 23rd, 2015|Comments Off on Brand Killer, Einstein, and The Future of Selling|

Scrubbing Assumptions

An assumption is an idea or belief we accept to be true with little or no evidence. We make assumptions every day. Assumptions are essential because they give us a starting point for moving forward.  Research and science depend on assumptions but they don’t stop there.  Some assumptions are warranted and some unwarranted.   But left at the assumption level there is no way to tell which is which.

Alan Alda, director, actor, screenwriter, and writer, makes the point when he compares assumptions to windows to the world but warns that they must be scrubbed for light to come through.

The problem with assumptions is they are convenient, they save time, and they are seductive because we are confidant that we think we know what we know.  I was reminded of how very easy it is to get locked into the assumption trap when I read about the discovery of a “new” book.

I was delighted to learn that after 50 years Harper Lee, author of the masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was universally accepted as her one and only book, would be releasing her second book.  Up to this point it was believed that she never wrote another book.  But it was discovered that the “new” book, “Go Set a Watchman,” had been written more than 50 years ago, before “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Go Set a Watchman” takes place 20 years later in the same fictional town with the same inhabitants.  Amazingly though all of the scholars (and there were many) and even her biographer despite finding numerous references to the earlier book, assumed it was just an early title for “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Their job is to dig, dig, and dig but they never asked one question about that title.

If scholars and biographers with lots of time and research documents on their side can make assumptions how easy is it for salespeople under time, skill, and resource pressure to jump to conclusions? In many ways Harper Lee who retreated from the spotlight and who never shared that there was a second book, is like customers who intentionally or unintentionally withhold essential information.  Mining key information takes curiosity, perception and probing and a respect for nuance and depth.

It would be impossible to calculate the number of assumptions that sales managers hear during coaching sessions and salespeople tell themselves:  the client will leave if we don’t make the price concession, unless I get better leads I can’t achieve quota, the incumbent is in tight and we can’t win, my contact prefers us and it’s a sure thing, my customer wouldn’t be interested in that… and on and on.  Customer objections are a particularly dangerous place where the risk of making assumptions fester.  Most objections are vague, for example “We think we can hire really top performers in this market and won’t need to train them.”   Without understanding all the variables of why the customer has this perspective and digging into that any argument a salesperson offers would likely be unconvincing.  Salespeople can create an enormous competitive advantage if they explore possible meanings and don’t operate from the assumptions their competitors are acting on.  Questions of others and self are the remedy for assumptions.

To avoid relying solely on subjectivity, instinct, and faith and risk drawing wrong conclusions, patience is needed and so is listening.  But the key is the mind-set to test with questions. It is all about possibilities.  Sales managers who are told, “My customer won’t renew if we don’t …” must broaden a salesperson’s perspective by saying, “ I know you are concerned and worked hard on this relationship. That is a possibility.  What’s another possible outcome?”  When a salesperson’s self-talk tells her or him  “I’ll offend my contact if I ask her to introduce me to the SVP.” the salesperson must challenge that self-imposed obstacle.  And when a customer says, ”We think staying with our current provider is likely the best course of action.” that does not mean the deal is done.

Assumptions help us make sense out of what is happening around us. We need them but we must recognize them for what they are.  They are an early stage of enlightened thinking.  But it is dark until we question, analyze, and ask another question.

So, let the light in!

February 15th, 2015|Comments Off on Scrubbing Assumptions|

Insights Take to the Street

Insights open doors and drive sales. They educate. They do much more. They evoke. They connect two points not connected before to create a deeper understanding, trigger thinking, and challenge the status quo.

The power of insights to drive sales has not escaped the ambitious company Uber, the car service that uses an app to connect customers to drivers in a matter of minutes, allows customers to track and talk to drives to give special pick up instructions, and is one of the world’s most valuable start-ups.

Uber’s image was sullied when its CEO told its New York City customers who complained about price gauging during a snow store “to walk.”  But it seems Uber in its quest to become a global force is changing gears from being antagonistic to customers to caring about their safety. It is using an insight to educate and win more customers.

They have mastered the art of insights as the e-mail I received from them shows:


Ridesharing helps make cities safer. A new study we conducted with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) shows just how powerful choice can be: Since we launched UberX in California, drunk-driving crashes decreased by 60 per month for drivers under 30. That’s 1,800 crashes likely prevented over the past 2-½ years. 

When empowered with more safe, reliable and affordable transportation options like Uber, people are making better, smarter choices that are making our roads safer for everyone. Learn more on our blog. 

To promote safe rides home during the weekend of the Big Game, Uber will donate $1 to MADD for every trip taken on Sunday, February 1, 2015 between 3:00 PM and 12:00 AM ET when riders enter the promo code THINKANDRIDE. 

Uber and MADD will keep working to ensure a safe ride is always within reach and drunken driving crashes become a thing of the past. 


David Plouffe 
SVP of Policy & Strategy


Let’s analyze that insight against an insight model. Uber’s is not complete but as an email it does the job and tells a compelling story for changing the status quo.

Insight Model

  • Position the Challenge—Position a relevant and important challenge to set the context. Uber laid the foundation that a serious problem exists.
  • Share the Insight/Validate with Research—Provide compelling proof. Uber shared supporting research.
  • Support with a Success Story—Bring the data to life with an example to show impact and create identification. Uber’s example drove the outcome home.
  • Ask for the Customer’s Perception/Experience—In dialogue this is vital. Uber did not ask for my perception. Instead Uber went straight for the close to get me to take the action and feel good about it.

Of course, a sales conversation is not the same as an e-mail promo but insights are a powerful engine to help you rev up opportunities across multiple sales tracks.

It’s time to take insights on the road to your customers.

February 8th, 2015|Comments Off on Insights Take to the Street|