Refrigerators and High and Low Potency Insights

I learned from Top Sales that someone has taken issue with the definition of insight from my interview with Anthony Iannarino. The exchange got me thinking about how much I respect that definition and the man who gave it to all of us.  In my book Changing the Sales Conversation I give credit to the brilliant Jeremy Bullmore for the quotation. I apologize that in the course of the conversation with Anthony I inadvertently did not credit Mr. Bullmore.   For those of you not familiar with him I though I might share some information.

Jeremy Bullmore is a true marketing guru and philosopher.  The definition in question was from the title of one of his famous essays in which he asks and answers the question, “How is a good insight like a refrigerator? When you open the door a light goes on.”

To gain insights into insights I highly recommend listening to The Bullmore Collection WPP Reading Room Refrigerator essay. In the essay he gives a more technical definition but none is so clear for me as his refrigerator metaphor.    Terms get used over and over to that point they are watered down.  But Mr. Bullmore hits on the essence of insight—that light that goes on to illuminate, to enlighten and bring forth a new understanding and motivate action.

And where the light comes from is in part a mystery.  It is a flash, a spark, and a point of creative connection.  Mr. Bullmore in his essay distinguishes High Potency Insights form Low Potency Insights to make the point that clients don’t want research.   They want insights.  But he is clear that not all insights are equal.   If you want to learn the difference listen to what he has to say.  To the extent we understand this, the greater our ability to help and influence our clients.

Many people say after a night’s sleep they get an answer to a problem, an insight.  They wake up and something they know connects to something else and out pops an answer. In a correspondence with Ray Bradbury he shared with me and this insight on insights: “My Theatre of Morning—The theatre between my ears when ideas shadow forth, loom bright, and ache to be born …”

Whether day or night, insights come to us between our ears and while of course knowledge and experience are big factors there is also the magic of the light. The light bulb is a metaphor and phrases such as it came to him in a flash or she had a light bulb moment capture that moment of enlightenment.

Clients are demanding insights.  So here’s to turning the light on for your clients, to enlightening them and moving them to action.   Please share your moments of insight for clients or your definitions.

August 22nd, 2014|Comments Off on Refrigerators and High and Low Potency Insights|

Help Your Clients Think “Different”

I participated in the conference on Thought Leadership on the Sales Profession  at Columbia University recently.   One of speakers got a laugh when he expressed concern about “big data and small ideas.”  Today sales leaders and sales professionals are being supported with big data to help them understand more about their clients so they can anticipate needs and bring ideas that produce business outcomes and close sales.   But while research and data, insights and ideas are imperative, they are proving not to be enough to persuade clients to make a change.

Relationships have always been acknowledged as important in selling and that is true today.  But while the words are there, the value of relationships is being seriously downplayed as nice but ….  The emphasis on data and technology, as important as it is, has overshadowed  the value of relationship and corresponding trust building.  We are seeing the impact of that on deals that are pushed and pushed from quarter to quarter and in the frustrating increase of no decisions.

The social scientist, Jonathan Haidt, in his new book The Righteous Mind  offers research that shows that we can’t use reason alone to change someone’s mind.  Reason in sales is research, experience, data, insights, outcomes, ROI, benefits, and success stories (but success stories cross the line to selling to emotions too). Helping clients think differently is a big part of selling.   If reason isn’t enough to persuade clients to move from the status quo, then what is missing?   A very big part of the answer is trust, the core of a true relationship.  Trust is a major factor in decision making especially in times of uncertainty.

Having a trusting relationship alone is not the answer of course but without it,  risk adverse clients will avoid making decisions and taking action. The trust part of the sales  equation must get back on an equal footing with the value creation part that rightly has been elevated.  And that makes your role as the messenger more important than your message.

As you move through your sales process how much attention are you paying to the attitudes and behaviors that build trust?  For example, using validators in Phase 1 of your sales process by leveraging a referral, being transparent  by acknowledging a  vulnerability such as describing a weakness of your offering as you position  your solution’s strengths (which, unless the weakness is major, increases a client’s willingness to make the purchase), demonstrating integrity by recommending the lower priced alternative, or sharing personal interests and values so your clients know you as a person and are motivate to share in return.

Research by Haidt and a wave of other studies show that data and reason alone usually are not enough to change a person’s thinking.  Then what does?   Embedding that data, research, insights, and ideas in sales conversation  that clients trust.  That trust can be harder to build than a compelling solution.  Relationships are formed on the basis of expertise that produces business outcomes, skill that makes the message collaborative, and common values that lead to trust.   Without trust the other elements lose much of their potency.   It is the combination that gives clients in times of uncertainty the confidence to be certain and say yes.

August 16th, 2014|Comments Off on Help Your Clients Think “Different”|

Recovering from a Bad …

Coach Gregg Popovich has won his third Coach of the Year award.  This comes  only one year after his Spurs’ devastating loss to the Miami Heat in the MBA finals. Despite the loss, he led his team to a league best 62-20 record, which has created an advantage in the play off.

How did Coach Popovich achieve such success after not only facing the defeat but at the same time losing his two long-time assistants to head coaching jobs and dealing  with nagging  team injuries?

What did he do to get his team back on the court with the will and ability to win? His secret of success is the courage to look around—and back. In the old Beatles song Yesterday, Paul McCartney sings “There’s a shadow hanging over me.”  Moving on means turning and facing that shadow.

I once witnessed a team leader who when confronted by executive management about unacceptable performance deflected responsibility with the comment “Let’s not look back …”  His tactic worked for a while.  Unfortunately improvement did not follow, and the past caught up with him.

Of course it’s important to look to the future and not get stuck in the past or play a blaming game.  But that is a far cry from not being willing to take a hard look  and accepting  responsibility.  Coach Popovich’s magic is his ability to understand the past to help chart the future.

Unlike the team leader, Popovich said,  “We decided that we needed to just face our own record right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way.  Don’t blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that.”  He  faced what  fell apart  and  then put the pieces back together.

Whether the “defeat” you face is a championship, a missed quarter,  a critical deal in the pipeline that did not close,  or the loss of a high performing/valued team member, whether you are the sales leader or a member of the sales  or service team; before you look to the next step take the time to take a hard look back.  Facing yesterday  head on is the first step. It is about accepting personal responsibility.  We can’t change what happened but we can control how we respond and what we  make of it.  The key is to understand the hard experience and not bury it but instead using it to create something good.

Questions to ask yourself: What is,  as Coach Popovich calls it,   the elephant in the room?  How am I going to acknowledge it? To whom? How will I respond to it? What have I learned from it? What will I do?

Not every defeat turns  into success but facing yesterday’s shadow is the first step to a brighter future.

April 29th, 2014|Comments Off on Recovering from a Bad …|

Set Your Sights on Insights

Insights are a hot word in sales today.  Rightly so.  Insights turn light bulbs on.  They lead to new solutions.  They create an urgency for change by helping customers rethink the status quo and look into the future.   But what exactly are insights, how do you develop them, how do you link them to solutions, and most important, how do you communicate them?

Insights: A Definition
An insight is just that—a sight from within. It is a new thought, perspective, or way to look at a problem that triggers a deeper understanding and leads to a solution.  An insight serves as a bridge that connects two points.  It can develop from an observation. For example, on a small scale, a salesperson noticed that his customer was shipping multiple orders to a major customer throughout the day from several divisions.  He calculated the cost and savings the customer could realize by consolidating all its shipping at the end of the day.  His observation led to an insight that saved his customer thousands of dollars a week.  And while the amount was not significant to the big picture, it supported the corporate goal to trim expenses.  More importantly, it enhanced the customer’s perception of the salesperson and resulted in his becoming the customer’s primary supplier.

Developing Insights
So how can salespeople develop insights? Above all, they need to be open to them. Certainly knowledge, experience, research, thought leadership, observation, and creativity spark insights but there is also an element of intuition and mystery.  Insights aren’t usually developed on the spot.  They demand preparation, curiosity, and creativity.  Innovative organizations help their sales forces become insight-ready by providing sales teams with insight sharing and training that supports leveraging insights.  But even with that salespeople must also conduct their own research, consult thought leaders inside and outside their organizations, glean ideas from other clients, and observe their customers.

Linking Insights to Solutions
One insight can lead to multiple solutions or ideas.  In the example above the solution was to consolidate shipments.  Additional solutions flowing from the insight might have been to offer the customer a discount for weekly shipments or to change the paper parts of the shipments from paper to electronic.

Communicating Insights
How you can share insights:

  • Briefly summary of the priority business challenge
  • Share the relevant insight with your customer
  • Support with data, research to validate
  • Provide an example with ROI/ success story
  • Probe for customer’s experience/perception

Sharing the insight is not the new selling.  It is just the start.  If a collaborative vs. didactic approach is the goal, ask for your customer’s perception or experience about the insight you have shared.  The insight not only demonstrates to your customer that you know his or her world.  It is a platform for asking smarter, informed questions and building the solution together.

Knowledge has become a commodity but insights now have an even higher value. The first step is developing them. Then comes the challenge of linking them to solutions. Finally, it’s important to share insights in a way that helps customers be receptive to rethinking the status quo and collaborate with you to develop and act on the solution.

Your next insight is just ahead. Are you ready to develop, link, and communicate it? Your next sale may depend on it.

March 24th, 2014|Comments Off on Set Your Sights on Insights|

The Real Reason You Should Practice Your Sales Pitches

Presenting sales pitches can be a nerve-racking experience for anyone, even those who sell products for a living. Everyone says practicing the sales pitch will make things go smoothly. Yes, that may be true, but it is only half the truth. Practicing sales pitches not only requires practicing what you’re going to say, but it also requires you to receive feedback on the content, delivery, and structure of the pitch.

How you deliver insights, ideas, and solutions affects how your clients think about them. A study by Marie-Line Germain and Manuel Tejeda in the summer 2012 HRD Quarterly pointed to the importance of subjective factors such as self-assurance and confidence in whether clients see a presenter as an expert. To gain the advantage of a confident delivery, practice and ask for feedback not only on your strategy, content, and structure, but also on your delivery (e.g., demeanor, pacing, style, tone, dress, and body language). And this is especially important when you are delivering new or provocative ideas or selling high-ticket, high-visibility solutions.

Why This Matters

Clients want to hear and see what you bring to the table. They are not impressed by a pre-packaged set of slides or messages. Don’t use a deep stack of PowerPoint slides, especially in a dark room. Of course, well-developed and edited slides and technology can enhance presentations, but you, not they, are the presentation. Your clients must feel your recommendation comes from you and not a screen. Slide presentations often communicate to clients. To win, communicate with clients.

If you could magically peek in on a competitor’s presentation, how would you compare? Would you come across as professional, confident, and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the client to get the job done? While you can’t see your competitors’ presentations and make comparisons, your clients can and are doing precisely that as they make their decisions. This can be comparable to sales messaging as well. Customers nowadays might not pay attention to ordinary sales messages; instead, teaching customers something about the business and giving them a compelling reason to take the services can be quite effective. This may be the reason why some sales-focused businesses tend to hire professionals from firms like Challenger or other such sales solution providers that can assist them in building, positioning, reviewing and refreshing the pitch messages that can be converted to generate sales.

How to Practice

As you practice, pay particular attention to the pace and emphasis of your words. Separate your language. Move with a sense of direction. The best teacher captures the class not only with good, clear content but also with intonation, pacing, and movement. A senior executive wondered why the presentation he worked very hard on was received so poorly by his audience of corporate leaders. A review of the videotape of his presentation provided the answer: the content was strong and current, yet all but impossible to follow. There was no emphasis or pausing, and his arms seemed almost as if they were flapping.

Use your voice to drive home key points and emphasize what is important. There should be a beat to how you present. Pauses show you want clients to absorb what you have said. Two seconds of silences before answering a questions shows you are considering the question. Your gestures orchestrate how your clients should listen Use them to accentuate and delineate the points you make.

March 14th, 2014|Comments Off on The Real Reason You Should Practice Your Sales Pitches|

Alan Alda’s Magic Selling Sauce

Selling at the end of the day is about the dialogue. When you can combine the  science and art of selling you strengthen your dialogue. It is said that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.  The art of selling is the superb execution of the science –plus the 1%.    Every insight into the art of selling helps us get us closer to the 1%.

Alan Alda, known for his role as Hawkeye in M*A*S*H and many hit movies, provides such an insight based on techniques from his acting, directing, and writing. He put his talent to work in the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University to help scientists connect with and sell their ideas to potential contributors.

With his team of professors he developed courses  that teach  scientists dialogue skills such as distilling a message, giving on-camera interviews, and speaking on panel.

Progressing from good and great often happens in small increments and Alan Alda offered a take away for one of those small increments, one that is easily neglected:  observation. 

Like many salespeople and subject matter specialists,  scientists were spraying information in lecture mode without making contact. But with keen observation Mr. Alda feels it is possible for scientists to anticipate what a “buyer” will do and almost read his or her mind.  He sees observation as a way to connect, a critical step in persuasion.

There actually is science behind his focus on observation.  Research by kinesiologists who studied memory and observation confirmed what has been recognized for a long time, that women are better at remembering faces than men.   Why?  Because women scan back and forth as they look at a face, almost twice as often as men.  Observation with scanning increases understanding.  It increases memory.  And it increases the ability to connect based on that understanding.

“Observe your customer” sounds like common sense but in fact most people are busy thinking about what they will say or what they hear and fail to really observe.  Observation is enhanced with scanning because scanning generates a more visual picture in the mind and therefore increases visual information. Especially when you position an insight to introduce an idea to a customer by  combining scanning with probing you can get an even better read on how your customer is responding to your idea.  You are also strengthening your ability to connect, an important  part of building trust.

On a scale of one to five with five being excellent rate yourself: How well do you observe your customers? Do you scan?  Should you start?  How can you use scanning to help you read and connect with customers?  It seem to me observing more carefully and starting to scan is worth a second look.

March 4th, 2014|Comments Off on Alan Alda’s Magic Selling Sauce|

Selling in the World of the “Brilliant Machine”

You sell with drive and rightly so.  But do you sell with heart?   I pose this question in the final chapter of my new book, Changing the Sales Conversation.  In that chapter I explore the difference between being client-centered and human-centered and why selling with heart and establishing trust are major differentiators today as knowledge becomes commoditized.

They say that there is a continuum from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. Where is your customer along this spectrum? Where are you?  Any client can go to the internet and get infinite amounts of data.  In this environment it is easy to think that that data rules  buying decisions.  But every sales decision is determined by emotions too.  How attuned are you to the emotional side, the “heart” side of selling?  If you are not you are missing an essential way to maximize your expertise.

I am a dedicated fan of the cultural commentator David Brooks.  In his New York Times February 4th  column he explored how we are heading into an age of brilliant technology in which computers can fill in for people, whether it is driving our cars or beating human pros at chess …

Brooks is not alone in sounding this warning.  Jaron Lanier of Microsoft has written two books about it – You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?  Erik Brynjolfsson and AndrewMcAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tell us that computers will increasingly perform important parts of even most cognitive jobs, which will make certain human mental skills less important.  We are seeing this happening in sales where knowledge has become a commodity and insights are on the agenda of sales organizations.  We know that we must bring insights and produce business outcomes to create value for clients and move them to buy.  But what else is needed to start or build the relationship and win the sale?

David Brooks has identified five human traits  that he believes will be rewarded in what he calls “the age of brilliant machines”:

Enthusiasm (voracious explanatory drive to make sense out of bottomless oceans of  information)

Extended time horizons and strategic discipline ( ability to provide a conceptual frame to give a broader context—a  computer can calculate a thousand options but only a person can do this)

Procedural architecture  (creating systems in which people can share ideas, i.e. Facebook rather than coming up with ideas themselves)

Collaborative management (organizing a decentralized network)

Creativity ( grasping the essence of one thing and then the essence of something very different and  smashing them together to create something very different  –a computer can’t do this).

In an IBM survey of 1,500 executives creativity was identified as the factor most crucial for success.  For the past two years the word creative has been the most frequently used buzzword in LinkedIn profiles. Rapidly changing content knowledge is easily accessed.  While a computer can feed creativity, a computer can’t be creative.

What I find most significant for those of us in sales is David Brooks’ conclusion that all of the above traits are dependent on emotive traits.  He states that is the emotive traits that separate humans from computers and therefore will be rewarded and valued in the  world of the “brilliant machine” and “that while humans cannot compete with computers in data and calculations, the best workers will come with heart in hand.”  

“Heart in hand” has important  implications for our profession and how each of us sell.   Selling with heart is a way to connect with clients in meaningful way.  It is the key to going beyond being client-centered to human-centered.   It is a key to building trust.

The word trust may not appear on clients’ score cards as they make buying decisions but trust is the constant factor in every decision to buy or not buy.  Research by Robert Putman, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard documents the decline in trust over the past 50 years.   The question is what are you doing every day with every client to build the trust you need early in the sale to help clients make their buy decisions.

Certainly by delivering on a promise you build trust but that often takes place after the sale. The goal is to build trust earlier and to build it at a deeper level. I see a solid connection between building trust and selling with heart.  To sell with heart, to build trust, ask yourself if you:

Respect your client’s time.

Respect your client’s knowledge.

Tolerate differing points of view.

Change your perception when appropriate.

Give first by doing something you don’t get paid for.

Be a giver—always be on the look out for ways to create value.

Learn about the client outside of business—children’s names, interests.

Bring expertise to add to what your client knows.

Create value for your clients.

Take the extra step.

Respond with empathy.

Let yourself be vulnerable—share information about yourself, acknowledge if you don’t know something (get the answer ASAP).

Show you care—express feelings of enthusiasm, concern

Trust is built in smaller moments; it is rarely in a heroic act.  One negative incident can eradicate  trust.  Salespeople who sell with heart invest more in their relationships.

Unfortunately there are two major obstacles to selling with heart:  1) the temptation to take for granted that you are already selling with heart and, therefore, not making the conscious effort it can require and 2) the mistaken view that “relationship selling” is a thing of the past.  Of course you must bring value that helps clients grow their business but when delivered with heart you create a connection with clients that is unbeatable.

February 10th, 2014|Comments Off on Selling in the World of the “Brilliant Machine”|

When More Is More

The architect Miles van der Rohe adopted the motto “Less is more” and gave us simple clean line design. Einstein concurred… but added a caveat, “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.”

The thinking behind Twitter, while Twitter does not guarantee simplicity, shares the mind-set of both these geniuses: nothing extraneous. The idea behind Twitter was that Internet could serve as a knowledge-sharing Utopia: the contributors would populate this Utopia knowledge available at a click, and we all would be smarter for it. But there’s a natural limit to the kind of knowledge that can come in 140 characters or less?

According to a new McKinsely study (Frundt) clients want expertise. Teaching is the new selling. What does it take for salespeople to be expert teachers-and learners? Can it be accomplished with a “less is more mind-set”? Are we being conditioned that if something appears too long or too slow to just skip it and quickly move on? Are we doing ourselves a disservice by believing we can develop deep expertise with a click and a few sentences? Of course Twitter-and the Internet –are amazing and we all have found exactly what we need just like that but a fact or answer is far from expertise.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and serial entrepreneur, now recognizes the limitations of short, unfiltered information. So much so he is backing a company that is the antithesis of Twitter, Medium, with the goal of creating a depth of quality information that will demand greater attention and focus not only from the creators but also from the users.

Clearly, there is a hunger for knowledge. We know the Internet has the potential to be the university for us all, and there are suddenlink packages, as well as packages from a whole host of other internet service providers, that enable us to be online as much as we wish to. But even in the digital world there is no such thing as a free lunch. How can we leverage all of the resources of the Internet to develop the kind of deep expertise clients are demanding?

What are you thought on how to build expertise whether industry, market, client, or stakeholder? What niche of expertise are you working to develop? Learn how to put it into 140 characters. But also learn how to put it in a medium that clients want- expertise in a true conversation.

You can now pre-order your copy of Changing the Sales Conversation (McGraw-Hill, December 2013).

December 17th, 2013|Comments Off on When More Is More|

Dreamforce 2013

I was recently honored to be a featured speaker this past November at Dreamforce 2013 in San Francisco.


November 15th, 2013|Comments Off on Dreamforce 2013|


Welcome the new Linda Richardson website. We’ll be posting here soon so stay tuned!

November 1st, 2013|Comments Off on Welcome|