I understand the temptation to lie. If you’re a small company, you want people to think your big. If you don’t have experience, you want people to thing you do. If your big and bureaucratic you want people to think you’re quick and responsive.
Okay, let’s not call it lying. Let’s call it stretching the truth when positioning our company or selling proposition.
Whatever you call it, I encourage you not to do it.
You create three critical problems when you do this:
1. You position yourself to your weakness. If you’re small, and you talk and sell like you’re big, you’re giving credence to your customer that big must matter.
A few years ago I was discussing a potential large engagement with a prospect. They asked me if I had international experience. Half of their revenue came from outside the US, so it was a legitimate question. I was tempted to, how shall I put this, shade the truth. I thought about saying yes, justifying it by the fact that companies that I’d worked with did have international divisions. I thought about talking around the subject, hoping they wouldn’t notice. Instead I just said, “No, I don’t.” A minute later the COO on the call, asked the CEO on the call, did international experience really matter for the problem they were trying to solve. The CEO responded that it wasn’t.
What if the opposite were true? What if international expertise did matter? The reality is that if I had shaded the truth, I would have either lost the business because the moment they started asking me about international issues, but inexperience would have shown. Or, even worse, I would have still won the business, only to let the customer down later.
2. You diminish your people.
While I’ve met many salespeople who’ve lied, I’ve yet to meet a quality salesperson who enjoys it. Look, I’ve, umm, stretched the truth in my day in selling. Frankly, it was the part of the job that always made me feel a little dirty. It’s probably one of the reasons that I ended up running my own business. If you’re telling your salespeople to tell people you’ve got lots of experience when you don’t, that you’ve got massive buying power when you’re buying power is merely good, you telling your people that your company is not good enough to win business fairly. You erode their confidence, and confidence is the MOST important component to making sales.
3. The opportunity cost will kill your business
Probably the biggest cost to lying is that when you play to your weaknesses, you steal from the time to build your strengths. Every advantage is the seed of a disadvantage, and every disadvantage is the seed of an advantage. If, instead of positioning around your weakness, you found ways to exploit your strengths and to find the prospects who value those strengths (instead of valuing your weaknesses) you experience faster growth, lower sales costs and greater margins.
Plus, you’ll feel good about how you’re growing.
When recruiting salespeople your are COMPETING with every other sales opportunity out there.
Recruiting salespeople is harder that selling your product or service. It’s an interesting riddle. First, there are a finite number of great salespeople. Second, there’s a finite number of great companies. You’d think it would be easy enough to match the two – the problem is that it is not, actually it’s quite to the contrary. (For those thinking, “Gee, I don’t need a “great” salesperson, good will do,” should read this post immediately!)
The signal to noise ratio is off the charts. Far too many companies have been ripped off by hiring inadequate salespeople and far too many quality salespeople have been ripped off by working for companies that don’t stack up. The result is that so many barriers have been put up, that it’s almost a miracle when the two find each other.
So if you’re in the market for a salesperson that can drive results, what should you do?
Most importantly, stop sounding like every other company that treats salespeople like a commodity . For example:
- If you’re talking about your product/service as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, STOP! Just like my mom told me, “If the opportunity is too good to be true, it probably is.” If you’re a salesperson who moves the needle you have no shortage of opportunity. Rather than hearing about great vision, amazing technology, unlimited market sizes, etc., quality salespeople want to hear about execution. What are you going to do, how are you going to do it, how can they help?
- Like it or not, quality salespeople have the leverage. There are far more companies looking for quality salespeople than there are quality salespeople. This doesn’t mean that you should be stupid in the hiring process, but stop talking to these quality professionals about taking all of the risk. Quality salespeople bring value to the table – and they expect to be paid for it. You wouldn’t hire an operations manager on commission only, and you shouldn’t hire the person responsible for getting you to the right people, in the right way on 100% commission either.
- Be honest. Quality salespeople can smell bullshit from a mile a way (remember, a key to their success is their ability to separate real opportunities from fake ones). Quality salespeople are not afraid of a challenge. They just want to know that there’s a realistic approach backing them up. I remember when I interviewed for a position. They told me how they the “right salesperson” could bring in $3 million in new business. So I asked how much business they were doing. When they told me that they’d been in business for 12 years and were doing $2 million, I knew that was the wrong opportunity for me.
- Talk to any sales consultant and they’ll tell you the care and feeding of quality salespeople is a must. Remember, care and feeding begins long before the salesperson starts. Does your website speak to the salesperson? Do you have the tools and process that a quality salesperson can utilize to make their life easier? Do you demonstrate the ability to respond to market feedback, and to adjust as necessary?
- Stop talking about accountability as a one-way street. All executives are really good at telling salespeople whet’s expected of them. How much time do you spend talking with salespeople how they can hold you accountable? What can they expect from you?
Remember, the salespeople you want are wanted by just about everyone else out there. You must have a proposition and process that stands out from that competition.
The good news is that so many companies are doing a horrible job at this, that a few changes will help you stand out.
For the first time in, umm, well, since I can remember, I completely unplugged for more than one week. It was easier than I thought – especially when you’re sitting atop the largest cruise vessel in the world enjoying a Mai Tai, sun, and the smell of salt water.
I had the opportunity to get caught up on some of my reading, including two books I highly recommend: Hugh MacLeod’s Evil Plans and Seth Godin’s Poke The Box. Here’s the moral I left with – Mediocrity Sucks!
What I find interesting is that I’ve never met an owner or leader of a small or mid-market business whose goal was to build a mediocre company, yet so many SME’s are mediocre.
One of my favorite business quotes is “Big will not beat small anymore. It will be fast beating slow.” SMEs have a natural speed advantage, yet they rarely take advantage of it. They rely on antiquated ideas like best practice – which mean, at best, you’ll be like everybody else. They strive to differentiate, and then pull back because, “that’s not how anyone does that in my industry.”
We all want to be great. I think we forget that greatness is an outlier. It looks risky from the outside, but it’s the safest place you can be.
- Greatness takes effort – and patience, as it doesn’t happen over night.
- It takes discipline to stay on a different course, even when you’re not sure that the it will all work out.
- It means giving up the pre-existing roadmaps and creating your own.
Mediocrity looks safe, but it’s an illusion.
- If everyone else is doing it no one can blame you if it doesn’t work.
- No one makes fun of the people who do the same thing as everyone else.
- Pre-existing roadmaps create the feeling of certainty, but it’s a pretty good bet that if someone else is already there, you’re heading to mediocrity.
It’s funny, it feels good when you’re pursuing a plan that made someone else successful, but remember the advice Bill Gates gave a group of Harvard students several years ago. They asked what advice he had for young people entering the work world who want to accomplish big things and make a lot of money. He told them, “For god’s sake don’t do what I’ve done – I’ve already made that money.”
So be uncomfortable. Do something different. Who knows, it might be great!
The best advice I ever got as a financial advisor was that there is an important distinction for investors between “news” and “trends.” I was taught that “news” was for traders. News was important if your job was to maximize your trading profit for the day. Was the Fed going to raise rates? Lower rates? That’s critical information if your time horizon is one-month or less; not so much if you’re looking to the long-term.
Investors hurt themselves when they pay attention to the news. Instead, they benefit from paying attention to trends. Is the trend favorable to capitalism? Is fiscal policy stimulative? Is regulation choking the ability for businesses to compete? These are questions that are answered over years, not days.
The same advice applies to business, and sales efforts. Don’t get lost in the news. These days, if you involved in selling, you’d be better off just ignoring the news. Now, more than ever, you need to keep your focus on the end. Keep your goals in mind. Adjust. Respond. But don’t be reactionary. We’ve been here before. We got through it. We’ll keep getting through it.
I’m not going to lie to you. The last 10 days have been bad. Whether the S&P’s downgrade of the US government has any real meaningful impact or not, it’s both embarrassing and completely confusing. It’s a shot to the gut – for everyone.
The worst thing about it is that it is sapping the confidence in what is already a low-confidence environment. And the problem is that no one, no company, does anything that matters when they lack confidence.
If you’re selling a compelling value proposition to B2B companies, it’s a pretty good bet you’re asking your prospect/customer to make an important decision – a decision that involves some level of risk. It’s too easy for customers to just put things off, and wait for clarity.
This is where you come in. In a market that lacks confidence, buyers seek those who have it. Now is the time for you to be certain; to live the philosophy:
It’s okay to be wrong, just don’t be in doubt.
In November 2008 I said, “Damn the recession – full speed ahead.”
Today, I share the same sentiment. Be the company customers seek out for certainty and confidence – you’ll enjoy the result.
A good friend of mine is a cardiologist. One of my favorites stories that he shares with me is how young doctors respond to emergencies. They run to an emergency; and as my friend says, ‘You should walk briskly, but you should never run.”
When you run you allow you reptilian brain to take control. Your adrenaline pumps, and your heart beat races. When dealing with an emergency, control and calm are critical.
The same is true when dealing with business crisis. When sh stuff happens, our reptilian brain starts firing. We see danger everywhere we look. Minor issues, become insurmountable obstacles. Suddenly we try to do everything – AT THE SAME TIME!!
When you operate from this position, you’re going to make mistakes and the likelihood is that you’ll just dig a deeper hole.
It’s important to remember two rules:
- You were never as good as you thought you were when things were going well, and you’re never as bad as you feel when things are going poorly.
- Without confidence you can’t do anything.
So slow down, take a breath, and follow these three rules:
- Practice what my long-term coach and friend Dan Sullivan teaches. Do a positive focus. List all of the things that are going right. Then every day, at least until you are through crisis, start the day with a positive focus by listing at least 5 things that are going right.
- Pick the most important issue and put your full attention on that.
- Limit your priorities to no more than 5 items a day.
- Breath, and remember, this too shall pass.
I remember years ago a friend of mine was having money trouble. He was talking to a financial advisor who laid out a plan to fix his financial problems, and then to build financial independence. My friend was frustrated with this advisor’s recommendations and he came to me expressing frustration for how long the process was going to take. My response was, “It took you 35 years to create this problem, what makes you think you can solve in 6 months?”
I’m constantly reminded of that advice when I talk with CEOs who are working to drive real improvements in their sales organization. It’s not new, people have been looking for the short-term fix for as long people have been looking for anything. The problem is that every time a CEO focuses on the short-term over fixing the long-term they merely delay the solution, and make their organization weaker in the process.
Look at RIM, the makers of Blackberry. In January, I asked if Blackberry was a dead product walking. I chastised them for ignoring what made them special and fighting for short-term market share, rather than focusing on what would make them successful in the long-term. Since then, RIM has continued to aim for the quick fix. Last week they announced they are laying off more than 10% of their workforce and they find themselves fighting for their survival.
It pains me to tell you: THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES.
It takes 12 – 18 months to begin to see the impact of changing your go-to-market efforts. That number could be longer if you’re dealing with a complex, long sales/buy cycle. If you feel like that’s too long, I’ve got a simple question for you: Are you planning to be here in two years? If so, why not spend that time making your company structurally stronger so you can reap the rewards for years?
Please do not misunderstand, I am not saying that you should ignore the short-term. There are many tactics you can take that will increase your win rates, lots of things that increase leads, a wide variety of ways to get more conversations going. But, please (PLEASE) do not confuse any of those things with SOLVING THE PROBLEM!
You must balance your desire for short-term gain, with the actions needed to drive long-term results. Sometimes that means accepting more pain in the short-term than you’d like.
When the short- and long-term are in balance, great things happen.