My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Economic theory is flawed

With rising energy prices, today I decided to purchase some high efficiency LED light bulbs to replace some fluorescent bulbs and some small halogen bulbs (there are no fluorescent equivalents for).

These are lights that are frequently used in my house so the economics of switching to LEDs makes sense.

In total I spent £60 on these bulbs - the price of LED technology has fallen significantly. I ended up buying them direct from China since that's where they are made. I could have bought them in the UK for £78.

So you may be wondering how I came to the conclusion that economic theory is flawed from this simple purchase?

Firstly VAT played a role in my purchase decision. £60 + VAT = £72.  The UK supplier would make £6 on the transaction. If there was no VAT I would have opted for the UK vendor.  Postage times from China/Hong Kong vary wildly. I've had 3 days from order and also had 3 weeks hence £6 would be worth improving the predictability. That being said I've also have 3 months for something to be delivered by Royal Mail....

So VAT is a barrier to UK GBP. My transaction with China doesn't register as GBP other than an balance of trade import.

Does that count as economic theory is flawed ? Not quite.

The real hit to economic theory is the fact I am doing the right thing by being energy conscious.

The purchase of these items is small beer in the economic impact. In total I bought 13 bulbs.
The bulbs they are replacing are high usage bulbs. Assuming these bulbs have a 6 year life (10,000 hours), which is actually on much lower than the 50,000 hours life quoted by the manufacturer, the bulbs will save £405 over that 6 year period. Not bad for £60 investment. That's based on today's electricity prices which if they rise, will improve my return on investment.

So in otherwords, the electricity company is losing out by me doing the right things. GDP will fall.

If every household in the UK (approx 22M houses), did this then it will wipe out nearly £9Bn over 6 years of GDP for the energy companies. If there was the drop in GDP then it would be deemed bad yet saving costs and conserving energy is absolutely the right thing to do. Hence my observation that economic theory is flawed.

Friday 11 October 2013

Sales isn't important

I learnt an interesting thing today.   Sales is not important to the global population.

That's quite remarkable given the trillions of dollars of trade and GDP of countries - much of that will be as a direct result of sales.  If a company doesn't have sales it is dead so it's not that sales is not important. In fact in today's globally competitive markets I would argue that the role of sales is more important now than it's ever been.

So why am I making this claim that the global population doesn't consider sales important?

The answer is Google.  Google has a wealth of statistical information about what people are interested in.
They provide access to this information through the Google keyword tool

So let's look at some search terms entered into Google

How to sell                      85,380 global searches per month
Sales training                      1,810 global searches per month
Sales coaching                   2,060 global searches per month
Learn to sell                          110 global searches per month
Learn how to sell                     40 global searches per month

Yet the population occasionally wants to learn how to sell and this is reflected

Sell my car                      49,500 global searches per month
Sell my house                  37,210 global searches per month

I discovered this low level of interest in sales by accident.  I discovered that sewing is more interesting than sales

How to sew                  472,850 global searches per month
Bernina sewing machine   72,580 global searches per month

So a brand of sewing machine that I've never heard of is searched for 5x more popular than learning how to sell.....

I suppose the good news is than more people are interested in how to sew than celebrity news

Celebrity news              301,000 global searches per month

So what to make of this?

I'm concerned that so few people are interested in improving their sales skills.  On the one hand it's good news for me since as a sales professional I am constantly looking for new ways to improve my sales technique and that gives me the opportunity to excel compared to my  competition however it's also worrying that so few people want to improve their selling technique which means that poor standards of selling will continue.

If we assume 1 in 100 people are involved in sales  in just the UK and USA there are  3.1 million people in sales but the search popularity on Google translates into each of these people search once every 3 years.....

Even if we assume that it's only the top 20% of sales people who are proactive, that only translates to 1.5 searches each year. Hardly continuous improvement.

The quality of sales skills needs to improve yet do we overcome this apathy?

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Winners never cheat - deceptive sales

The more I look at sales, the more deceptive practices seem to be everywhere.
We look down on sports people that take drugs and cheat and yet if we want to employ someone in sales, we seem pretty keen on selecting those that cut corners and maybe cheat.

I was recently reading a sales book that was advocating the use of false reviews on the web to build business. Sure it may increase business, but is it ethical?

The review may be written to be totally truthful but I still can't help thinking this is cheating. It's like taking drugs or cutting corners on that marathon race.

One sales practice is the switch and bait.  Grab their attention with one thing to create an expectation then switch to another for the sale.  I've had doorstep sellers use this approach - their opening line is "I'm not selling anything" when in reality the offer of a free survey is to sell something later. Winner or cheater?

So why are these practices everywhere? What is driving people to cheat?

Unfortunately it seem that sales is the answer.  Buyers have become so conditioned to sales tactics that sales people are adopting more and more extreme practices in order to gain the buyers scarce attention.

How can we stop all this deception and cheating?

Sadly that seems to be far from easy.  It's hardly possible to get all sales people to switch to ethical selling tomorrow.  Even if they did, buyers would still have preconditioned behaviours to block amorous sales advances and would still have distrust of the sales process.

I don't have thee answers but would be interested to hear how we can drum out deceptive and cheating sales practices.  It would be great to get back to a time when sales is honest and trusting.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Need, Want, Desire

One of the textbook sales mantra's is you can't create a need in sales.  If you're not solving a problem for your prospect then  there isn't a need. Certainly you can't force a customer into willingly buying what you're selling. You can of course force a customer into unwillingly buying what you're selling - that's high pressure sales.

It may be possible to create a need however it's unlikely to be a romantic affair. Forcing a need is a bit like rape. It's probably more about your needs for a sale than theirs.

The sales textbooks then progress to creating a want.

I need a new car.  I want a Bentley.   I could have opted for a cheap entry level car but I want a Bentley.

This is where things get interesting.  My normal perspective on sales is that it's a lot like dating. In fact my first book Romancing The Sale is based on that simple observation.

So wanting a Bentley may be completely irrational. I may not have the money.  I could be a builder so loading the Bentley up with bags of cement and other construction materials may be totally impractical. Yet I want a Bentley.

Love is blind.

When a want turns into a desire the purchase decision has shifted from a want which satisfies a need into something totally emotional and all consuming.  The buyer may be totally infatuated with the prospect of owning the item. In fact the lust and infatuation may be better experience for the customer than actually owning the item. It may turn into a disappointment. I'm sure some of you may be feeling similarly deflated about some previous romantic experiences.  The lust for your hot potential girlfriend/boyfriend was more exciting than actually having him/her.

Creating a want an progressing in into a desire for your prospect is the art of sales. To achieve this you are playing with emotions and desires which may be completely unrelated to the thing you are selling. The challenge is to find a meaningful link which triggers the desire.

As a builder I may need a practical vehicle for carrying bags of cement yet I may have the desire to show my mates that I'm a builder that's going places and I will own the construction company. Suddenly the impracticalities of a Bentley may become secondary if my desire to express my aspirations are greater than mere practicalities. OK this might seem a crazy example yet I've seen "love and desire" lead people to some very illogical decisions.

Humans are animals and we are driven by emotions. Successful sales people will be skilled and reading and playing with those emotions.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Everyone's talking but no-one's listening

In today's world, we are all being encouraged to share our thoughts and opinions. Facebook this. Twitter that. In fact I'm doing this right now - I'm sharing my thoughts and observations on a blog.

It does seem that everyone's talking but no-one's listening.  Attention is scarce.  Un-divided attention is a rarity.  We are all eager to give our opinions but we are unwilling to spare the time to give the gift of attention to other people.  Giving your attention to some-one else is actually a very scarce resource.

So is the blog just yet another article that voices an opinion and changes nothing?  I hope not.  I genuinely believe that listening to what other people say makes a difference.  In sales it can really make a difference. It can be your differentiator. Since so few people are prepared to spare the time to listen, you say seem unique. People crave acceptance and listening elevates the speaker and shows acceptance.

Genuinely listen. I don't mean using the time when they are speaking to plan what you are going to say next. I mean really listen to what they are saying and taking it in. 

I would love you all to spend just 3 minutes a day genuinely listening to a loved one as a result of reading this post.  Listening in sales is just good  practice - it shouldn't be done with an ulterior motive anyone than you should give your 3 year old child your attention because you have an ulterior motive. 

We seem to have lost the ability to respect other people by listening. Let's make a change and promise to listen intently to each other for at least 3 minutes per day - after-all  it's probably 2 minutes 50 seconds more than you listen per day!

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Where have all the prospects gone?

Any sales guy will tell you that it can be hard finding prospects and it's one of the most time consuming activities of sales. Building a pipeline of opportunities is critical to success in sales. No prospect. No selling. No sale.

I haven't been fortunate enough [yet] to be given a nice list  "These people want to buy our stuff. Ring then and they will buy".  It's been more of a case  "where's the list?"

Knowing where to find the next prospect, is like  the "little black book" of girls you can ring when you find yourself single. 

In an ideal world marketing is supposed to build a list of leads and these leads need to be contacted to convert into prospects and ultimately customers.  Nice dream!

Sales guys need to build their own list of prospects.  Creating that list of prospects isn't an easy task.

Selling technology has it's challenges. Let's start with something simple like water.  Everybody in the world is a potential purchaser of water. It's something we all need. Yet not everyone needs technology. In fact some technology is incredibly specific. In some cases selling incredibly specific technology is easier. You can name the people who will buy.

Let's say I was selling fibre optic transmission systems.  Your average man on the street doesn't need one yet telecom operators might. So a good starting point would be to get a list of telecom operators. OK. Do these telecom operators own or rent fibre optic cable? If the answer is yes then Bingo! They might want to buy....provided the rationale for buying or changing vendor makes sense.  When the customer profile is very specific, there may be a very limited number of customers in the world. It can therefore be a time consuming task hunting for new prospects. There simply aren't many of them.

This example is a vertical so it's often clear which companies would need what you are selling.

Now lets pick some more generic technology such as databases. Databases can be used for a wide range of things and they are not industry specific.  This is a horizontal product. Healthcare providers might use databases for storing patient records whilst a car manufacturer might use it to store inventory information for a factory.  Horizontal products often have a larger potential market than verticals yet they can be more challenging to sell. 

The market is less specific for horizontal products and therefore there are often many more  potential customers for this type of product yet this can be a challenge to figure out who will buy. People don't buy databases. They buy what it can do for them.  If I started explaining to a hospital the benefits of databases for car manufacturing inventory management, I would at best get some blank looks. A hospital is not involved with running a car factory. They want to hear what it can do for them. They probably aren't interested in how wonderful the database schema syntax is.

The challenge is therefore one of domain knowledge. To get the attention of a horizontal prospect you need to be able to communicate the value the product delivers in the language of the prospect.

The other aspect of horizontal products is they are often looking for a problem to solve. Lets look at hospitals again.  So wind the clock back 100 years.  Did we have hospitals? Yes. Did we have patients in hospitals? Yes. Did hospitals have access to patient records?  Yes. Did they have databases? No. Was there a market for databases? No.

Hospital's had a paper based system so the challenge is to find a commercial reason for changing from paper to a database. "You'll be able to access patient records far faster" [so what] "When a patient is admitted you'll have their information in seconds" [so what] "The time it saves to get the patient records could save their life".

Now who do you sell this to?  Let's start with nurses. They don't understand databases. They probably want to save lives but haven't got the authority to sell.  The challenge therefore is to find someone that has the authority to make such a profound process change (switching from paper to database) and wants the value delivered - in this case saving lives. Finding the specific prospect for this decision can be time consuming.  As you are selling a vision of the future, it also means it can be difficult to get their attention.  Imagine the challenge of selling a database 100 years ago - you are talking a foreign language.

In summary finding prospects for vertical sales can be a challenge of scarcity whereas the challenge for selling horizontal products can be one of targetting and messaging.

Good luck with the prospecting!

Monday 3 June 2013

Has the Amazon Kindle goldrush passed?

Amazon's Kindle is a wonderful thing. It has truly disrupted the publishing industry. It has enabled many wannabe authors to be exactly that by lowering the cost of publishing.  The Kindle has removed the barriers to publishing enabling authors to self publish without the gate keeper of a publisher.

This has however had some unintended consequences.  Many of the ill's and evils we have seen on the Internet have found their way into publishing.   Spam books - books which are little more than spam have emerged.  Copyright theft - books repackaged and sold under different titles.The sins of the Internet have infiltrated publishing.

In the past the Internet lowered the barriers and suddenly any one could have a web page and now Kindle has enabled anyone to be an author and monetise their words.  There has been a goldrush to get onto Kindle.

One of the reasons that goldrush has happened is that Amazon has enabled it. Amazon's KDP programme allows authors to give away their books for free for 5 days per quarter.  I've succumbed to this gold-rush myself - I've written several books such as Romancing The Sale. My thought process about giving my book away for free is that it's a great way to get my book into the hands of those who don't know me. The quality of my work should speak for itself - either they will love it or hate it.  If they love it they will tell others or buy one of my other books. The reviews and feedback for my books has been positive - this encourages me to write more.

Now you may be thinking giving books away for free doesn't make good business sense. You are right.  In 2012 Amazon's KDP programme did however create lots of sales.  By giving away your book for free you shot up the chart.  It was perfectly possible to be up there with 50 Shades of Grey in the best seller list. When the free promotion ended, you didn't automatically drop back to zero, there was some legacy sales which persisted because you were top of the chart.  People paid real money for your book.  Many authors probably sold more copies that way than through any other mechanism.

Around November 2012, Amazon changed it.  Probably quite rightly.  Now when the free promotion ends the book simply exits chart. It is listed in the free chart not the sales chart. No freebie sales for authors now.

Amazon has also closed a number of other holes such as tagging.

So where does this leave all these authors?  Well the reality is they are stuck with promoting their own book. No get rich quick options.  Writing a book is easy - it's probably only 10% of the task. The remaining 90% of the task is marketing and selling the book.  Yet the throngs of authors flooding to Kindle are still coming.

The average book sells less than 100 copies in it's lifetime.  I can vouch that if you do nothing to promote your book, you will be part of this statistic. So we have a perfect storm.  A large swathe of books being published - flooding the market with content yet I suspect people are not buying more books. Classic economics. Over supply of content and static demand of attention.

Authors are usually not marketeers or sales people. So how do they promote their book? The instant reaction is to drop the price.  The author sets the price not Amazon.  That probably has created negative inflation in the Retail Price Index with book prices jumping around on the whim of authors.  It is however classic economics and conomics tells us that if there is over supply, prices will fall. We've seen examples like Life of Pi being just 10p.  A truly best selling book priced at a bargain price.

Ultimately Amazon love Kindle.  No books to stop. No warehouses. No packaging. No people putting books in boxes. No factory. No shipping costs. Yet I suspect Amazon failed to anticipate the effect they would have on the economics of selling and authoring books.

I think the gold-rush has ended yet the prospectors keep turning up.  I'm wondering if there's a shovel I can sell them....

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Selling information - it's a lottery isn't it?

This week I've been pondering the challenges of selling information.  Data is information without context.  If I said I wanted to sell you some lottery numbers, unless you were naieve,  you probably wouldnt pay anything for them since they are probably just made up numbers. In other words the numbers would be data.

 Now if I said that they were winning lottery numbers then you might be a little more interested. Now if I said they were jackpot winnng numbers for this weekend's draw they would suddenly have value. You might wonder how I had come to acquire such valuable information - provided I could convince you of their authenticity, you would be prepared to pay a lot for them. 

Say the jackpot was £10M. You'd happily pay £1M for my information.

Now lottery numbers are an unusual case. You are unlikely to pay me £1M up front for those numbers.  The interesting thing is I could actually do a deal.  I could agree no money up front and you agree to give me £5M of the £10M winnings.  Suddenly you're prepared to pay 5x the value for the information than I was previously asking for, to eliminate the risk of paying me £1M up front !
The risk of paying a few pound for a losing ticket is preferable to spending £1M for some losing advice.

Now let's return to the £1M scenario.  Assuming you were prepared to pay £1M for my numbers one thing that is important is to know how many other people I have sold the numbers to. If I have sold the numbers to 99 other people then the winning prize fund will be divided between 100 people so the £10M jackpot is now only a £100k jackpot. The business case for paying me £1M is not very solid - well at least for you. It would be very solid for me.

So lets review this thought experiment
- Context for the information adds value
- Timeliness of the information adds value
- Exclusivity of the information adds value

So if we were selling information, these are the primary aspects which we have to sell.
Share prices which are late are of less value than the current price
Information about shares which is exclusive is more valuable than public domain knowledge

In sales, we need leads and this might be one area we are prepared to buy other people's services.  If someone was offering us a mailing list of 1 million email addresses, it probably isn't that interesting. We don't know whether these are email addresses which have been made up or much about the people on the other end. We would in essence be buying a spam list so the price for email address that we would be prepared to pay would be very low. Would you pay £1 per address? Nope.

Now if I told you these 1 million people were prospects in the market for what you are selling and they are ready to buy then suddenly £1 per address might seem very attractive.  You might only want to 1,000 of the email addresses so you might pay £1 per address.

If the email addresses were augmented with information such as the name of the person, their status and other information to add validity to the email address you might be willing to pay £10 or more per lead.

Suddenly we've taken something which has a low perceived value and made it more valuable.  Same basic product (email addresses) and increased the price someone is prepared to pay for it.

Friday 24 May 2013

Do you have any single friends?

According to the Internet (so it must be true) 63% of couples met through a mutual friend.
It seems that finding love through friends-of-friends is a very common way to find love.

Why is this so effective?

The answer is trust.   The person doing the referral knows both parties and will have a reasonable view on whether it's a good idea for these people to hook up.  If you know the person is a slime-ball you're probably not going to match them up with someone you like. Trust is inherent in this kind of exchange.

So does the same statistic apply in sales?

Sales referrals are very effective in sales. The same trust model is present. In fact establishing trust is probably the biggest hurdle to winning a sale. So if a mutual acquaintance is prepared to do an introduction, it's a sign that there is trust.

Getting referrals from customers is the same. Asking for the referral after you've closed the deal is not the right time.  It's when your customer is happy and you've delivered on your promise.

The best referrals are where your acquaintance or customer does the introduction directly. Getting a name from someone is nowhere near as effective. Think back to dating.  If someone arranges a blind date it works better than ringing up without any warning and saying "I've been given your number - fancy going on a date?". The stalker alarm bells will be ringing!

If dating is anything to go by, you could be getting 63% of your sales through referrals!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Do you desire to amaze your babe tonight?

Did the headline work?

I was browsing through emails in my junk folder to see what is needed to grab my attention. One of the challenges of lead generation is grabbing the limited attention of strangers.  I love looking and analysing failure - it's possible to learn from others mistakes.

At least this junk mail headline achieved that goal.  Why? It asked me a question and signalled to a deeper human desire yet I didn't bother opening it - it is afterall spam. 

The approach I use when sending unsolicited emails is to be specific and on-target. That takes time and effort. The recipient knows this isn't some automated message - it clearly is a message that has been hand crafted and personally written by me.

That being said, the subject title can be all that is between my lovingly crafted message and their attention.

In today's information overload world, everyone has attention deficit disorder.  If I make it past the first few words of an unsolicted email, something like "I want...." is enough for me to hit the delete button.  I don't care what you want...."what's in it for me". Why should I bother reading any further.

So what tactics do I use to improve the success rate of people reading my unsolicited emails and even better replying?

Firstly the subject title. I opt for some word which has relevance and meaning to the person - it takes time to research that person but usually the information is out there on the web. If you don't have a keyword, the a cryptic or ambiguous title is something which you can use to arouse curiosity.  Questions can be effective but the challenge here is that questions like "Do you desire to amaze your babe tonight?" can position the message as junk rather than a hand crafted personal message.

Now to the subject body. Again asking a question right at the beginning can be dangerous "Would you like to double your sales ?".  Sure I would love to double my sales yet this position the email  as generic fluff.  If however my email said "I noticed that you attended xyz event - did you get a chance to listen to abc's talk on def ?" is far more specific and relevant for this person - it can't be junk as you're revealing information which is personal to them.

The purpose of an unsolicited email is to establish some kind of dialogue. Don't tell them your life story. I aim to keep the email short - 4-6 lines of text max.  I also aim  to end with a question which they feel they should answer.  I've also experimented with wording where I ask them direct closed question and say "If the answer is no, please delete this email".  It sends a clear message that I have a very clear target and they are not it. I doubt many people get unsolicited emails asking them to delete it so my approach is unusual - I often get a reply saying "we have xyz but not abc" so the tactic is effective at soliciting a response.

I'm always keen to improve my approach so would love to heard what works for you. 

Friday 19 April 2013

Selling Software Defined Network / OpenFlow

Software Defined Network (SDN) and OpenFlow are the latest networking hot buzzwords in the word of high tech. I've just spent the last 2 days at the pinnacle of SDN by attending the ONF summit which has been an interesting experience. I've been on the bleeding edge of SDN as I've been involved in its development for the last 18 months and it is getting to the point where the hype is turning into reality and that means this new hot tech has to be sold.

This article is more technical that my normal posts – we are after-all selling high tech!

Before I delve into the challenges of selling SDN I thought it would be interested to explain what it is, why everyone is getting excited and my personal perspective since in reality SDN is an old idea in the telecom world but very new in the networking world.

At the heart of OpenFlow is the idea to separate out control from data. In data networking, that means messages to control set-up, build routing tables etc are all carried in the same channel as the data for example these control messages are carried alongside the web page you're downloading.

Routers and networking switches have in-built intelligence and when configured correctly will make decisions about how your data gets from A to B.

Separating control from data happened in the telecom world around 40 years ago so the concept is far from new. In fact it happened several times in telecom. The very old systems used tones carried in the speech path for signalling purposes. The problem with this is that users could “hack” the telecom network to trigger the controls. This problem still exists to some extent and is called freaking. DTMF is a signalling (control) mechanism to signal to the network on your fixed line phone what number you want to dial – this control info is carried in the data (speech plane). Hackers manipulate PABX, voice-mail and other systems which use DTMF for control. Hacking the core telecom network in this way is not possible anymore. Mobile phones send call set-up signalling information separately from the voice since they use more up-to-date technology.

The other change in the telecom network which happened 30-40 years ago was in the core and was more fundamental and had a profound impact. Telecom circuit have a separate channel in which signalling information is carried. The fundamental change was not the physical separation of the signalling from the data which was already present but the centralisation of signalling. Digital telecom networks relied on the dialled digits to signal to the next switch how to route the call. The numbering plan was cleverly designed so the dialled digits described how to get the call from A to B. You can kind of think of it as source routed packets. However the problem was all this signalling channels were difficult to maintain (read labour intensive) since each switch needed to have part of the information about how to get from A to B. The transition to centralised signalling or STPs (Signal Transfer Points) was a fundamental change – it meant each switch simply needed enough signalling information to know how to handle queries and the STPs handle the details of the call set-up. It is this change which has a close parallel to what is happening in networking with SDN.

So why was the change to centralised signalling in telecom such a fundamental change? Up until that point, dialled digits were geographical – the call was set-up hop-by-hop, with each switch holding lots of configuration data. It meant things like freephone numbers were difficult if not impossible to establish. In the old model each node would need to know how to route free-phone numbers. With the centralised model it was possible to add new functionality (Service Creation Points) which sat above the STPs allowing number abstraction – suddenly numbers were not tied to geographical locations. This meant someone dialling an 800 number could be routed to a physical phone based on their originating location or based on the state of the destination eg busy. Because signalling was centralised, operator based controls became possible for example call blocking. These were not services for users – these were services to protect the network. If a telephone number was in high demand for example ticket booking or voting, call volumes could be throttled to stop excessive network load.

So let's jump forward to SDN. Separation of the control and data planes is actually giving routing information to a controller which is analogous to the STP. Controllers will be connected via northbound interfaces to systems allowing applications to control the network (analogous to SCPs) . The service abstraction was labelled under Intelligent Networking.

So one of the key problems with selling SDN is actually “what problem does it solve”. The messages for the past 2 days at the ONF conference have been about
  • Lower costs
  • Flexibility
  • Responsiveness

We may think of IP routing as being fresh and modern but the reality is it has progressed very little in the last 20 years. There have been lots of bolt on protocols attempting to overcome shortcomings. SDN concepts have been born out of frustration. Cloud services and virtualisation in the server space have enabled the time to create a new server to be reduced from days to minutes. Creating a new server is a low cost, almost labour free activity and yet the bottle neck is now the networking. The moment networking changes are needed there is no automation, it takes days to implementation the manual changes and because humans are involved, they are error prone. Companies like Google have therefore resorted to writing their own SDN since they want networking to be exactly like the server space. This covers the points of flexibility and responsiveness.

The other area which has been covered over the last couple of days is lower costs. The same networking vendors that have progressed things little in the last 20 years have kept prices high. There is nothing fundamental in SDN to make things cheaper – at least from a capital cost perspective. What is really happening is SDN is a disruption change allowing new players to emerge and it is shifting value from boxes to the higher layers. Networking boxes therefore become more commodity. It is this area where I have been involved for the last 18 months with the LINC OpenFlow switch which enables new low cost vendors to enter the networking space.

Returning to our telecom parallel, it is the STP (OpenFlow controllers) and SCP (OpenFlow applications) where new opportunities and players are emerging. The volume is in the switch/router layer whilst the value and therefore profit will be with the higher layers. Switches will be commodity with little opportunity to differentiate.

The fundamental change in telecom was not the cost element since in reality this was extra boxes to buy so actually higher cost. Operators moved to a centralised control model since costs were reduced from a support perspective. It was far easier to maintain since routing could be changed dynamically (least cost routing) and adds and changes made in a simple manner from a central location.

Throttling before, was complex configuration activity and therefore prone to human error but with a centralised control function it became possible to automate the activity.

Number translation and number abstraction was also a powerful and fundamental change. It meant numbers were no longer tied to a location. Call control became more flexible allowing dynamically change to call routing and call manipulation. This lead to virtualised PABX type service like Centrex. The operators had a powerful new tool to create new services in a simple way. For example private dial/numbering plans.

So fast forward to today. The sales messages for SDN and OpenFlow are about lower cost and flexibility (easier support and faster provision). The reality is OpenFlow will probably not lead to lower capital costs – at least not initially. If you already have a router network and it works then you won't save money by replacing it with OpenFlow since you will have new investment costs and scrappage costs for your existing network. Depending on how much service and network provisioning change is taking place in your network you may have reduced support and administration costs resulting from OpenFlow's flexibility – this becomes a simple business case. Are my support cost reduction gains worth the capital investment?

Contrasting with telecoms is useful. Load control and throttling is comparable to today's denial of service threats. Today if we have an attack, it can be quite a manual task to apply blocking rules across a large distributed network. Ironically building resilient fault tolerant networks actually creates more problems compared to a simple linear service chain. More meshing means more options for threats and attacks to find alternative routes.

OpenFlow's centralisation enables similar functionality to telecom's traffic management. Centralised blocking control means that policies such as block all traffic from this IP address or all traffic to this IP address can be simply created and applied on a network-wide basis. If you are in the firewall business you better watch out. OpenFlow is going to impact your business.

For example it now be possible to block queries to particular DNS lookups. Schools may restrict access to during specific hours so that the lookup simply fails!

It's worth briefly considering IP v4's addressing. In reality it is hierarchical with the numbering having a geographical binding. This sub-net relates to a country and sub-net location. It is not so different from old world telecoms yet we like to fool ourselves that IP is a fresh new idea!

The decoupling of the control of the data forwarding plane in telecom allowed address abstraction – the numbers pretty much became irrelevant. We still needed “unique” numbers but they were no longer cast in-stone.

It is this decoupling in telecoms that spawned service innovation and flexibility. I believe that exactly the same will happen in IP and OpenFlow enables this control abstraction.

So let's look at telecom services and see what insights we can gain for the future of SDN. Firstly numbering abstraction. We probably won't have freephone equivalents since IP bearer costs are not exposed to the end user (yet) however being able to route traffic to an address (telephone number) and route traffic optimally is an interesting and potentially powerful feature. Consider Google. Currently there is coarse granularity traffic routing eg, etc and there are data centre load balancing similar to ACD functionality in the telecom world. We now have IP addresses which the control plane can decide to route in different ways to today. We could for instance allow the network to handle routing to the nearest Google data centre without lots of special hacks such as DNS, or special routes to do the data centre assignment.

Virtual, overlapping or private address spaces suddenly are possible. The traffic can be routed based on the originator. The actual address becomes in many respects irrelevant.

OpenFlow is currently based around applying routes for persistent flows yet this doesn't have to be that way. Telecoms services allowed calls (flows) to change their route based on conditions (end-point was busy so forward to voice-mail) or actions such as “I'll forward your call onto xyz as they can help you”. Doing the same in the IP has some challenges since TCP assumes that endpoints remain constant and have state information but there's nothing stopping this model for UDP traffic sources or future protocols. It's probably easier to adopt redirection approaches for TCP.

It is not clear what SDN based applications and services will emerge yet it is clear that this base functionality will simplify the creation of innovative new services.

Telecom may seem old world but it has continued to move forward, particularly in the mobile space. Today's mobile networks are IP based with specialist boxes to overcome the limitations of IP eg GSNs for mobility functions. The latest generation is adopting a key element called a PCRF (Policy Control Function) which manages the service level and privileges at a user level. These parallel worlds can learn from each other!

So back to selling SDN. Today the message is one of flexibility and cost. It's hard to sell these application layer services when we don't yet know what they will be or the value they deliver. If the customer values on the fly network provisioning and dimensioning then there is real value which can be sold. It's feasible to randomly wire an OpenFlow network and it will sort it out. Today's legacy IP networks struggle. The types of customers that would value this dynamic network provisioning are cloud providers or companies with large constantly changing data centres.

Customers that place a high value on service availability and up-time would also value OpenFlow. Many IP boxes have found their way into the traffic path creating long serial service chains. When there are lots of boxes in a chain there is more chance of a service outage if one fails and more chance for unexpected interactions between boxes. Examples of these boxes are firewalls, load balancers, deep packet inspection. Generally these boxes are control functions.

It is rare that these types of boxes modify content in the payload. Usually they make a decision do I allows this or where should I send this. These are control functions. Occasionally there are boxes that modify payload for example content caches, content adaptation and maybe deliberate injection of jitter on VoIP calls! For the most part they are control functions so they can be moved into the control plane by OpenFlow. The end result is the data path becomes much shorter with fewer boxes which means higher reliability.

Today building fault tolerant IP networks is a challenge. Adding protection, redundancy and fail-over creates complexity. Complexity often leads to reduced availability so ironically the additional equipment built to provide resilience and higher availability can lead to reduced availability!

As the saying goes “every change has a consequence”. The consequence of simplifying the data path is the control layer potentially becomes more complex. The network has the potential for the network to become more fluid and dynamic. Particular services such as Video traffic, might request routing for low latency and therefore have a very different traffic path to web browsing. Sure the services get the best available performance for their needs but it creates a new problem for the operations staff when they want to trouble shoot an issue. Where was the traffic?

OpenFlow does allow traffic forwarding so the job of monitoring and troubleshooting can be assisted. Just like firewall vendors, if you're a probe vendors then watch out. OpenFlow is set to change your business!

Friday 8 March 2013

Sales - getting the job

If you've followed me and read my book "Romancing The Sale" you'll be familiar with the idea that sales is a lot like dating and winning the heart of the prospect.   I'm always looking out for parallels that I can learn from.

This week it occurred to me that "getting a job" is a similar process.  You'll probably be thinking that getting a job is obviously "sales" and that I'm stating the obvious.  Getting a job is clearly where you are selling yourself, but there are some interesting observations to be learnt from this familiar sales activity and equally applying sales best practice back to getting a job.

Firstly in a job interview, there is a natural tendency to switch into "sales mode".  That means telling.  Sure the interviewer wants to learn about you and so your natural tendency is to  switch to a monologue. My sales rule is never speak for more than 30 seconds and to turn statements into questions where-ever possible.  These sales techniques should apply to job interviews. By asking questions in the interview process you can discover information: what their hot buttons are allowing you to optimise the information you supply.  It means your sales pitch is targeted.

I would guess many sales people switch into "interview mode" when they are selling. There is a "I want this deal/job" which means behaviours change to applicant rather than a meeting of equals and whether there is a mutual benefit.

The key thing that struck me about the job interview process is that the interviewer wants to discover what you have done in the past in order to see whether your prior experience can be applied to their situation in order to deliver value to the organisation.  In sales, never assume anything.  A common mistake is to assume that people can take a feature or function and extrapolate the benefit or value. I believe this happens less in an interview setting. People tend to say in an interview "I've done this which is similar to your situation". This happens in selling however having observed sales professional I am not sure it is something that is done consciously.  More emphasis needs to be put into understanding their situation, describing past experiences and situations and describing how that prior experience can be applied to solve their problem.

The interviewer is constantly considering the question "Can this person do the job".  The same is true of a purchaser.

Interestingly my recruitment approach is "Hire Attitude develop Aptitude" - I wonder how many companies secure sales for the same reason...

You may have come across the STAR technique for interviewing.  It stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

The approach is to describe a Situation or Task (a previous sale), describe what needed to be done (customer requirements) and the Action which was taken to deliver the result.  This interview technique can be applied to sales too!

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Social Media ROT

I haven't made my mind up whether Social Media is a waste of time or not.  It is clearly addictive and can consume vast amounts of time if you let it. And there lies the problem.  In business I've learnt you can always make more money but you cant make more time.

What is the Return On Time (ROT) of social media?  I am not a heavy tweeter and I do maybe at most  one or two status posts on LinkedIn per day so I am clearly not addicted as a contributor however there are plenty of  social media "experts" preaching that there fabulous rewards to be had from being on social media.  CrackBook and CrackIn might be as addictive as cocaine from a snooping on people and watching from the side-lines perspective. Having "mother's meetings" and "chatting over the virtual fence" is clearly not going to create business and this is one area where I have to say social media is extremely addictive and unfortunately not a good use of time. Left unchecked I start to feel the overwhelming urge to check LinkedIn for the latest status updates to see what's going on......Being a consumer of information or furtive voyeur is invisible and is not getting your message out there, building awareness/brand and is probably not generating money for you but is consuming your time. It is not generating a Return On your Time.

Anway  the purpose of this post is not to discuss whether social media is addictive but to attempt to say whether it is a useful business tool yielding Return on Time.  Time is money after all

I did a quick search and there is little empirical evidence about the business benefits of social media. As I haven't been able to find much scientific proof I have set out to quantify it myself. The first thing I did was pick a few twitter accounts at random. Here's the results from some random people I picked:

#1   732 tweets - 31 followers.  The tweets weren't just the normal banal "I've just locked the front door" message, they had spent time crafting messages and passing on interesting information.

#2   342 tweets - 71 followers

#3   22,621 tweets - 29,567 followers and following 22,205 people.

#4    30 tweets - 477 followers. Banal brain dead dribble.

OK this is only a sample size of 4 but 732 tweets which have been crafted takes time. Lets say 30 seconds to craft the tweet is 6.1 hours of time and has achieved 31 followers  - crap ROT. The tweets were not rewteeted so no compound exposure.

Someone else has 342 tweets (approx 3 hours) but got 71 followers - better ROT but still not exactly setting the world alight.

Someone has posted 30 brain dead tweets (15 minutes effort) 477 followers - not bad ROT.

Now the person investing serious time. 22,621 tweets @ 30seconds/tweet = 23 working days of tweeting.  OK an audience of nearly 30k is respectable but look at how many he has followed to to get the following.

The language used today to describe social media doesn't really differentiate between information consumption and information creation.  Information consumption is unlikely to create a financial return unless the information has real value. My suspicion is that Mr Pareto is lurking here and 80% of information is pointless crap and it takes effort to filter out the useful 20%.

The learning from this exercise is simply posting good quality messages won't get you heard yet being an information creator or provider is the thing which at least appears to have real business value in social media.  It's yet another opportunity where I can blame Kevin Kostner with his build it and they will come mantra. It doesn't happen in real life.  Broadcasting your message on social media doesn't create an audience.  You have to build the audience in order to get your message out there. It looks like the way to do this is, at least on twitter, is to follow people and they might follow you. That is a good (or at least better) investment of your time.

So does having lots of follower mean your message is reaching people?

If my use of twitter is anything to go by then no. I would guess I am 80% more likely to publish information on twitter than consume it yet the twitter socio-sphere is sending me information which on the surface people might think I am consuming.  Am I unique? I doubt it.  I would therefore guess 80% of my followers do not bother to look at tweets on a daily basis and probably of those 80%, 80% probably don't read my posts because they are hidden amongst the torrent of other posts. In other words only 4 out of 100 followers might, just might,  read my message.

Let's take a look at twitter #3. He is following 22,000 people.....I can't imagine anyone following that many people will be able to process the torrent of crap.  I "follow" a measly 60 people and I can't be bothered to read the torrent of good, bad and crap posts that I get. Maybe I am unique and everyone else is religiously digesting all this twitter torrents?  So Mr #3 has 29,000 followers and maybe 4% of his followers read his post - we are now down to 1,160 people.  Interesting but not exciting. We don't know the demographic of these followers. Maybe they are 100% on target and potential purchasers of the guy's products/services or maybe they followed him because initially he followed them - hardly likely to be on target. Not all eyeballs are equal are they....

Twitter has the competitive mindset that you need lots of followers to have an audience so the name of the game is to get lots of followers.  The real game is to get followers that actually read what you are posting and better still act upon it.

I have observed a similar issue with LinkedIn.  When the number of status posts was limited I did tend to read them as there was a limited number of posts per day and it was a handy digest. My connections are people I know so the status posts are relevant and on-target.  The level of traffic has significantly grown. If I leave it for a few minutes, it shows there are 20+ new updates. Religiously reading all posts for people I know is a burden so the reality is I'm probably looking at maybe 50% of the updates. I am aware that it is now taking me maybe 1 -2 hrs per week to scan through the updates and although it is nice to know what my friends and colleagues are up-to, I have to question whether this time is adding value to my business.  Also the torrent of information has I guess doubled in 1-2 years. If it doubles again am I now going to spend 1-2 hours per day reading it?  Probably not. In fact I want to cut down the time I spend not increase it.

So returning to Return On my Time.  How much business has social media generated for me. I can point to revenues directly related to LinkedIn. I can't say any revenue has been generated from twitter or facebook. Maybe I don't know what I am doing with these platforms and therefore I am doing the wrong things....

LinkedIn  has created business/exposure for me on 2 fronts.  Firstly when I have announced things related to my books, this has resulted in book sales. My measurements suggest that social media (information publishing announcing my product) is far more effective on LinkedIn than advertising via Google. It has yielded around 30 copies of book sales so a modest £30-40 in profit. However the time taken was a few minutes of my time so a good return on time. It is however a one off blip in sales.  My time has not been invested as it does not continue to generate sales on an on-going basis. I believe the  real power of social media lies here - it is not my pseudo advertising that has the impact. On LinkedIn I have about 1020 connections made up on people I know and doing Pareto maybe 30 or 40 people might read my status post and an even smaller percentage (4 to 8 people) will act. The power is not my group but when my 4 to 8 connections 'like' or 'share' my post.  It creates exposure to another group of people. Assuming my connections has 1,000 connections and those connections are different to mine, about 4 of those 2nd degree people will act and maybe buy my book. It is the power of virtual word of mouth. You can see this with those annoying "chain letters" that circulate on LinkedIn - they get thousands of likes.

The second way  I have benefited from LinkedIn is where companies have approach me.  They have searched for someone to provide services and found me through my businesses "CV". Although this is via a social media site, it is not via a status update - it is more like "advertising" and LinkedIn has a convenient search facility. I've invested a lot of time building my contacts so I have a strong profile. This to me feel like investment since everything I do to my profile makes it stronger whereas status posts disappear into the ether - they are a short lived investment.

So I would estimate I am approached for new business about 20-30 times per year via LinkedIn. To get the same kind of enquiry rate from advertising on Google would cost about £2.5k and about £8k on LinkedIn.  The majority of enquiries have not turned into business either because it was not the kind of business I was looking for or vice versa so it is hard to put a revenue line against it yet comparing it with advertising does put a value on what it would cost to buy alternatives. I at least know what my time investment is worth.

So finally returning to my book sales. I find it useful to ask the question when I do something "Why am I doing this?" and then follow it with "Are there alternative ways to achieve the same result?". For book sales investing time on Amazon to achieve good listing and rankings is an investment of my time.  It does not yield a one day blip like social media - the results tend to continue for days, weeks and maybe event months.  The challenge going forward is to find social media "investments" for my time. Simply being there on social media is not effective ROT.

Monday 18 February 2013

Goldilocks, The Three Bears and Sales

We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  You know the story.

"This one is too small"
"This one is too big"
"This one is jusssttt right!!!"

Well you probably didn't know that Goldilocks was in professional sales when she wasn't breaking into houses.

When you are approaching a new prospect how much contact is appropriate?

If you are selling something commodity then the answer is very different than to something highly specialist with a long sales cycle.

Too much contact, too often and you may  start to look like a stalker. You are on their radar as  a problem - they will avoid your calls  and turn into a big grumpy bear.

Too little infrequent contact and any recollection of who you are will fade and like a goldfish, every time you approach your prospect it will be like the film 50 first dates.

Where this level of contact is jusssttt right it is possible to move  the sale forward the build a relationship with the prospect.

This is in the very early stages of the relationship when they don't know who you are, what you want or why they should speak with you.  You may be cold calling them or contacting via email in order to get that critical first conversation going.

Based on my experiences of cold emailing people that I've researched and targetted, I get about 20% of people replying to my first email. It is far easier to get hold of someone's email address than their mobile number.  It can take between 5 minutes and 2 weeks to get a reply from them and I would estimate about 50% of the 20% reply within 3 days. It just shows how much people can get behind in email!

So if I sent 100 emails I get 20 people replying within 2 weeks and 10 of these people I hear from within 5 minutes to 2 weeks however I still have 80 people with no response.

So there needs to be some follow-up with the 80 people. I have after all spent time researching these people so want to give it my best shot to help them. Based on the fact that I still get replies 3 working days later and I still get some stragglers from my first 20%, potentially weeks later,  I leave a 1-2 week gap between sending a follow-up email.  I get similar results from the follow-up email with about15-20 people replying usually within 1day - 1week. So I still have 60 people who haven't responded.  On my third follow-up I might get 2-5 people replying and beyond the third reply I rarely get any more respondents - maybe 1 or 2. On occasions I have done as many as 6 follow-ups and I get some respondents however these people have been politely ignoring me hoping I will go away rather than telling me to sod off. There have been occasions when I've met them and  I have found them to be more confrontational so although persistence is a good thing it has been at the expenses of being viewed as a pest.

This is an area I am still experimenting with.  My experience is from first unsolicited approach via email or my phone call goes to voicemail, then under normal circumstances a gap of 1-2 weeks is acceptable. With voicemail I am more likely to leave the gap as 2-5 days.

If there is a compelling event that I am contacting them about which is important to them then a shorter gap would be appropriate. For example if their factory burnt down and  I can offer a solution to their disaster then every few hours would be an acceptable level of contact to reach the person I need to get hold of.  Leaving a 1-2 week gap will mean their own disaster plans would be in execution and the opportunity would have disappeared.

Leaving long gaps of over 6 weeks seems to be way too long unless there is something like Christmas in between.

I'd love to hear other people's experiences and thoughts on this. I suspect what is appropriate may vary by industry.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Valentine's Day - Get Romancing Your Sales

In the lead up to Valentine's Day, I have been covering the top 10 tips to Romance Your Sales.

Now it's time to get out there and start Romancing The Sale with your new found Romantic Sales techniques.

To help you I'm giving you the opportunity to download my book "Romancing The Sale" for free for today only. It's available on Amazon Kindle.

If you don't have a Kindle you can still read it as there are Kindle readers available for smart phones, tablets and PCs.

If you would like to read the Romantics Sales tips, click on the posts listed on the right hand-side in the Blog Archive.

If you would like to try before you buy - actually try before you get it for free, you can read the first few sample chapters of Romancing The Sale Sample Chatpers on this blog.

So get out there and start improving the standards of sales by wooing your prospects. Romance Your Sales

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Romantic Sales # 10: I would walk 500 miles

February is the most romantic month of the year. This is the final tip In the lead-up to Valentine's day. We are encouraging you to be romantic with your selling by sharing our Romantic Sales tips.  We've covered our top 10 tips to spice up your sales in time for Valentine's day. Make tomorrow, February 14th,  the day you start Romancing Your Customers.

Tip # 10: I would walk 500 miles
The Proclaimers song I would walk 500 miles isn't exactly a romantic ditty however the lyrics capture the spirit of romance.  They would walk 500 miles to fall down at your door.

Forget going the extra mile. They are prepared to go 500 miles and 500 more!

The fact is there are a lot of suitors for your prospect's affections. To win the sale you need to go the extra mile. And not just once. Maybe 500 times go  the extra mile.

You have to show you are special. Romancing your prospect will mean investing your time, effort, creativity and commitment to woo your prospect.

To win the heart of your prospect they need to believe, like and trust you .

When you approach them, you need to be nice. Not nice in the sense that women use that he is "nice" but not boyfriend material but nice in the sense that you stand out. How many other sales guys simply hit on them without doing the leg work?  By researching them, understanding them and identifying their needs you are already demonstrating you are special and not a typical man - sorry sales guy.  Then if your emails and phone calls are polite, demonstrate that you have put the effort in and not simply hit on them you will stand out.  If you can trigger curiosity then you will really stand-out.

Even after all this you might get blown out on your first approach. Faint heart never won fair maiden. You need to be persistent. There may be no chance of a sale of your product but that shouldn't stop you from romancing this prospect.  You can still send relevant, targeted industry information to them with a personal note on a regular basis afterwards - demonstrating that you are thinking of them and their needs even though there is no hope of you selling your product.

Let's stop for a second and analyse what is going on in the prospects head. They know you will never get a sale of your product.  You graciously acknowledged that they will never buy your product. They now never expect to hear from you again because there's nothing in it for you yet there you are still showering them with gifts.  They will initially think - what an idiot - maybe he didn't understand. Then when you continue to show your affections for them and go the extra mile without any hope of there being anything in it for you they will think you are crazy. Then they will become confused and eventually they will think - what a nice guy! Stupid but nice. Eventually they will think "I believe and trust in this person". OK you may never get an order directly from this person but you have got a friend and a supporter. They may move companies and want to do business with you. The situation in their company may change and you will automatically be in the short-list. Or they may put a good word in for you elsewhere. You have created an intimate trusting relationship.

The point is you willingly give your affections expecting nothing in return.  A gift is a powerful thing.

So let's recap on the last 10 days of Romantic Sales tips

#1 : I'll take care of you
      Adopt a what's in it for your customer approach and show you care
#2:  Listen to your heart
       Ask questions from your customers perspective. Learn what's in their heart
#3:  Attention
       Give 100% of your focus and attention to prospect when you are with them. Make them special
#4: ABC of love
       Stop closing. Start being Casanova. Close by creating natural seductive progress
#5: Gift of love
      Shower your prospects with gifts showing you care
#6: Smile like you mean it
      Smile when meet and when you leave regardless of the outcome
#7: Respect
      Respect your customers views and be curious about differences of opinion. Avoid damaging conflict
#8: Common Ground
     Find out what you have in common. Opposite's attract might work in the movies but not in sales. Show what you have in common and why you are made for each other.
#9 James Bond
     Exude confidence and self belief but not arrogant and egotistical. Women and customers love confidence.

So tomorrow is Valentine's Day.  It's a day where you show your affection to your love one or are brave enough to approach that someone you have admired from afar.  So on this special day get out there and start Romancing Your Sales.  Use your best romantic moves on an established client. Find the courage to approach that prospect that you want to win over and woo them.

And to help you even more on Valentine's Day, you can download Romancing The Sale on Amazon Kindle for free on Valentine's Day.

Monday 11 February 2013

Romantic Sales #9 : James Bond

February is the most romantic month of the year. In the lead-up to Valentine's day we are encouraging you to be romantic with your selling by sharing our Romantic Sales tips.  We'll cover the top 10 tips to spice up your sales in time for Valentine's day. Make February 14th the day you start Romancing Your Customers.

Tip # 9: James Bond
Do you believe in what you are selling?

Confidence is important in sales.  If you appear nervous or unsure of what you are selling then your prospect will be unsure about you.

Do women find James Bond attractive? Sure they do. They love the confidence and self belief that he exudes. Given the choice of the timid guy in the corner or smooth confidence of James Bond, which one will the girl pick?

James Bond doesn't give off a brash, cocky image. He's confident and full of self belief.

You need to work on being confident. Women want to be swept off their feet and customers are kind of the same.  Confidence is attractive.

First impressions count.  People make up their mind about you within 30 seconds. In fact they have probably built an impression of you before they meet in person.  The emails you send, the phone calls you've made to them, all add up to make an impression.  That impression needs to give off confidence.  If you're uncertain of what you are selling then your lack of confidence can be a reason why they might refuse to meet with you and they will certainly "what's in it for me".
Without confidence then your chances of getting that first date are greatly reduced.

James Bond doesn't moan or complain. No matter how bad a journey he has to get to his destination, he always looks immaculate. He might have been chased by an army of ninjas through a city. He had to scramble through holes, drains and other obstacles to reach his destination where he's cool, smooth, seductive, calm, smiling and immaculately dressed. He's probably smiling because he feels smug about dodging all those ninjas. Your commute to your prospects office may have caused you stress but it is nothing in comparison.

So work on your confidence and self belief and you'll be more attractive. Give off that Romantic James Bond impression.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Romantic Sales #8 : Common Ground

February is the most romantic month of the year. In the lead-up to Valentine's day we are encouraging you to be romantic with your selling by sharing our Romantic Sales tips.  We'll cover the top 10 tips to spice up your sales in time for Valentine's day. Make February 14th the day you start Romancing Your Customers.

Tip # 8: Common Ground
In dating they often say opposites attract well in the world of business that is rarely the case. Big companies like to do business with other big companies. It is far more likely businesses do business with companies that have the same values and beliefs.

When you are selling you need to show what you have in common.  When people go out on a first date, a frequently used excuse  not to go on a second date  is "We had nothing in common" - there was no common ground.

Small businesses are viewed as risk by large companies so if you are selling something strategic you need to give the impression of low risk. You need to be viewed as credible.

The Internet has made it easy to research your prospects so it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a list of 3 or 4 values that you know your prospect has.  There might be some clues in the mission statement plastered on their website. OK most mission statements are so generic they could apply to any business but they sometimes have useful information in them.

You can then ask yourself what your offer does to create common ground.   This needs to be genuine common ground. Not something you make up to impress them as that is no better than lying on a first date about yourself - eventually you'll be found out as a fraud. Hardly a good way to built trust and rapport.

Make sure you target the right person otherwise you probably won't have anything in common. For example if you are selling paper-clips and you target the head of manufacturing at a car company, you are off the mark. OK this is a silly example but I have seen people target the wrong people and wonder why they get blown out.

By showing the common ground you can build trust. The chances are if you've done your homework on your prospect you will have lots in common to talk about. If you are from the same industry then LinkedIn will show you people you know that they know.  Dating friends of friends is a concept that has been around for a long time.

I sell specialist stuff so I target people that I know will understand what I am selling. By being on-target I already have common ground. I also try to anticipate what problems they might be experiencing and can agree with their problem - talk about the symptoms they have and build a common ground. I can then show them a solution when the time is right.

Find the common ground.

Romantic Sales #7: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

February is the most romantic month of the year. In the lead-up to Valentine's day we are encouraging you to be romantic with your selling by sharing our Romantic Sales tips.  We'll cover the top 10 tips to spice up your sales in time for Valentine's day. Make February 14th the day you start Romancing Your Customers.

Tip # 7: Respect
Aretha Franklin's classic song Respect isn't a love song, yet the need for respect is important in a sales relationship.

In complex sales it is important to build a trusted relationship. That doesn't mean being a lap dog and saying yes to everything the prospect wants but it does mean respecting their views and not forcing your views upon them.  

The chances are the thing you are selling is not 100% what they want.  In a relationship no-one is perfect either. So there is some need for compromise. For a successful marriage  both sides will have to make some changes in order to build a successful relationship.  As you are the seller, you are more likely to accept a higher  level of compromise than the customer. Here it is important to know when to walk away - don't sell yourself short or allow yourself to be changed so you are no longer you.

In highly complex leading edge technology sales, it is common for the seller to have deep technical knowledge that the customer often needs to understand to feel comfortable with the purchase decision. Lack of understanding is seen as a risk and unfortunately the devil can be in the detail. 

This is however a danger area where "religious" arguments about the technical approach can be brewing. The customer will have a different perspective and often a knowledge of the product from a different dimension.  The seller will know "how the product works" whilst the customer will know "how to use the product". The challenge is to have a technical discussion to bring both sides together and exploit those different view-points.  I've seen these differences of perspectives leading to a damaging argument where the customer is told they are wrong. Here respect for the customer's  knowledge and an openness to learn from their perspective would have created a win-win situation rather than making the customer feel like their nose has been put out of joint.

By respecting the views of the customer and when the customer makes an unexpected comment which on the surface seems to be wrong, it is far more powerful to be curious and ask "that's an interesting point you've just made. I've got something different in mind. Can you help me understand your point."

By showing respect, you will avoid damaging conflict. When there is an argument or conflict, you trigger the customers reptilian brain (I call him Croco Mojo) into a  fight or flight mode. Emotions are invoked and powerful chemicals released which destroy any logical thought process. When that happens say goodbye to your sale.

So show R-E-S-P-E-C-T !

Saturday 9 February 2013

Romantic Sales #6: Smile Like You Meant It

February is the most romantic month of the year. In the lead-up to Valentine's day we are encouraging you to be romantic with your selling by sharing our Romantic Sales tips.  We'll cover the top 10 tips to spice up your sales in time for Valentine's day. Make February 14th the day you start Romancing Your Customers.

Tip # 6: Smile Like You Mean It
OK The fabulous Killer's track "Smile Like You Mean It"  isn't the most romantic of songs but it does talk about an important Romantic Sales skill - smiling.

Let's go back to dating.  Were you attracted to that miserable looking girl in the corner or the bubbly smiling one?  The miserable one can be vastly better looking but I'd opt for the  happy smiling girl any day.

First impressions count and first impressions last.  Make a point of smiling when you first meet someone.

Most people don't like hanging around with miserable people. Miserable and sad people usually have problems and you might feel suicidal after hanging around with them.  Morrisey and The Smith's have had their day...

So when you are selling,  learn to smile and smile like you mean it.  Smiling disarms people and establishes trust.  It doesn't mean you act like a grinning idiot or a fake smile used car salesman.  Smiling says you have confidence.  It says you are a positive person and you are fun to be with.

When you arrive at your prospect's place, smile.  When you leave, regardless of the outcome of the meeting, leave with a smile. Even if you are walking out having lost the order, leave with a smile. It's OK to be disappointed but showing humility at graciously losing the sale and thanking them for the chance to win their business will be something they will remember - it is a rare thing in today's world.  There will be other opportunities to win their business or deal with that person and you will be remembered on a positive note.

You may have forgotten how to smile.  I mean really smile. Practice each day smiling in the mirror if you have forgotten how to smile.

So smile like you mean it.