Monday, June 27, 2011

12 Most Likely Signs You Never Had the Sale

We’ve all been there. We get ready to meet with a new prospect that we’ve been dying to meet for weeks, months or even years. We know our products, we know our competitor’s products, we’ve memorized our elevator speeches. And somewhere along the way, someone taught us Always Be Closing. We go in with our style tight, our mojo right and expect a sale (or at least a follow up meeting) by twilight.

whomp whomp 

You hear news that makes you cancel the mechanical bull upgrade you wanted for the company picnic. That huge sale didn’t happen and yet you were so certain you had it in the bag.

Our view is that it’s best to disqualify yourself from a situation before you are too far “in it” which means to keep asking strategic qualifying questions to understand the true pain such that you can map the solution to the pain. We’ve outlined some signs for you to look for in the next go around.

“Getting to Know You” 

1) Let me think it over.

This is not really a desire to think it over. It’s a desire to back out politely without hurting your feelings. It often happens when you are not connecting with the true driver of this meeting: the customer’s pain. If you can’t demonstrate that you can understand, let alone articulate their pain, but you’re eloquent at pitching, then you’re not adding value or helping the customer identify the solution.

2) I will get back to you in a few weeks or months.

The good news is that it’s better than #1. The bad news is that while you may have connected nominally with their pain, someone in their gut says that your competitor just may be a better option. If they tell you they will get back to you in 6 months, delete their number or contact details. Disqualify yourself as soon as you can from situations like this.

3) Lets talk again in a few months.

Better than #1 and somewhat better than #2 as there may be interest in speaking again because you’ve uncovered some of their pain. The trouble is that there is no clear understanding of who is calling whom and for what reason. This is vague and not a good sign. You could certainly display initiative and “go for it” in a few months but be careful not to be too pitchy. Our advice here is again to disqualify yourself.

4) Wow, that sounds really expensive.

Contrary to popular belief, price is never the issue especially if you can demonstrate that you are capable of solving the right business problems. It’s a stalling tactic and it’s an effective one because it distracts from the point of solving their business problem. A similar comment is “I have also heard your competition is 30% cheaper.”

5) This was a great meeting – I want to make sure that I keep you in my list of contacts as we have many projects coming up. Please send your product information to me.

Doh! This means absolutely nothing. We recommend saving rainforests and not sending any follow up brochures. To be polite, send them to your site or LinkedIn profile instead.

6) Tell me about your company’s history.

This is not a capabilities request. It likely comes up when they are not certain why they should be meeting with you and so ask for background. If the question of why is in their mind and (or because) you can’t demonstrate you understand their pain and offer a direct solution, it’s advisable to “cut your losses” and move on to people who are a better fit for you and vice versa.

“Window Shopping” 

7) Send me the proposal so I can present it.

Oh dear. As in branding, you own your message. It’s not in your interest to let them state your case for you. This is likely shopping for information to compare with their favorite vendor or to perhaps maneuver you into a negotiating situation that isn’t tenable. Even worse, you’re not able to demonstrate your superior understanding of their business problem vis a vis the competition.

8) How is it that you are different to your competition?

Hmm. When asked this question, it’s because it’s hard to tell the difference in offerings/value proposition/likelihood of delivering best product. You’ve not successfully connected with their pain/emotional drivers nor have you presented in a way that it’s clear to them that your solution solves their pain. This is not a capabilities question because in their mind you are equal to your competitor. They are looking for an emotional reason to connect with you and you’re missing the mark.

9) No need for my boss to be here since I can sign off on the project.

When you hear this, you don't have the right decision maker in front of you. It may be a technically true statement but a boss can slash a budget just as quickly as a boss can make one. You want to make sure you’ve connected with the budget owner as well so that your project is saved and another’s is slashed or cancelled altogether.

10) Can we have a product demonstration?

We think this is a cart before the horse problem and a rather direct technique they use to get information so that they can negotiate with others or create an unhealthy negotiation session with you. To be clear, we don’t think it’s a bad thing to do so much as it’s better to ask and learn about their business first. You may learn that you’re not a fit and disqualify yourself before you give the demonstration thereby protecting your information.

11) We want to change our vendor.

We find this one troubling because there can be inertia in changing a vendor. Your success depends on so many variables like how long have they known the vendor, who else in the company does business with this vendor, if the vendor’s President has a social relationship with the prospect’s President, etc. Once you’ve been fleeced of all relevant information, they will go back to their vendor asking for a discount or something else. And, the current vendor may fight dirty to keep the business.

12) We currently work with Schoolmate/Family Friend but we feel we’ve outgrown them.

This is like #11. Though they may have proof that the schoolmate or family friend is doing an awful job, it’s a sticky wicket trying to “fire” them. Unless you can demonstrate Olympic style feats in your understanding of their business and the solution you offer, it’s best to move on.

What would you add or change about this list? We’d love to get a vibrant conversation going!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  This was originally a 12 Most article.  Have you ever visited 12 Most?  It's worth a look see!  You can also follow 12 Most on Twitter and like it on Facebook!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Tale of Two M&Ms

When I was little, I had specific tastes in candy: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.  Anything that deviated from chocolate was strictly forbidden as I viewed any ingredient interlopers as damaging to the overall experience.  This was particularly true as my mother strictly (and wisely) regulated how much candy we had at home.  In my mind, if I was going to have it so rarely, it may as well be only chocolate.

This was particularly true of M&Ms.  If it happened that I were treated to that, it was always going to be the plain ones and I made them last as long as I could by pouring out the contents of the bag, sorting them by color and then eating them two at a time by color.  It was, at the time, a religious experience.  So much so that if I were offered peanut M&Ms, it was blasphemy to me and not unlike Kryptonite to Superman.

Fast forward to 2011.

I don't have to tell you that as we age (gracefully), our tastes change.  It turns out that these days, I don't enjoy chocolate so much as I enjoy chocolate with something else.  And, while I still do have a fondness for anything M&M (especially their Facebook page), it turns out that now I turn my back to plain M&Ms in favor of the peanut ones.

I started thinking about this yesterday in particular.  We were on the tail end of a 5+ mile walk and I really wanted some sugar (please don't tell Linden).  I popped into the drugstore and out of all of the M&M choices in front of me, plain was at the bottom of my list.  I walked out with the peanuts.

What was I thinking about?  Well, my brand affinity is clearly intact and the value I derive from the brand affinity is clearly intact.  What's changed is how both manifest themselves in the purchase decision I made yesterday.  I got to thinking how much we pay attention to these shifts in purchase within the product lines that live under the brand umbrella.

Nothing has changed.

Or has it?  I'm still buying M&Ms so it's not like they have to worry about the competition but what I'm buying and why I'm buying should matter to them.  And that's because it matters to me, the customer, even though it is just a bag of candy that I buy every so often.

And, more importantly, it matters to our customers when they shift how it is they give us their business.  I'm wondering at the level of care we have when these shifts happen besides the slicing and dicing of data we pay our CRM teams to do.  Other than saying customers have cross shopped, bought a different flavor or gizmo, how else have we been treating the shifts?  What were they buying before that is now Kryptonite to their Superman?

I wonder how effective we are at circling around and checking in with our customers.  I wonder how good we are at learning about how things are going all the while resisting the urge to pitch something new.  How often do we ask:

  • How are you?
  • How is business?
  • Are we helping you?
  • Have things changed for you and how can we change with these new circumstances?
  • What can we be doing better that would be helpful to you?
  • What things have been particularly helpful to you?  
  • And so on...

The Customer Zeitgeist

You've heard me say a before that our emotional drivers are at the core of our decisions and our rational minds justify those decisions.  By finding out what's going on in the zeitgeist, the environment or vibe allows us to better understand how our customers have shifted and, more importantly, how we can meet them at the new places to which they have shifted.

Why do this?  The point in which they see that we've adjusted with them is the point in which our customers view us less as indifferent and pushy vendors and more as someone as a stake in their success.

What's your take?  Please share with me and, if you've enjoyed this read, please share it with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef
678 Partners

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pick Any Two: Daniel Newman's Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I wrote about trust which featured an interview with the awesome Dan Newman, CEO of UnitedVisual.  Today, I'd like to share with you another of the questions asked of him.

As you'll soon see, I deliberately didn't edit out the guys who randomly walk through as Dan is trying to answer.  This is for two reasons.  One, this is kind of in keeping with our "on the go" and "spur of the moment" type of vibe we like to have with how I write and also with our 678 Partners vlogs.  As to the second reason, I'll get to that in a bit.  In the mean and in between, please watch...

I'd like to highlight something that Dan brought up which is critical.  Interestingly for us, though we didn't direct him, he went straight to pricing.  As he says, price is not the issue.  Even in this economy, people will not set aside the important intangible elements like trust as they decide how and why to do business with one another.

To borrow from Talking Heads, it's "same as it ever was" in distressed economic environments.  No matter how bad it may seem, pricing still does not supplant how important it is for the customer to feel that the vendor is providing the most appropriate solution for the stated need.  In other words, trust always matters.


We couldn't agree more when Dan explained it nicely in his Price-Quality-Service triangle.  When he suggests "pick any two" it's precisely because price is never the single decisive issue for someone when making a purchase decision.  Though it may contribute in some instances, the point is that there are intangibles that have a hand in selection: anticipated level of quality or the anticipated level of service.

Let's bring this to real life.  All of us have a "gut feel" as we evaluate items for purchase based on our own Price-Quality-Service continuum.  I am picky about gas station brands and consequently pay more at the pump even though it's up to $5/gallon here.  I have weakness for certain brands of clothing as Amir does for his favorite watches.  On the other hand, I have negative hang up about buying private label grocery.  I don't lose sleep over store brand peanuts.

In economics, this is very simply called price elasticity.  And, we know that there are many factors that play into elasticity like budget and income among others.  While I'll never admit to being an awesome economics student, I always felt like much more time and care was spent on the tangibles of elasticity rather than its intangibles.  This conversation with Dan brought that home for me even more.  The intangibles do matter and we need to spend more time caring for them.

Final Thought

I'd like to go back to why I kept the two guys in the video.  The second reason why I kept them in is because it was striking to me how unscripted Dan's answer was.  Despite the interruptions, he quickly gave us a succinct direct answer which showed that this idea of trust and how trust is granted live with him in his daily personal AND business life.  Both his idea of trust and its granting are in his DNA and manifested in his view of Price-Quality-Service.

Do you have a point of view on Dan's Price-Quality-Service triangle?  Please comment below and, if you've liked this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Two Turkish Cheekbones and Facebook

In our apartment building, there is a drycleaning place that doubles as our overnight mail/package room.  As I was picking up an overnight letter the other day, the woman complimented me on my haircut and said that not many people could pull it off.  I pointed to my cheekbones as the reason and the woman said, "Yes, very unusual for a white girl like you to have them."

(Insert screeching braking noise here)

As it happens, though I'm technically Caucasian given my Azeri origins and my people's proximity to the Caucasus mountains, that's not what this woman meant.  She meant white as a code word for "American".  I explained to her that given my people being overrun by various Turkmen and Mongols over time, there was a good reason I have these cheekbones.  

No need to be alarmed.

In case you're worried, I've not taken leave of my senses and decided to write about bone structure.  There is a point.  All the while I was speaking with her, I was a little surprised that she "went there" by guessing at ethnicity.  It's not usually a safe place to go but she didn't mean anything by it.  I started thinking about these little assumptions or judgements we have about others -- innocuous or otherwise.

This actually is  a post about knowing with whom you're speaking.  It's about taking a moment to think about what you're communicating before you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, words to mouth, etc.  I know that we believe we do it all the time.  But I'm suggesting here we don't do it as often or as effectively as we could.

Case in point: this Tuesday, Amir and I will celebrate our 3rd anniversary (the inspiration for our business name comes from our wedding date of 06/07/08).  Facebook has kindly reminded me of this date not unlike the reminders I get for friend's birthdays.  I know that sometimes people forget anniversaries but, given our business name, it's not as likely in our case...  so far!  

Facebook suggested I send a message to Amir.

Look, I do not expect Facebook to be "smart" enough to realize I'll likely not forget my anniversary because of my business name.  But, I do admit some surprise that it suggested I send him a message.  Sure, I suppose I could.  But, given our relationship, I could also tell him to his face.  Or, if he's out, call him or text him because surely at this point, he's given me his cell phone number.

In a previous life, I learned enough about programming to know that this is an algorithm that pops up a message when a friend's event is near.  I get how and why Facebook sent the message suggestion.  But, I'm wondering why it's hard for Facebook to have an exception for anniversaries where they resist the urge to suggest we send the other a message -- unless you're into that which is a whole other blog topic/forum altogether.

Who do we think you are?

When I saw the Facebook message suggestion pop up, it got me thinking of the lady and my cheekbones. And, in both instances, I saw the possibility that neither party knew who I was.  I also saw that they were pretty comfortable with that.  Perhaps the lady thought by bonding with me, I'd bring more dry cleaning business to her (not a chance as their success rate is dismal).  And, Facebook being Facebook, it wants me to spend more time on its platform than intended in their aim to dominate share of mind.

In both instances though, their efforts (though admirable) ring hollow.  In both instances, instead of feeling like an individual, I was lumped in a group to which I don't belong and treated in a generic sort of manner. In both instances, I have a very small amount of scorn.

And herein lie my questions for you.  My anecdotes are tiny and likely soon forgotten by both you and me.  However, what if these were significant errors?  What if your marketing or sales teams quickly put 2 and 2 together in order to get a quick/larger sale but tragically came up with 5 as their answers?  Worse yet, what if they didn't know that 5 was the wrong answer?

Since I mentioned my roots to you in the beginning, I'll end with a Persian poem that fits these anecdotes:

One who knows and knows that he knows
This is a man of knowledge, get to know him!

One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows
This is a man who's unaware, so bring it to his attention.

One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know
This is an illiterate man, teach him!

One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know
This is a dumb man, and would be dumb forever.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef