Telling vs Selling

“It was impossible to get a conversation going.  Everybody was talking too much.”

–  Yogi Berra (1925 – 2015), Baseball Hall-of-Famer and king of the malapropism

Sales pros, you know they’re expecting you to talk first and most, right?

So don’t.

Ask.  Listen.  Ask more.  Listen more. Ask and listen until they ask you to talk.

Engagement rate accelerated.  Win rate magnified.  Satisfaction rate elevated.  Self-worth maximzed.

Value exchanged.



“If you hate a person, you are defeated by them.”

–     Attributed to Confuscious

There is a lot of hate spewed these days.  Social media has allowed people to say preposterous things under the veil of anonymity and it’s not working.  For anyone.

College athletes get vilified by wannabees who’ve never laced up a pair of sneakers.  Don’t even get me started on politicians and I don’t care which side of the aisle we’re on.  It ties into this recent post on the concept of GOATs.  Why do we want to tear down the Tom Bradys of the world, the Tiger Woods (prayers are with you, Tiger, and with your kids!) or the standard-setters of whatever pursuit we’re considering?  Why can’t we respect and accept greatness, and hope that competitors push us to be even better?

A rising tide lifts all boats when competition makes everyone better — and that’s a great place to be in business.

It’s got me thinking about rivalries, and how true rivals rarely bad-mouth one another unless we’re talking about professional wrestling, which we’re not.

When we’re consumed by a rival, we’ve lost.  When we hope they fail more than we hope we win, we’ve lost.  Part of the reason I love golf is the concept of “always presume your competitor is going to make that putt.”  If he makes his, then I have to make mine, and that’s performance anxiety that makes the game gets better!

When TToTT comes up against AAU teammates that he’s particularly close with, we always say, “We hope you play the best game of your life and lose by two!”  Heck yes, we want to win, in business, sports, or whatever the venue.  The wins are that much sweeter when we beat the best.

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  And hate doesn’t do anyone any good.


Art? Science?

“Measurement is fabulous.  Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.”

–  Seth Godin (b. 1960), American author, speaker, and a danged genius who makes me better every day

“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”

–  Lord Kelvin, aka William Thomson (1824 – 1907), Irish mathematical physicist and engineer for whom the absolute temperature scale was named

Two smart guys featured today.  One is absolutely right.  The other is absolutely wrong.  Any guesses as to which is which?

Of course we can improve it even if we can’t measure it.  Attitude, curiosity, team dynamic — those are just three examples.  The greater risk isn’t trying to measure those intangibles, the greater risk is in sacrificing them at the expense of stuff that’s easier to measure but far less important.

Earlier in my career, on the day I earned a promotion, the president of the business unit told me, “Job #1 is to fire Person A, and Job #2 is to fire Person B.”  He was confident those steps had to be taken, because of what had historically been measured.  When I sat down with the team and heard what A and B were bringing to the table (during a time of seismic shifts in the market we served), I realized that firing A and B would be a major mistake.  A and B were bringing the voice of the market to the table, even if some didn’t want to hear or consider that voice.  We didn’t fire them, and my boss ultimately agreed with the call not to fire them.  “A” went on to be the top producer in the company for several years and “B” sold the biggest single deal in the company’s history shortly after not being fired.    

One of the great debates in business is whether sales (in particular) and leadership (in general) are more art or science.  I’m not sure it matters whether they’re more art or science.  What matters is that they’re both art and science!

Defining what’s really important is the first job of leadership.  If that’s “growth” we need to define that it’s “growth, defined by _________.”  Revenue?  Profits?  Market share?  Client loyalty?  All of the above?  Several of the above?  If several, which ones and in what order or priority?

Once we’ve defined what is important, it’s easier to decide what to measure.  Once we’ve defined what is important, it’s easier to deploy the REELAX Model — actually, it’s dang near impossible to succeed at any pursuit until we’ve defined what’s important!

It is rare that I offer three quotes, but here goes!

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

–  Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), who is every bit as right as Seth is on this topic!


Here’s more on the topic, from a 2016 post that also references Seth Godin…


“I don’t like Mondays…”

–  Lyric from “I Don’t Like Mondays” by Boomtown Rats

Of course, it’s a decision, one made from the launch pad of the stories we tell ourselves.

Ideas are the currency of difference makers and stories are the vehicle by which ideas are transported — even, and maybe especially inside our own minds.

I can tell the quality of my work life by the quality of Sunday nights.  If Sunday nights are good, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m balanced, engaged and contributing in a positive manner.

The Tallest of the Three doesn’t like chocolate.  (I know, weird, right?) He never has.  We have a dear friend who doesn’t like most condiments.  “Goopy,” he says, “I’m not eating anything goopy.”  Those are matters of taste.

Not liking Mondays is a decision.  Mondays don’t have a taste or a texture.  Monday is just one of seven days.  The decision to like it, or at least to engage as if we did is 100% within our control. “My boss is such a tool,” we tell ourselves.  “This whole work-from-home thing is BS, I miss the team,” the story-teller in our mind begins.  Or, perhaps that story teller begins by saying, “It was Monday morning, and Steve was faced with a wonderful choice!  He could either go through the motions, or he could make this the best Monday ever…”

A mentor of mine used to end their voice mail greeting with “make it a great day!”  Back when voice mail was a thing, I adopted that practice.  Not sure when I stopped, but this Monday, I’ve re-recorded my greeting to adopt it again to reinforce the wiring that tells me each day is worth making great.

The Boomtown Rats, or my friend the difference-maker? Which advice will we follow today?

Make it a great Monday!

Leadership Model for Success

“If every day is a gift, I need to find the returns counter, quickly!”

–  Unattributed

There are studies published everywhere on workplace stress and the trend isn’t positive.  Give or take, 70% of American workers say workplace stress is having a negative effect on their lives — at work, at home, or both.

It’d be nice to relax.  And for leaders, the best way to relax is to REELAX.

R – Recruit and retain the best talent you can possibly afford.  It’s better to be short-staffed than poorly staffed.

E – Create an environment where success is the most likely outcome.  That probably means removing internal obstacles and listening to the voice of the market.  (Here’s a current take on environment from yesterday’s post…)

E – Set expectations that are so clear they can not be misunderstood.  “Faster” is not clear.  “By Tuesday at 9:00 AM CST” is clear.

L – Lead.  Great people expect to be led, not managed, and if we try to manage them, they’ll leave.  If we’re managing, we probably need to revisit the R!

A – Set up accountability that runs in all directions at all times.  If we all answer to us all — we’re at our most effective and efficient.*

X – X-Ray everything until we know why we’re doing (or not doing) it!  It’s all in the “Why!”

That’s the Heston Group approach.  If you’d like help getting there, contact us today!


*of course there has to be a “boss,” it’s just that if the janitor can hold leaders accountable to the commitments they make (new mops or whatever it might be), just as the leaders expect a sparking presentation of the facility, the culture is pretty powerful.  It also requires a vision and mission that aren’t wall art — that connect people to the “Why” in their work…


Wicked Domains

“In wicked domains, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both.”

–    David Epstein (b. 1983), New York Times bestselling author, in his 2019 book “Range:  Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World”

A “wicked domain,” or an unkind learning environment,* is an environment where success is not the most likely outcome. It’s an environment where rules either don’t exist or aren’t followed.  A wicked domain will mess with an actuary’s head, take all the I out of AI, and expose the risk of engaging in research, practices, processes, or systems that are based on repetitive success.

The subtitle is clear — Epstein’s claim is that generalists are better suited than ever to lead in times of great change.

Not feeling the urgency yet?  Look around.  We are in a time of great change!

Technical Training vs Seeing Around Corners

While technical training and systemic approaches to learning skills make for better golfers, firefighters and chess or poker players, he points out, it does not make for better predictors.  It does not prepare us to see around corners, one of the primary requirements for effective strategic leadership.

Seeing around corners is steeped in “What if?” questions.  “What if the market goes to crap?”  “What if a competitor drops their price by 37%?”

Seeing around corners isn’t about certainty, either.  It’s about preparedness.  An example:  In about 2009-ish, my team prepared a strategic plan for the CEO of the publicly-traded company for which we worked.  It was pretty danged good, by all accounts.  In the Friday morning meeting, the CEO asked me, “Heston, where could this all go squirrely?  What if something really weird happens?  What would have to happen for this to become an awful plan overnight?”

“The Client would have to exit their North American business,” I replied, “and we have no reason to think that happens this year, if ever.”  That was Friday morning.  Sunday night the client exited their North American operations amid the financial crisis.  Effective immediately.  Doh!

That right there is a wicked domain for which technical training provided no benefit.  If we’d have only been technically trained, we’d have just laid off about 40 people.  The team, though, had been able to see around the corner enough to know that “immediately” had to be considered in the context of regulatory and operational realities that gave us at least five months to adapt and adjust.  About 25 jobs were saved because the plan was built with off-ramps and flexibility to adjust when the domain got wicked.

The Wrong Lessons vs Instincts and Intuition

Epstein points out that “in the most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.”  It’s another take on data as the end-all, be-all in modern business.

If we choose to be completely subservient to the data, policies, and processes that are in place — ignoring the market’s voice and sticking to the book — we might as well be flying blind.

Labels and Resumes

Labels tell us:  She’s a finance person.  He’s a sales guy.  We’re a product team.  On paper, she looks like a marketer.  That is the resume of a general manager!  Wow!  Look at all that experience in widgets — they’re clearly a widget person.

It’s easier than ever to label people and teams, and it’s more dangerous than ever, too.

Especially when we consider the wickedness of the domain.  “There’s no way grocery shopping goes predominantly online!”  “There’s no way we won’t be able to meet with our clients!” “There’s no way they cancel that trade show!”  “There’s no way…”

Until there is.

What happens to the “rules” then?  As one of the greasers says before the big race in the movie Grease, “The rules are there ain’t no rules.” That’s the domain we find ourselves in today.

And, in this wicked domain, I’ll follow the generalist, thank you!  Especially the one with access to a few specialists to make sure they help craft answers to as many really good “What if…” questions as the team can dream up.


*as defined by psychologist Robin Hogarth

Shooters Shoot

“Shooters shoot, Hes!  Keep shooting!”

–  Herb Justmann, my high school basketball coach and still a dear friend

Maybe I’m nostalgic as basketball season enters the home stretch for TToTT…  But he and I were talking earlier this week about the coaching tip I got 40+ years ago.

There are two lessons in this time-honored coaching tip.  One for the player.  One for the coach.

For The Player

Play the game you’re best at playing.  If your success hinges on being in front of customers, the pandemic has probably created some angst for you.  Video calls are better than nothing, but there’s no substitute for being in the room, completely engaged and interacting with someone who is in the room, and completely engaged.  So unless the “rules” prohibit getting the shots you’re most comfortable shooting, get to your spot, catch in rhythm and shoot!  If the rules make that a virtual 3-pointer instead of a traditional, in the gym attempt — get on camera, and take your best shots.  Plural intended.  More reps equal more potential of scoring.

For The Coach

Know when a “heat check” is needed or when a change of pace is called for.

A “heat check” in basketball is that fourth shot after making three in a row or that sixth shot after making five in a row.  Maybe a little deeper than the usual.  Maybe a little quicker than the “flow” that got us there.  If it goes in, the team should keep getting the shooter the ball.  If it doesn’t, the coach might need to go to the bench or call a different play.

The challenge for business leaders — managers, coaches, supervisors — in these times is seeing the game from a different perspective.  If half your customers are conducting business differently than they did pre-pandemic, the plays that helped you win before might not even be practical now.  If your largest customer has been hit hard, laying off staff and lowering their guidance, maybe the game plan needs to reflect that.

Most importantly, coaches, know when your best shooters need to know that they’re ok in your eyes.  If the ball’s not going in, “Shooters shoot,” might turn into “Find your teammates.”  In other words, if our best-sellers are in a slump, we need to find a way to give them a fresh perspective, so the rim starts to look bigger again.

“Pat, take a long weekend.  Here’s a gift certificate for that new restaurant that opened downtown.  Take your spouse and get a good dinner on me.  It’s been a tough week/month/ quarter — I just want you to know you’re still my go-to-pro – and I’m confident things will turn for the better.”

“Terry, I want you to take a couple calls with these two customers that left us a couple years ago.  See if you can figure out why they left. See if you can cultivate some knowledge that will help the rest of the team.  No one has ever closed more deals than you, so I want to get your perspective on a couple that we lost.  To see them through a winners eyes…”

Sometimes it’s not the shooter or the shots

Sometimes, it’s simply changing the game.  The conversation.  The perspective.  The context.  Shooters, and great coaches “feel” when things are clicking again.  Maybe we just need to approach the game differently to get that instinctive flow going.  When we do.  Keep shooting.  Shooters shoot.



“Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments.”

–  Rose Kennedy (1890 – 1995), American philanthropist and the matriarch of the Kennedy family, mother of a president, senators 

February 16, 2021 is a big day at Heston House.

We’ll have a “milestone” birthday in the family and the Senior Night basketball ceremony (weather permitting) for The Tallest of The Three.  Difficult to believe that there’s just one tournament run ahead after many miles and moments along the way to the latter milestone.

In reflecting on these, and other “milestones” the context causes me to wonder if we focus too much on the milestones at the expense of the moments in between them.

I bet we do.

Should we party and celebrate the big days, the anniversaries, the milestones along the way?  Of course we should.

We should probably celebrate the moments in between, too.  If not in a grandiose way, at least in an overt moment of “Hey, that was good.”


To Choose Or Not To Choose

“If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”

–  Lyric from “Freewill” by Rush (Geddy Lee)

It seems a lot of emphases is placed these days on talking about choices that have been made.

That’s a rear-view mirror consideration; one not without value, it turns out, as we ought to be compelled to learn from the choices we have made (or that others have made) that have impacted us.

The windshield, forward-looking angle, however, is to focus on the choices we will make.  The choices that are upcoming.  What we will choose, next.

Ultimately the only thing we can do anything about is whatever we will choose — whatever we will do or not do — next.

Whatever we have chosen, whatever choices we have already made are somewhere between marginally and completely irrelevant compared to the choices we will make next.

In choosing, we determine the direction we will take.   Ultimately, choosing is how we impact outcomes and destinations.

And choosing not to choose is a choice we can make.  Where there is no clarity, there may not be a choice to make.  And that means there might be something more important than choosing.

Being — here, now, present, engaged — is also a choice.  One worth considering.  One absolutely worth choosing.

Feels Like It’s Only…

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk Bone® underwear!”

–  Norm, a character on the 1980’s sitcom Cheers, as portrayed by George Wendt

Today in the Midwest, is supposed to be about -3 degrees Fahrenheit with wind-chill-adjusted temperatures that will feel like they’re in the -30 range.  BRRRRRRR!

When we were kids, if we complained about the wind chill, our grandpa would say, “That’s all in your head!  It’s really 10 above zero, not 15-below!”

Technically, he was right.  Practically, he was wrong, because if you’re standing at the end of a 1/8th mile driveway waiting for the school bus, what it feels like becomes what it is!

The same is true of our team members, clients, and other people in our circles as it relates to their experiences.  Norm was having a rough day, and his metaphor was intended to let Sammy, the bartender, know how he felt.  And how Norm feels, or how our team members, clients, friends feel is their own reality in that moment.

“It feels like the world is ending,” says the teenager who’s just been broken up with.  “It’s only a dumb ol’ boy / girl,” we might want to say, from our seasoned, this-too-shall-pass level of wisdom.

“It feels like the coach hates me,” says the player who’s had a rough game.  “It’s only basketball, you’re a great player, you’ll be ok!” some well-intentioned person might say.

“It feels like I’m snake bit!  It feels like no matter what I try it won’t work,” says the sales pro who’s missed quota the last two months.  “It’s only a slump, you’ll be fine.” says a teammate.

Perfectly well-intentioned, the phrase “it’s only” minimizes whatever the speaker is feeling.

Here’s an idea:  Let’s drop “it’s only” from our vocabulary when someone is hurting or looking for answers, and let’s try to get inside, instead.

“Wow, that must really suck.  Do you wanna get a beer or a coffee and talk about it?”

“I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.  Is there anything I can do?  Do you want me to leave you alone, or do you want to spend some time looking at angles on this situation?”

“Dang!  You’ve always been the leading producer in the team, so it must be extra tough to hit a rough spot.  I just want you to know I am glad you shared how frustrated / hurt / angry / stumped / perplexed / scared / etc you’re feeling…”

Norm opened every appearance on Cheers with a one-liner like the one above.  It was a running joke.  When those around us tell us how they’re feeling, though, it might not be a joke.  It’s probably not a joke.  So we gotta be pretty careful before we laugh, dismiss or offer advice unless we take the time and make the effort to understand and acknowledge what it “feels like” for them.

P.S.  Advice unsolicited is advice that is best unoffered.  Just sayin’…

#leadership #coaching #b2bsales #sales #differencemaking #dailydifference #feelslike #feelings